I've now been at The Times for just over four months and of all the articles I've published since taking over the Comment desk one of the most important was a piece by YouGov's Peter Kellner that documented declining voter faith in left-wing parties across Europe. After conducting polling in Britain, France, Germany and Sweden Mr Kellner – himself a man of the Left – worried that "millions in all four countries no longer think left-of-centre parties care about them; and most reject the idea that governments are good at solving social problems." The polling is summarised in the table below:
I don't believe that the austerity we are seeing is a short-term problem for the Left. It's not just that countries like Britain are only a quarter to a third of the way towards getting rid of the deficit. The ageing population means that it's going to be hard for governments to afford any new forms of expenditure that aren't related to pensions, healthcare and social care. There's also the fact of global tax competition. If left-wing governments think they can keep raising taxes to pay for new benefits or entitlement programmes they will find that footloose individuals and businesses will teach them some basic lessons in economics.
This, of course, adds up to a big opportunity for the Right and in an important piece for the New Statesman there is at least one left-wing commentator who gets it. James Bloodworth notes that there's always been a tension between the progressive wing of the Labour Party and its heartland, working class vote but that that tension is now becoming a chasm. He mentions immigration and welfare, in particular, where Ed Miliband and the voters of Hampstead and Highgate want to go one way and Labour's blue collar voters who want to go in the opposite direction.
"Around the world, the often uncomfortable coalition of blue-collar traditionalists and liberal progressives that has underpinned successful centre-left parties is coming undone. It’s because the coffers are empty. It is now much harder for parties of the left to use increases in public spending to offer economic advances for working-class members while simultaneously advancing the cultural priorities of its progressive wing."
Absolutely, 100% correct. And that is the big, emerging opportunity for the Conservatives. In the age of financial plenty the Left could maintain its contradictory coalition by showering its blue collar vote with economic goodies while being all green, open borders and socially liberal for its progressive vote. It's now much harder for the Left to play at both ends.
Can the Tories take advantage of this moment? Only, argues Skelton, if they develop housing, consumer and tax policies that ensure the working classes come to see the Right as on their side. As Rob Halfon MP has done in Harlow. Conservatives have the policies on welfare, immigration and Europe to appeal to heartland Labour voters – David Cameron and George Osborne must now ensure they have the economic policies to go with them.