politics

Identifying grounds for unity in British politics

British politics is more divided than at any other time I can remember. The EU referendum has torn the country in two, and these divisions are growing starker as Britain plunges further into the deeper circles of Brexit hell. Nobody knows what will happen with Brexit itself, let alone how the turbulence will reshape the political landscape.

The good news is that there are several important things that British people agree on across the range of voting preferences. They were highlighted by Lord Ashcroft’s polling last week. In his Mind the Gap report, voters were asked to place themselves somewhere on a spectrum between two opposing views.

For example, one question had ‘the government regulates business too much’ on one side, and ‘the government should regulate business more’ on the other. Interestingly, the average for all parties comes in the middle. Despite the regular caricatures on both sides, there is no great ideological divide on that subject.

Here are some highlights – with apologies for the small text. See the full poll here if it’s too small.

Running through that list, there is a moderate gap between prioritising economic growth and equality and workers’ rights. There are differing opinions, but no party is on the extreme. Less positively, there is unanimous opposition to increasing UK aid spending. The positive case for aid seems to have failed. David Cameron and the Conservative Party have led on this issue, but they have not taken voters with them.

One thing I was glad to see was that on the climate change question, the mean score for all parties is towards action. There are varying degrees of agreement, but no party opposes climate action. The climate denial voices in the tabloids may have swayed many, but even UKIP voters fall in the middle rather than against decarbonisation. Likewise, the gap between rich and poor matters to all – less so for Conservatives, but there is still broad agreement.

There are a couple of things to learn from this. First of all, our oppositional two party system tends to convey a binary ‘for or against’ on everything, rather than show us a range of views. Media debate also prefers to pit two views against each other. In reality people hold views to various extents, and we should beware of simplistic characterisations. Greens are not desperate to strangle business in regulation. Conservatives are not blind to inequality. We are capable of more cooperative, more generous politics.

One of the biggest challenges for Britain in the 21st century is to evolve our medieval political processes to nurture that more collaborative, gracious politics. How we do that is for another time.

Secondly, climate change and inequality are potentially topics that could help bring the country together again. Not at the extremes – and no doubt some would prefer more radical action – but effective moderate policies to reduce inequality and reduce our carbon footprint would find broad support. It may be hard to see beyond the immediate chaos of Brexit, but for activists and politicians that can see the longer term, there really is grounds for unity and for hope.

4 comments

  1. As usual we always read, enjoy and appreciate your articles, Jeremy, We share many of your beliefs. Thank you.

    1. It would be interesting to see if that has any effect. The layout of a space naturally shapes the debate – either with a literal two sides, or a circle where there are many opinions. I suspect the level of schoolboy silliness in the Commons would decline if people had to sit next to each other.

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