October 11, 2021 - 12:30pm

Why do the Conservatives keep on winning? This is how John Harris in The Guardian presents the question:

The Tories’ opponents
 boggle at how a rightwing politics seemingly composed of stories and unlikely visions — as well as outright lies — can be so successful.
- John Harris, Guardian

In answering it Harris draws upon a 2007 book by Drew Westen, The Political Brain, which argues that, in politics, emotion trumps reason. So while those wicked Tory deceivers like Boris Johnson manipulate our emotions by telling tall tales, “liberals and leftists tend to be unduly fixated with ‘policy debates, arguments [and] statistics’.”

The irony here is that this explanation is itself pure narrative — in fact, it’s a version of that most childish of stories: the other side only won because they weren’t playing fair. 

Far from being laid low by an excess of clear-headed rationalism, the Left keeps on losing because it is lost within its own make-believe world. Of course, the Right also indulges in story-telling, spin and every conceivable shade of political BS — but there’s a special quality to the fantasies of the Left. 

That’s because they’ve been developed not just into stories, but theories — ostensibly rational (but demonstrably false) accounts of how reality works. It begins with Marx who thought he could treat history like a science and thus provide a guide to the future. Unfortunately for his disciples, history had other ideas, especially in regard to the class struggle. The Left has struggled to explain the divergence between theory and reality ever since. 

In more recent decades whole sections of the Left have switched to a different group of theories — the assortment of post-modern ideologies that fuelled the rise of woke politics.

But it’s not just the radical Left that’s taken a narrative-overdose. It’s happened in the centre-ground too — especially in regard to the interlinked issues of Europe and immigration. The liberal Left was so wrapped up in its feel-good stories about EU integration and the free movement of labour that they ignored the effect it was having on wages domestically. Brexit was the result. 

John Harris is clearly sceptical about Tory attempt to present the current supply chain crisis as an opportunity for raising wages and restructuring the economy. But to his credit, he says that the spin “draws on a few hard realities — most notably, the fact that the cracks in an exploitative labour market really have been papered over by the use of cheap labour from overseas.”

He’s correct. These are hard realities. In place of impotent rage at the Right, the Left must ask itself how it managed to ignore what was there all along.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.