Open politics, closed minds?
Lord (Andrew) Cooper, former pollster for Prime Minister David Cameron and the Remain campaign, has produced a new report analysing British voting patterns. He finds that voters are moving away from left versus right to what he calls open versus closed, and argues that the Tories must embrace a more open view of globalisation and multiculturalism if they are to succeed. He warns that as many as nine Tory seats in London are at risk in the next general election if they fail to do so.
I think his characterisation of the divide as “open versus closed” is itself a political framing. The real battle is between “Ins versus Outs”, as I wrote for UnHerd last year. By framing it as “open versus closed” Lord Cooper mischaracterises the argument of those disadvantaged by social and economic trends and subtly insinuates that those who have been hurt or disagree with Blair-Cameron political economy are closed-minded. He thus merely re-presents the classic “Ins” argument, that their views are legitimate and those of their opponents are not, that was so well documented in the recent report on European populism published by the Blair Institute.
Lord Cooper has promoted the idea that the Tories must be “open” to these trends throughout his tenure in politics. But embracing “open” politics failed to gain the Tories votes in the key, upscale demographics they were targeting from Prime Minister Cameron’s ascension through the 2010 election. It took the 2015 election’s targeting of the potential SNP-Labour alliance to finally shift some of these voters towards the Tories, but nevertheless the Tory majority was only secured through the pledge of the referendum which attracted back many of the “closed-minded” voters wh0, in the prior year, were considering UKIP.
The Cooper-Cameron “open” strategy failed to win the Tories the majority in 2010 and helped split the party over Europe, thereby creating the meteoric rise of UKIP during the Cameron leadership and directly contributing to the referendum whose results Lord Cooper decries. Yet in the face of all those evidence that perhaps an “open” approach to these issues divides centre-right parties, and in spite of the evidence that ignoring the views of the “closed-minded” divides a nation, Lord Cooper continues to peddle an updated version of the same strategy he has been pushing for over a decade. Whose mind is open, and whose is closed?