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Labour needs to read the Sun

It is Labour’s recognition that it has been abandoned by what are now being called ‘C2 voters’, and discussion on how to rectify that uncomfortable fact, that seems to be the narrative taking precedence in the post-election post-mortem. Whilst simplistic caricature needs to be avoided, not least because it risks unleashing the indignant fury of the Guardianistas upon the heads of the caricatured ‘white working class’, nonetheless it is a welcome development – Labour have too long been in thrall to trendy metro-liberalism and dismissive, even disdainful, of the beliefs, culture and needs of the working class communities that once constituted their core-vote.

Looking at newspaper readership can usefully highlight this fact. We all remember how New Labour spat feathers when the Sun switched allegiances to the Tories, how Tony Woodley tore a copy of the paper to shreds, how Mandelson talked ambiguously of ‘losers’ choosing the Sun, how Harriet Harman delivered a broadside focussing on their lack of support for her ‘progressive’ agenda. And, in their own way, these responses were entirely legitimate, and undoubtedly played awfully well to the Guardian-reading ‘progressives’ gathered round the feet of their idols. However, the reaction also contained a hint of that same sneering attitude toward ‘C2s’ that was instrumental in driving these people away from Labour in the first place. It was illustrative of a larger dislocation that had already taken place, and laid bare a deep cultural and ideological division, confirming the impression that, for the ‘progressives’ at the head of the Labour Party, the kind of people who read the Sun are not the kind of people who belong with New Labour. Indeed, the Sun and the Daily Mail have largely been co-opted as terms of abuse by the ‘progressive’ left, thrown at anyone who deviates from their orthodoxies.

And this is an all too common condition in the contemporary Labour Party. As I have blogged before, the self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ attack with intense ferocity the very social-conservatism that is often normative amongst the people that, generally speaking, vote them into power; one can hardly feign shock or surprise, then, when these same people choose to walk away. In short, the Labour Party has ceased to show concern about the same things the ‘C2s’ are concerned about, and have ceased even to speak in the same language that ‘C2s’ speak.

To offer some very superficial support of this argument, one can look to a survey carried out the by the NRS, illustrating the socio-economic status, age and gender of the readership of various newspaper titles between January and December 2009. Now I ought to state from the outset that I am generally suspicious of surveys and polls and whatnot, and try not to set much store by them, and I offer this here only to try and glean some vague and broad patterns that might be helpful, rather than garner any detailed conclusions. That caveat inserted, there are some interesting finds;

For example, amongst ‘C2DE’ group, the market share of the Sun (22%) far eclipsed the Daily Mirror (12.2%) and dwarfs the Guardian (0.6%). Amongst the ABC1 voters the figures change a little, though the Sun (10.6%) remains more popular than the Daily Mirror (6.2%) and the Guardian (3.7%) respectively. I have, of course, picked the Sun and the Daily Mirror as broad market equivalents, but for those who think it unreliable to compare the Sun with the Guardian, in light of the socio-economic status of their intended target audience, then it is also worth noting that the Daily Mail also polls significantly higher than the Guardian amongst C2DE voters (7.7% vs 0.6) and ABC1 voters alike (11.8% vs 3.7%) . On Sundays, the News of the World is the stand out newspaper amongst C2DE voters (21.1% vs the 10.4% of the Sunday Mirror), whilst the Mail on Sunday(8.3%) significantly outpolls the Observer (0.7%), a figure that stands at 12.9% vs 4.1% amongst ABC1s.

As I said, a big pinch of salt is required, and one shouldn’t try and draw anything overly deep and meaningful out of the simplistic figures and caricatures I have offered here. That said, the larger pattern that emerges offers some substance to the overall charge; the kind of voters that New Labour are anguished about having lost prefer to read the kind of newspapers for which New Labour, largely speaking, has a barely-concealed disdain. Of course, no readership entirely reflects or agrees with the editorial line of any particular newspaper, but it is not unreasonable to expect at least a measure of confluence. And if that is the case, then this offers some statistical validification for the charge that Labour has for too long lined itself up as the political wing of the Guardian-reading, Fabianist and metropolitan elites, and all too often against the culture, identities, beliefs and even needs of the wider electorate it wishes to represent. Or, as Anthony Painter has it, writing with far more eloquence and clear-sightenedess than I;

‘…what this election has done in a way that hasn’t previously happened- even in the aftermath of the Iraq War- is that the Guardianrati is becoming separated from the Duffyprols. Labourism is becoming severed from liberalism. The strange thing about the curious case of Mrs Duffy is that the Prime Minister expressed a liberal elitist view when he referred to her as a ‘bigot.’ And yet he is not a liberal elitist which leads me to think that he did genuinely mishear or misunderstand her. What was absolutely clear was her shock when she was told that she had been described as a bigot because she was expressing what seems to her a perfectly reasonable set of arguments.’

I actually think that the split is rather more seismic than Painter allows, not least because the contemporary ‘progressive’ brigade are too authoritarian (and illiberal) for any genuinely pluralistic fusion of labourism and liberalism to be a genuine possibility, at least in the near future. Even so, the central insight is accurate, and one wonders if Labour will face down these uncomfortable truths and, even more courageously, take positive steps to address them. Or to express that a little differently, if Labour really want to win back the ‘C2s’ then it needs to put down the Guardian and, as painful as some might find it, start reading the Sun.

Will it happen? I’m not sure. With Cruddas dropping out of the leadership race, the remaining candidates pretty much all espouse precisely that narrow and closed ideology that has proved so alienating for many outside of the (highly vocal and influential though essentially marginal) liberal establishment. As with all things, only time will tell. Though I, for one, don’t hold out too much hope.

Immigration and culture

Immigration has all of a sudden become a hot issue for the left. Stung by the mass-abandonment of the Labour Party by ‘C2 voters’, they are grasping around for anything they think could be turned into the totemic issue for the lower socio-economic classes and so, naturally, have stumbled upon immigration. Partly this is to be welcomed; it has brought with it the genuine recognition that the benefits immigration brings for certain sectors of society must not always and necessarily trump the genuine anxiety it can cause amongst others. On the other hand, the danger is that Labour has begun to associate anti-immigration feeling per se with an angry ‘white-working class’, and this only on the basis of resources – predictably, this has enabled the Guardianistas to indulge in their favoured class war, writing off the ‘white-working classes’ as basically racist and bigoted, with nothing more sophisticated than a hunter-gatherer approach to quality of life, whose silence can be bought with a few well-directed resources thrown their way.

Now, I happen to think that the immigration issue is not chiefly about resources, though it is certainly also about that, but primarily concerns something much bigger: the loss of communality, of common concern and common endeavour, of shared identities and shared loyalties, of associative and reciprocal relationships. Aside from the atomistic individualism promoted by social-liberalism, I also think the multiculturalism of the metro-left has contributed to this situation, whilst cultural relativism has created it – after all, one can hardly offer a framework for shared identities if the particularities of the indigenous culture have already been denied as having any sort of authority in these lands. And if ‘British’ (in itself a diverse and multi-layered identity) culture has already had its primacy denigrated thus, so it cannot legitimately claim to be the overarching framework within which the rich and vibrant cultural expressions of various immigrant communities should situate themselves. All that is left is a vacuum, in which self-expression trumps commitment to any larger identity or loyalties – and the creation of endless ‘communities’ with no discernable cultural connection to one another or the place in which they reside.

I was thinking about this yesterday, after having attended Mass. The first thing to say about the Mass in Dundee Cathedral is that it is very beautiful (occasional Kendrickean abuses notwithstanding), but it is also very diverse, multi-aged and especially multi-racial. Yet the diversity and multi-racial element isn’t an end in itself, but rather a wonderful expression of the universality of that which unites us all; in this instance, our common faith, and our common expression of it. Our differences are celebrated under the banner of that which transcends and unites us – and for that reason we embrace the difference, and the genuine value it offers to our collective identity and culture.

Yes yes, all very gushing I know, but I think it illustrates well what I’m trying to articulate. And I’m not sure that the leftist intelligentsia, having debunked patriotic expression for at least a generation, have provided any alternatives that could perform a similar function in uniting diversity under a common banner. Again, cultural relativism has its part to play here, but in my experience this cultural timidity, some would call it self-loathing, is something very much confined to the left-liberal elite – I don’t think it affects the flag-waving working-classes so much (if anything it offends them) and my father-in-law, arriving from Calcutta in his teens, is very proud of this country, his country, what it stands for, and the particularities of its culture and history. And it is that particularity, the concrete expression of shared narratives and ideals (local, regional and national) that vague and fuzzy ideological buzzwords (equality, diversity etc. etc.) have been unable to replicate – as a result, the tribe of one particular ghetto (this in itself a legacy of multiculturalism) too often feel a million miles away from the tribe in the next one.

Of course, this is not easy, and being working-class, northern and Roman Catholic (with an Irish grandfather) means that I will no doubt have a radically different understanding of certain events in British history to, for example, a middle-class, southern Protestant. But this isn’t at all about jingoism, nostalgia, or excessive sentimentalism. It’s about organic connections to, and respect of, the transcending quirks of our culture and history and landscape and myriad other things, not to mention the many-layered identities bestowed through local, regional and national ties.  It seems to me that these things are to be celebrated, not scorned upon, and upon them can commonality be founded – if the immigration debate starts talking more in these terms, of Labour’s record of having sown seeds of division in the name of ‘diversity’, then I think it will inch closer to the nub of the problem.

Abbott speaks the wrong language

Diane Abbott writes an article in support of her leadership bid here, in which she makes two statements that I think give an insight into the ways in which the modern political classes really do get the common ground rather wrong.

Firstly, she states that, with regards immigration,

[W]e need to reject the notion, which virtually every other leadership candidate seems to be pushing, that somehow immigration lost us the election. By all means address the underlying reasons why (black and white) working-class people grumble about recent immigrants. Chief amongst these was New Labour’s ideologically driven insistence that the market could somehow provide housing for all, when we should have been promoting a building drive of high quality, well-managed public housing.

But we also need to address job insecurity and the rise of the agency worker. And we need to recognise that the way in which New Labour chipped away at the welfare state in the name of “choice” has left ordinary people frightened of the future. Above all we should be wary of appearing to collude with making immigrants the “scapegoat” in the middle of a recession. History teaches us where that can lead.

This would seem to suggest that Diane Abbott thinks, consistent with her generally patronising view of the lower socio-economic classes, that unrest over immigration is solely a question of resources, and that if you throw the malcontents a few more crusts of bread then they’ll retreat back to their caves and realise that the enlightened clique that imposed such radical and unrequested change upon them were actually right all along. That is, for Abbott, and for many others in her party too, the lower socio-economic classes are incapable of having anything other than a hunter-gatherer approach to the question societal change – and on this they are entirely wrong.*

For in approaching the problem from this direction, Abbott completely ignores the deep unpopularity of the identity politics the metro-left have embraced, and which the BNP have very much exploited to their favour (Labour claims to have beaten them off, but their vote doubled this election – though they admittedly stood in more seats – and they got double the votes of the Green Party). Or, to express that in relation to the immigration debate, it is the scale of change in a cultural sense that often lies at the root of anti-immigration feeling, and this cultural change has been both underpinned and actively promoted by the approach of the metro-left to cultural identity; which, in the broadest terms, essentially consists in portraying traditional and historical patriotic expression as A Bad Thing (they deny it of course, and maintain they have been patriotic all along, for at least as long, in fact, as we’ve been at war with Eurasia).

Thus, unlikely as some might think it, cultural relativism and the obsession with identity politics are genuine factors at play here – and really are related to the success of the BNP. In fact, I’d go further, and say that a very large part of the ideological framework that frames the contemporary left is unpopular amongst the wider electorate, particularly those lower socio-economic classes that have abandoned Labour so resoundingly. As such, the threat of the BNP isn’t solely situated in the lack of housing or jobs, though there is certainly an important element of that – it also lies in exploiting discontent with what appears to be the unfair and/or discriminatory elements of metro-liberal ideology, of which identity politics is a central part.

Thus, when Nick Griffin asks why it is perfectly legitimate to talk of the indigenous aboriginees but not the indigenous Brits, people are struck by that; when he asks why there can be a Black Police Association but not a white police association, people are struck by that; when he asks why people feel sneered and jeered at by the metro-left for waving the Cross of St. George (this is, in fact, an incredibly potent issue that could do with much more unpacking), people are struck by that. And so on and so forth. In short, Griffin plays upon a very real feeling of injustice which, crucially, goes much further than access to and allocation of various resources.

Which leads to the second statement,

Britain needs a Labour party renewed for the 21st century with a genuinely diverse leadership which looks like modern Britain.

Which, to any one of those lost Labour voters that have either become politically dormant or else actively BNP, sounds very much like the same identity politics that causes them to think Labour has abandoned them in the first place. Because historically when statements like these are made, the solution has all too often been to tilt the field in favour of preferred ‘diversity’ candidates which, obviously, means tilting it away from others. And as ‘diversity’ nearly always means skin colour or sexuality – very rarely does it encompass class – you can see why such statements might fail to win back the working-class white male voter who is, by and large, the chief defector from the Labour movement, particularly in the South.

To make the point, one might also quote Mehdi Hasan, who in considering Abbott’s candidacy said,

‘Could no suitable female or non-white candidates be found among the 258-strong parliamentary Labour party? Perhaps the party needed to appoint itself a diversity czar.’

In its own way this is both racist and chauvinist, and contrary to what many, brought up on the doctrine of meritocracy, would thinks constitutes either ‘equality’ or ‘fairness’. One could point out, and legitimately, that these groups are under-represented and so special meaures should be made for them, but then the white-working class male sat in his rented bedsit might also feel he could do with a helping hand too, and could certainly could do without anymore obstacles being placed in front of him, particularly ones he can do absolutely nothing about. One could hardly be surprised that there has thus arisen a deep feeling of unfairness, a feeling that the Labour Party has ‘abandoned people like us’ (perhaps the most common complaint), and indeed has actually set itself actively against them: ask these people what they think about the equal opportunities form found at the back of job applications, and you’ll get a good idea of the sentiment I’m trying to describe.

Pointing this out will, of course, bring out all the usual slurs from the metro-liberals, of offering the Daily Mail perspective, of being racist, of being a ‘bigot’ (funnily enough, the left have stopped using this word so much just recently, though a plucky few do carry on regardless). That is the collateral one must accept should ever one choose to challenge the ‘progressive’ consensus on, well, anything really.  Even so, the points remain valid, and the left has some uncomfortable questions to ask itself about what it has become – I hope, for the sake of restoring some legitimacy to the notion of ‘representative democracy’, that they choose to engage in that process.

* David Goodhart stands out here, and though perhaps going further than I would comfortably go, he does touch upon an important theme that really needs to be talked about – the management of immigration in relation to core concepts of the common good, common identity, and common endeavour.

Election 2010

So there we have it. A liberal Conservative, or a conservative Liberal, or just a vaguely aristocratic  and liberal kind of guy, is the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Quite how he got there is a raucous tale of high-jinks that will be sung by the troubadour-classes for years to come, displaying as it does those magical and mythical elements of the fairy-tale that distinguishes genuine reality from our banal perceptions of it. If I were to offer a very brief summary, it would run a little something like…

“Standing as the leader of the Tory Party, the heir to New Labour’s Mr. Blair went about first and foremost cleansing his party of the influence of conservatives, evidently deeming them unsuitable bedfellows, before imposing the kind of illiberal leadership more common to the Liberals, or indeed liberals. Out went Tory Blue and in came Liberal Yellow, for Cameron deigned that the best way to secure the most votes was by appealing to followers of a party that consistently polled the least votes. The swing voter, it was deemed, also happened to be a liberal, which was rather handy for Cameron, since he was only really interested in the swing voters, and it is much easier to woo a friend than a foe. And woo them he did; for though small in number they were great in power, and for the love of a swinger was Cameron willing to forsake all other bonds of political fidelity.

“And so, with a Belizean on one shoulder and an Australian on the other, Cameron went about courting precisely those who, on the face of it, were most likely to take umbrage with the background and worldviews of him and his colonial lieutenants. To Cameron this mattered little, for with his ‘modernisation’ he had already hatched his plan to make them swoon; though it soon became clear that Cameron’s ‘modernisation’ was in fact remarkably similar to that familiar and now time-weary brand which the electorate were in droves rejecting. Cameron sallied forth regardless, and in the transformation the unfashionable ‘backwoodsmen’ were tossed aside, for which they were later reprimanded, both for being tossed aside and for being backwoodsmen, both these things apparently having cost the shiny-new ‘Modern Conservatives’ an electoral majority.

“Even so, this detoxification of the party, cleared as it was of all those elements that historically won elections, demonstrated Cameron’s commitment to the modernising cause, and showcased his remarkable ability to harmonise the seemingly disparate into an incoherent whole, a skill that his shrinking band of followers touted as his greatest talent and which his growing band of foes denounced as his greatest weakness. And so, again and again, he was able to face two ways at once, his swivelled eyes nonetheless giving the impression of looking four-square ahead.  Thus it was that he opined the ‘broken society’, whilst dogmatically embracing the values that created it; he eulogised the ‘Big Society’, whilst offering a state-trained ‘army’ as the foundation of it; he derided the anti-democratic EU, whilst reneging on a cast-iron guarantee to hold a referendum on its most contentious treaty; he waxed lyrical of liberated ‘free schools’, whilst demanding they conform to state-approved dogma; he took firm and flamboyant action against expenses abuse, ending parliamentary careers in the process, whilst swiftly sweeping over the dubiousness of his own claims and those of his acolytes; he spoke consistently of the importance of faith in the public sphere, before removing orthodox Christians from his party for saying orthodox Christian-type things; he spoke admirably of ‘pushing power downwards and outwards’, whilst implementing Big Brother-esque control-freakery at CCHQ; he talked of the importance of the charitable sector, whilst voting to close some of it down for refusing to abandon its Christian conscience; he spoke of meritocracy, whilst imposing A-List candidates chosen as much for image as for merit; he spoke of ‘diversity’, whilst stuffing his Cabinet full of people that looked remarkably like him; he harangued government for not adequately equipping our armed forces, whilst agreeing that the Defence Budget would have to be cut; he spoke passionately about public debt, whilst largely committing to the Budget model that created it; he spoke convincingly about a low-tax and small state society, whilst waving through a high-tax and big-state green agenda; and numerous and varied other things besides. Having thus convinced everyone that he believed whatever they thought he might believe, so did Cameron embark upon his inevitable defeat of an already defeated foe.

“Only, it did not work. Despite having the backing of a ‘modernising’ troupe of 1980s SDP throwbacks, despite the chattering classes toasting his victory and cheering the new enlightenment, Cameron’s plan proved a dud, and he failed to take the country with him. The chattering classes were aghast, unable to comprehend how their own brand of metropolitan liberalism didn’t sweep to power in a country that, by and large, is neither metropolitan nor liberal. And so it was that the country, possessing the collective wisdom that intellectuals often lack, saw through the ruse, and for want of anyone to vote for merely voted for everybody, thus producing a hung parliament and offering no clear endorsement of any one in particular.

“Thus it was that the first-past-the-post system, that always delivers a firm result and stable government, failed to deliver either a firm result or a stable government. And so, after hours of grubby deals, here we stand, governed by a man that contrived to lose the unlosable election, bunked up with a man who was the biggest loser of the election, this being the new definition of ‘victory’. In the name of representing the wishes of the electorate, power has been dispensed by those and amongst those whom the electorate refused to endorse; in the name of the ‘national interest’, Clegg and Cameron have pursued what is manifestly best for their own careers; in the name of ‘a stable government’, so has each tied their party to an inherently instable coalition for government. The LibDems, having had bestowed on them power and influence far beyond what reasoned calculation would merit, have chosen electoral reform as the price of their treachery, and that in the name of giving them more power and influence. The ‘Modern Conservatives’, having failed to triumph, chose to bribe the least influential with what would most effectively hobble the most influential, and that in the name of possessing power. And all the while everyone looks around, not quite sure how we got where we are, but wholly sure it is not really where we wanted to be.

And so there it is, in brief, an electoral tale full to the brim of paradox. One year from now, one suspects a new, though remarkably similar story, will have to be told.

In defence of Sood

No doubt everyone will have read about Manish Sood today, the Labour Party candidate for North West Norfolk who stuck something of a spoke in the wheels of the election campaign by denouncing Gordon Brown as the worst Prime Minster this country has ever had and maintaining that he ought to apologise to both Queen and country for the mess we find ourselves in.

Now, politically speaking, this chap is clearly bonkers. He has strayed so far from normative procedural practice that he couldn’t realistically expect anything better than to be written off as a hopeless eccentric, or worse. And yet, one cannot help but wonder if this is precisely his strength, even if those increasingly despised robots walking round Westminster rigidly observing the established rules of the political game fail to see it. Undoubtedly, some of the things Sood says appear wholly daft, other things completely absurd, and his proclamation that we should aspire to live back in the 70s, for example, just sounds bizarre. But then, at the same time, by saying such a thing what is Sood really doing but expressing that deep and often buried truth that so many instinctively feel, even if they’re taught from an early age to always think otherwise  – that things were better in the past, even the not-so-distant past, the past of our fathers and grandfathers before us. Perhaps then the man should have been a poet rather than a politician – though it is a shame that a politician can no longer be a poet.

So what did he say? Well, amongst various other things, some of them refreshingly bonkers, and for that reason containing an important nugget of truth, his basic argument seemed to be based on nothing more complicated than this: ‘The loss of social values is the basic problem, and this is not what the Labour Party is about’.

To which I would heartily agree. As would many working-class voters who Labour presume to think it still has a moral right to represent, despite it largely despising them nowadays. Of course, such utterances are enough to have one thrown out of the contemporary Labour establishment as a dangerous heretic; the modern Labour Party is no broad church, and anybody who thinks its social programme to be anything other than wholly enlightened must clearly be either a) a Tory dinosaur or b) a bigoted monster, which in New Labour minds is roughly the same thing.

Accordingly, all those people who might have historically been Labour voters have suddenly found themselves unceremoniously dumped, told that they’re dreadfully right wing, most laughably by a cabal of charlatans whose right-wing individualism underpins their social doctrines and whose right-wing Thatcherism underpins their economic doctrines. Mr Sood, as one would expect, immediately suffered precisely this fate, with Sunder Katwala tweeting that he’s a muppet (what, not a ‘bigot’?), and Peter Mandelson describing him as a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. All in all a good response, I would say.

Sood, however is unrepentant, and if anything his views are becoming more robust. He says in the Independent,

‘I will stand by what I say because I know it’s the truth and nothing but the truth… If they are not going to listen, I’m going to carry on saying what I’m saying because they are damaging the country… My motive is to clean up the system, to make Great Britain the best country in the world… People have lost respect for being British and being part of this system and part of this country… What I am saying is the right truth and nothing but the truth and as a result people have become too spoiled, too used to the system and too used to the bureaucracy, the corruption. I’m trying to improve the system… I am a true staunch Labour Party member, my policies fit in very well with the party, it’s just they can’t accept it because they have been too used to the modern-day thinking… I have still got an uphill battle ahead of me but I never give up. I’m a freedom fighter and I will continue because I am proud of being British and I want my country to be the best country in the world.’

‘Proud of being British and I want my country to be the best country in the world.’ For all his evident eccentricity this man has been courageous enough to say those things the political classes absolutely refuse to countenance, even if the public at large speak of little else. From out of nowehere, two days before what could be an era-defining election, one man, claiming to be the true possessor of the Labour ideal, an Asian man, the son of immigrants, standing in Norfolk of all counties, offering a social conservatism that would have been perfectly orthodox only a generation ago, oozing patriotism and a royalist to boot; this man, this Labour man, attacked his metro-masters and did it in the name of his country and his party. He might be a fool, but he’s a patriot. He might be wrongheaded, but he is undoubtedly right-hearted. He may be hated by those in Westminster; but then so was Cobbett.

Or maybe I’m creating a myth of a man. Think of him what you will. Disagree with his ideas (and some of them I really do). Ridicule him, slander him, mock him and despise him. But don’t think he will pass wholly unnoticed. Even if his name never appears again, his influence will already have had an impact, thrusting yet another wedge into an already breached hull, emboldening others to pick up their tools and tear apart this rotting wreckage of a ship, so that another one might be built in its place, a much better one, one more in keeping with the mind of its creators. I mentioned in a previous blog post that maybe, just maybe, this election will prove the high-tide of the pernicious ‘progressive’ influence on the Labour party, and that perhaps a heavy defeat will encourage a return to those roots that have been so systematically abandoned. If it does, then it will win more than it loses. If it does not, it will sink, holed beneath the water line, fatally missing those once loyal and resilient crewmen who would have got below deck, plugged the holes and manned the buckets, all the while cursing the name of their prancing Captain, abandoning them as he did for a passing ship called ‘the LibDem’.

Like our parents and grandparents before us…

After Mass in Dundee Cathedral yesterday we were given two handouts. The first was from the SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) and the second was a Scottish Bishops’ Election Statement. The SPUC handout was at pains to underline that they had no intention of telling anyone which way to cast their vote, before outlining with admirable sobriety the position of the leading candidates for both Dundee East and Dundee West on the issues of abortion, abortion on minors without parental consent, human-animal hybrid embryos used for research, euthanasia, assisted suicide and ‘living wills’. The Bishops’ Statement was also at pains to underline that they did not seek to tell anybody which way to cast their vote, but were hoping to encourage people to ‘let your faith count at the ballot box’. Which all adds further evidence to the increasingly obvious truth that, under sustained attack, Christians are mobilising in a way that I for one have certainly never experienced before.

Perhaps the most explicitly written section of the Bishops’ Statement came with these words;

The political choices we face today are not the choices your parents and grandparents faced. They would never have voted for any candidate who refused to protect unborn human life, who supported experimentation on human embryos, or planned to assist unfortunate people to commit suicide. They would never have voted for a candidate who would undermine marriage and family in the way that has happened in recent years with cross-party support. They would never have voted for candidates who rejoiced in same-sex unions. They would never have voted for candidates who would stop the Church offering adoption services. They would never have voted for candidates who were clearly hostile to the values they held dear. Your parents and grandparents voted for those they believed shared the fundamental Christian values as they did. It is for us to do likewise to shape a society where they dignity of each individual and life itself is respected.

Now, there’s two interesting things about that. Firstly, the last two sentences, and the general exhortation to ‘make faith count’, illustrates a wider and gradual detachment of the ‘faith vote’ from party tribalism and toward, as with the ‘progressive vote’, a body of floating voters who will vote for anyone who stands for, upholds and defends their moral and/or social values and beliefs (though not always – I know many who still refuse to vote Conservative, though I think even they could be winnable were there a Conservative Party that chose to engage them). This is both encouraging and problematic – as I have noted before, the result could well be the polarisation of society and a pernicious culture war in which only naked power, and those with the most of it, will in the end be victorious.

Secondly, apart from those extreme and reactionary social-liberals who will denounce this statement as being extreme and reactionary, there is plenty in that snippet which will be closer to the opinions of many than are the doctrines of the metro-bourgeoisie. And since Labour has become the political progeny of the ‘social revolution’, and since the Conservatives have historically and successfully offered some sort of counter-balance to the Left’s embrace of post-60s liberalism, then one might expect that the Tories would be willing, nay enthusiastic, about representing, as far as is expedient, precisely those opinions. Interesting, then, that when questionnaires were sent out to candidates in order that they might make clear their own position on a variety of controversial issues, all the main parties agreed to allow their candidates to speak for themselves. Except for one. The Tories.

The Bishops’ Statement ends with words that would have been perfectly well at ease across the political spectrum a generation or so ago.

‘It is our duty to encourage you to engage with the political process and to vote for the candidate who best represents the values we, like our parents and grandparents before us, hold dear’.

Only the political parties of today, all three of them, mock and despise the values our parents and grandparents held dear. As such, this voter remains undecided.