What people really want is safer streets and cheaper housing
So said the 14th century historian, Ibn Khaldûn, in The Muqaddimah and he was of course right.
Cities have always been associated with luxury and decadence, but in the 21st century the ideological gap between urban areas and their surroundings has grown considerably. In the US the biggest political cleavage is not that of class, race or even age but geography, where the gap between liberals and conservatives is heavily dictated by density. Joe Biden became president despite only winning 16% of US counties, for instance, because he was overwhelmingly victorious in almost all the most heavily-populated counties.
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In Britain, similarly, class has almost no bearing on voting status, but car-ownership does — and car ownership is a proxy for how densely populated your neighbourhood is.
Maybe of interest tonight @OpiniumResearch have interesting crossbreaks by car ownership in their VI polls.
Car Owning Profs Con 39, Lab 28, DK 15
Non car owning Profs Con 22, Lab 41, DK18
Car owning WC Con 30, Lab 28, DK 22
Non car owning WC Con 29, Lab 41, DK, 14
— Paula Surridge (@p_surridge) March 11, 2021
This makes it very hard for conservative parties to win mayoral elections, because modern conservatism has an ideological bias towards low-density living. We saw this recently when sections of the Right-wing press got furious because Kensington and Chelsea borough built a bike lane (and then got rid of it seven weeks later).
It is completely impractical to design a city of eight million people around car drivers; traffic in a city that size has huge external costs, so cycling, walking and public transport have to be encouraged. Urban conservatism has to be tailored towards a different sort of electorate. So how do they win?
Ibn Khaldun saw luxury as a vice because it made inhabitants decadent and therefore vulnerable to the rampages of barbarians and nomads, which was all part of what he saw as the asabiyyah cycle. Today hungry desert tribes are not a major policy concern to urban voters but violence and disorder are, and this is one policy area where conservative politicians have an advantage with urban voters.
In the US, where most major cities are Democrat one-party states, the most famous Republican victory came in New York where Rudi Giuliani managed to overthrow three decades of Democratic Party rule because New Yorkers were sick of crime. Sadiq Khan has a poor record on the issue, although it is part of a nationwide rise under a Conservative government, and it is nowhere near the dystopian Joker-era New York. But it’s true to say that we needlessly tolerate levels of everyday incivility in the capital.
The bigger issue is housing. In the US, every $10,000 increase in median home value in a county results in the Republican vote falling by 0.3 per cent. Expensive housing makes cities more Left-wing; in the shires, the Tory Party is constrained by its NIMBY paymasters, but in London they could become the party of cheaper housing by increasing the supply.
And what links cheaper housing with low street crime is that both encourage people to start families, which is the single most crucial life event that makes people move from Left to Right. With London’s house prices now expected to rise even further — in part driven by the Government’s Hong Kong immigration policy — we are well on our way to becoming San Francisco, a city of absurd housing costs matched by widespread public incivility, a one-party state with more dogs than children.