What Became Of The Great British Progressive Majority? It Never Existed

BBC Challengers Debate - Leaders Debate - General Election 2015 - Nigel Farage Stands Alone

Turns out that pooling their strength and holding hands beneath a big progressive rainbow will not help Britain’s left-wing parties get back into power after all. What a shame.

Remember the Great British Progressive Majority, that overwhelmingly large (yet always infuriatingly hidden) bloc of centre-leftish voters who together wielded the power to lock the Evil Tories out of 10 Downing Street and government forever, if only they could be organised and persuaded to vote tactically?

You know, that vast conclave of redistributionist, environmentalist, identity politics-wielding, Big Government-supporting luvvies who supposedly outweigh the 11.3 million British voters who re-elected the Conservative government last May?

Well, no worries if you don’t recall the fabled progressive majority. Because it turns out that it doesn’t exist after all, and never has.

Guido reports:

This morning the centrist, cross-party Social Market Foundation held a well attended seminar headlined by Chuka Umunna, Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg. It felt like a wake for the Labour Party. SMF claims – on the back of research from Opinium – that there’s no progressive left-leaning majority in the country – the majority of voters hold “traditionally right-wing views” that will guarantee a “healthy majority” in the future for the right-wing parties.

The wonks categorised voters’ attitudes into eight political tribes/parties that share very distinctive political views. Despite the majority of voters self-describing as “centrist”, most voters actually identified with centre-right and right-wing political attitudes.

But…but…but Nicola Sturgeon promised us! One can hear the wailing from trendy lefty dinner tables from Brighton to Aberdeen. And so she did. So did they all – Sturgeon, Nick Clegg of the forgotten “Lib Dem” tribe, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood, the Green Party’s underwhelming Natalie Bennett. In the tawdry hunt for votes, all of these party leaders told the electorate that between them, they carried the votes to “lock David Cameron out of Number 10 Downing Street“.

The only one to object, as all of this unfolded, was the hapless Ed Miliband, whose votes these other parties were ruthlessly cannibalising. Miliband, still entertaining sweetly pathetic hopes of becoming prime minister, had no great desire to share power in a leftist coalition, to have moralising Scottish and Welsh nationalists perched on either shoulder, scolding him for his insufficient fidelity to socialist principles.

But Miliband need not have worried about sharing power. Between them, the main parties of the Left – Labour, the LibDems, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Green Party – managed to accumulate just 13,102,483 votes in the 2015 general election. Meanwhile, the main parties of the Right – Conservative and UKIP – racked up 15,215,675 votes. This gave the parties of the Right an edge of well over 2 million votes, despite the fact that David Cameron’s lacklustre Coke Zero Conservatives hardly put a spring in people’s steps as they went to the polling station. Britain’s fabled progressive majority didn’t show up on polling day. And they didn’t show up because they don’t exist other than in the minds of starry-eyed leftists.


If you have the time, the whole report – entitled “Dead centre? A review of the political landscape after the referendum” – is worth a read. Yes, it contains the obligatory sprinkling of shellshocked establishment wailing about Brexit, and is published by a think tank which claims to represent something (the so-called “radical centre”) which by definition can not exist. But the report nonetheless highlights the key reason why the parties of the Left cannot unite in opposition to the Evil Tor-ees, as many of their activists clearly want to happen.

Money quote:

On the whole, our analysis makes more cheerful reading for those on the right, than on the centre or the left. The two largest tribes, making up around 50% of the population, hold a range of traditionally right wing views, offering a solid foundation on which to aim for the 40-42% of the vote which normally guarantees a healthy majority under our electoral system. These groups share a desire to see immigration reduced to below 100k a year and were both solidly pro-Leave in the EU referendum.

In fact, of the eight different voter tribes identified by the report, “none of the other groups approaches the size or homogeneity of these two”. These two groups alone account for more than half the electorate, and are inherently distrustful of more leftist policies. Throw in a third tribe, the “free liberals” (perhaps including this blog) and you are looking at 57% of the electorate likely to be hostile to collectivist, redistributionist thinking.

If splits within the Conservative Party and between the Tories and UKIP look bad, that is nothing compared to the fissures on the right, according to the report. As Guido notes:

The progressive tribes are fragmented, disagreeing on openness to the world and attitudes towards the welfare state and taxation. This is bad news for the current Labour Party as the think-tank finds massive differences between so-called“Democratic Socialists” and “Community” party voter blocs – traditionally known as Labour supporters – while both tribes agree on socialist policies towards capitalism, they diverge on supporting the EU or having an internationalist approach.

Well, really it is just Labour that is fractured. The LibDems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green party have all clearly decided to tread the internationalist, social democrat path, worshipping at the altar of the EU and scorning the nation state as a worthwhile agent for change or guarantor of core liberties. This leaves the Labour Party as the only home for those patriotic left-wingers who might fall into the “Community” tribe. And even there, they find themselves under continual assault by the sneering middle class clerisy which is loathe to give up its stranglehold on policymaking. Jeremy Corbyn answers some of this tribe’s concerns, but not all. In fact, one might consider him equally dissatisfactory to the “Democratic Socialists” as to the “Community” tribe, rubbing each up the wrong way.

Even if the parties of the Left could hammer out an uneasy truce and electoral alliance, why would they? Despite the overblown leftist rhetoric, Theresa May’s Conservative government hardly shows signs of being a radical right-wing government in the manner of Thatcher (more’s the pity), so why attempt a political merger which is almost certainly doomed to failure, just to thwart a very non-threatening centrist Tory government? Leftists’ hatred of the Evil Tor-ees is certainly irrational, but they are not that irrational.

Besides, whatever faultlines currently run through the British Left, the headline numbers don’t lie. And despite the fatuous claims of opportunistic smaller parties that greater Westminster representation would enable them to participate in a progressive majority government, the votes simply are not there. They never were.

Of course, none of this is surprising – except, apparently, to London-dwelling metro-left members of the political class who never actually get out and talk to normal people. Anyone who actually does so knows that Britain remains a vaguely conservative country, shot through with a fairly strong authoritarian streak and a deeply ingrained suspicion of success.

We Brits will happily sign petitions for Things That We Don’t Like to be banned and made illegal (the authoritarian bit), light ourselves on fire outside Downing Street in protest at The Great British Bake Off moving from the BBC to Channel Four (the conservative bit) before going on a long, satisfying rant about how evil it is that the inventors and producers of that television show want to receive market-rate compensation for their creation (the suspicion of success). That’s just who we are as a country. I certainly didn’t need the Social Market Foundation and their “eight tribes” report to know that Britain is a small-c conservative country.

That’s why David Cameron was able to guide his wishy-washy, Coke Zero Conservative government to one and a half general election victories – by appealing to these instincts in us. Lord knows it wasn’t because we were excited about his agenda for government (whatever that may have been).

Anyone who pays the remotest bit of attention to British politics ought to be able to sum up our national character fairly succinctly in a manner such as this. In fact, the only ones unable to do so – who laboured under the hilarious misapprehension that there was some great progressive majority yearning to break free and assert itself, installing a wind turbine on every roof – were the deluded metro-leftists.

Perhaps now they can disenthrall themselves of this sweet but futile notion.


Postscript: This review of the report in Conservative Home is also worth a read.



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Making The Rich Pay Twice

We recently saw the Labour Party make some potentially sensible proposals on education – moving to enhance the status of teachers by simultaneously licensing them and requiring them to undertake continual professional accreditation, and making it easier to fire consistently underperforming teachers and helping them transition out of the profession.

Contrast this good news of the Labour Party embracing a carrot-and-stick performance-based approach to educational reform, with this dismal, tired suggestion from Social Market Foundation. The Guardian reports the details of their latest proposal:

One proposal would see popular state schools being means tested, with the most affluent parents being charged for their children to attend top schools.

Families earning more than £80,000 a year should contribute financially, with those with an annual income above £200,000 having to pay the full price of their children’s education at the best state schools. Fees should be the same for the wealthy as those charged at independent day schools.

This “parent premium” for households earning more than £200,000 a year would generate surplus funds, a quarter of which would be retained by the school, with the rest redistributed among other state schools.

We can lump this nonsensical idea together with all of the other vengeful “clobber the rich” schemes broached by those on the left to create a fairly accurate picture of their ideal Britain. In their Ideal Britain, anyone earning much over £150,000 a year would be subject to a 50% marginal tax rate on their income. And when they reached £200,000 a year, a household wanting to send their children to a “popular state school” would have to pay a school fee in line with the fees charged by private day schools, because why the hell not?

Meaningless graphic for a nonsensical policy.
Meaningless graphic for a nonsensical policy.

Implementing this policy would likely cause a fair bit of bemusement and anger among the evil rich fat cats being targeted, as they rightly assume that the hefty taxes that they pay entitle them to equal access to the state services that they help to fund. If, when a household has paid well over half of their income to the government once income tax, national insurance, other direct taxes and VAT are taken into account, I don’t think it is very unreasonable to assume that they have contributed enough and maybe give them a break. But not according to the Social Market Foundation. Having gone through the fiscal wringer once already, SMF sees them ripe for further punitive action, charging them for access to the good state schools that they are already paying to fund.

What next? Means testing access to NHS services? Charging for chemotherapy or kidney transplants? Where does this end?

In fact, the SMF proposal would create the bizarre and perverse financial incentive for parents to send their child to a “less good” or less popular state school so as to avoid spending up to £30,000 a year in fees. Their children might suffer as a result, but perhaps those who advocate for ideas such as this would see that as a good thing. By dragging down the progeny of the rich and successful, we create the more equal, mediocre society that they long for.

This is regressive social engineering of the worst kind, dragging down the successful and clobbering them for more money, funds which would be used for the nebulous purpose of “helping the less fortunate”. As always, the methods of taking from the rich and successful are very enthusiastically and clearly articulated, but the process by which those seized funds would be translated directly into helping the less fortunate is much more vague.

The long and short of it is this. I may greatly disagree with the current heavy tax burden, and the huge, creaking behemoth state that it funds, but I also recognise that it is the concept of everyone paying in and everyone being eligible to partake of the results that helps to create social cohesion and makes us a country rather than a bunch of economic agents who happen to live on the same island. Charging richer parents to send their children to schools that they have already paid taxes to provide – indeed, closing off access to any public services from the wealthy people who provide the lions share of the funding for them – only serves to further entrench the us vs. them atmosphere already roiling our country, but this time would give the rich some ammunition to justifiably argue their corner.

Spending on education increased from £40.6 billion in 1999 to £88.6 billion in 2014, and is estimated to rise further to £90.9 billion in 2016. If British educational standards are indeed stagnating or worsening, chronic underinvestment does not make a convincing scapegoat. Making rich people pay market rates to avail themselves of the public services that they have already funded through their taxes would no doubt fulfill many of the darker, more insidious desires of some on the left. But one thing that it would certainly not do is fix our educational problems.