by David Goodhart
Wednesday, 23
October 2019
Idea
12:35

Time for our political packages to be re-sorted

I have been doing some online dating recently which gives you a lot of practice both in presenting yourself and in noticing tribal politics in other people.

I was having a friendly online chat with one woman and she asked me what I thought of Boris Johnson. As this was the Guardian’s online dating site and she had described herself as a socialist I assumed there was likely to be a correct and an incorrect answer here. But as I was quite interested in her I tried to be truthful in the least off-putting manner.

I said I had voted Remain but think we should respect the Brexit vote and I would certainly consider voting Tory if Boris Johnson stood the best chance of bringing the country together around a One Nation programme, perhaps not that different from the 2017 Tory election programme (shorn of the silly bits on adult care).

Pre-empting her own tribal thinking I also added that I don’t think you can read off peoples’ attitudes and behaviour in everyday life from their voting decisions. I know arrogant, selfish socialists and generous, self-effacing Tories.

Alas, I never heard from her again. 

Life is so much more interesting when you cannot predict someone’s views on pretty much everything from the way they are dressed or what they think of Boris Johnson.

For many years I have been quoting the American political thinker Daniel Bell who when asked for his political credo back in the 1980s said: “I am a social democrat in economics, a liberal in politics and somewhat conservative on social and cultural issues.” It is more or less my credo too.

This is not a traditional Left/Right-package. But it is, of course, a package of its own. I have called it the “hidden majority” package which for various historical reasons no mainstream party of Left or Right has been able to adopt. The Left went off in a culturally liberal direction in the 1970s and never came back, indeed, with the rise of Left-wing identity politics it has become even more hostile to social conservatism. The Right went hard free market in the 1980s, but has been shuffling back more recently.

Partly thanks to Brexit and the new, more blue-collar voters that the Tories are now trying to appeal to, this new “hidden majority” package is now the centre of a lot of political attention. The old Blair/Cameron liberal centre is giving way to a new centre that accommodates the priorities of at least some of the Brexit voters.

With a bit of tweaking — perhaps adding market-friendly before social democrat — the Daniel Bell credo could be said to lie behind the 2017 Tory manifesto and possibly a future Boris Johnson one too.

Is this new political package about to have its moment?

This is an edited extract from David Goodhart’s recent ‘point of view’ on BBC Radio 4. See HERE for the full programme.