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.