WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MUDDY MIDDLE?
I'm happy to join the universal confessions of failure from the psephologists pollsters and pundittieri over the election. We all got it wrong. We assumed that Jeremy's past would drag him down, Labour's radical manifesto would be a repeat of the longest suicide note of 1983 and a nervous electorate would want to cling to nurse.All wrong. Mea very culpa
The problem is why. Electoral analysis used to focus on getting out the vote. Marc Abrams in 1959 and Butler Stokes in the sixties described two great tribes, membership determined by hereditary and conditioning, which grew or declined with demographics. Parties won or lost by getting the vote out
This analysis was replaced as party allegiances weakened in the seventies by the centre ground theory. The argument here was that parties had to moderate their ideologues to win the centre ground where, it was claimed most electors lived. Strong policies would frighten the middle ground so parties had to soften their approach, blandise their appeal and avoid frightening people
In my view the centre ground was a kind of mushy, middle, the home of floating voters and people less interested in politics, more apathetic, less likely to vote, and less involved . This was a tribe with no strong party commitment whose confused perceptions could be easily influenced by moods, fears and media
Blairites had a different view of the middle ground. They saw it as marginal territory between the parties where people could be mobilised by fear, altruism and hope . In the Blairite view Labour's task was to blandise its appeal , moderate its policies, soften its ideology and reach out from its core vote to win votes in the south and among the more liberal middle classes.
Different perceptions pointing to similar conclusions, specifically that Labour should take its core support for granted, forget terrifying things like socialism and nationalisation, avoid frightening people, disassociate from the unions and present itself as a party of government, hope and goodwill to win the centre ground .In a conservative country with a malign media, respectability and the avoidance of fear were the way to do that. Keep Prescott and Skinner in a cage. Smile, wave and win
It worked for Blair. Labour won but then threw it all away because having moderated itself out of everything it had little idea of what to do next. It lost ground in its core areas like Scotland which it had taken for granted but to which it delivered too little to keep them happy.
In the light of all this thinking Corbyn's defeat seemed certain.We were clearly wrong. Yet that doesn't tell us why. Could it be that a techtonic shift is taking place?. Is the middle ground moving.?
The people have been subjected to three decades of neoliberalism, cuts, underinvestment and frozen living standards.They're beginning to realise that though the rich have benefitted generously, austerity has neither improved their own position nor given them stable employment and better prospects The fat cats prosper The people stagnate .
In the face of all this its hardly surprising if the middle grounders have become a little fed up, living in a country that's going nowhere with a standard of living that's static, employment uncertain and debt accumulating. As a result their apathy is fading, their fears subsiding
As fear looses its grip, radical policies begin to look more acceptable and Labour looks less frightening. However desperately the media and the Tory Party invoke the old bogey person images , warn of tax bombshells, or bang on about the absence of money trees, the middle ground is opening up for change..
This can be a new beginning in which we can have a serious discussion and develop serious policies to deal with Britain's real and pressing problems. Instead of pretending all's well, playing Mr and Mrs Nice and pretending that we can make things better by doing not very much we might be able to recognise that Britain is in a mess and offer serious, even socialist policies for getting out of it