This is Tim Montgomerie’s second report from his trip to Australia. On Monday he wrote about John Howard’s willingness to take tough, unpopular decisions.
Class was once the defining predictor of which political party would win the vote of a British elector. In 1964 just 2% of voters with no ‘working class characteristics’ voted Labour.
I got that statistic from an article in ‘Policy‘, an Australian magazine published by The Centre for Independent Studies. The article is about ‘The Rise of The Opinionators’ in Australian politics – an ideas class of teachers, community activists, academics and journalists who vote for Australia’s Labor Party and who, through their professions, are responsible for the development, transmission and interpretation of society’s ideas and values. The table on the right illustrates how they are much more leftish than the average Australian. My guess is that the ideas classes of Britain and America also lean sharply to the left.
At the same time the left has been raiding the votes of professional classes like the opinionators, the world’s most successful conservative parties have been winning blue collar voters. Mrs Thatcher’s victories in the 1980s owed much to the wooing of ‘Essex Man’ and the sale of council homes to their tenants. Reagan’s Democrats were lower income Americans won to the Republican cause by his no-nonsense approach to the economy and values. George W Bush swung the traditionally Democrat state of West Virginia in 2000 and 2004 because his values and commitment to the mining industry trumped the more liberal, green agenda of the metropolitan Democrats. In today’s America marital status and whether or not you go to church are often better predictors of US voters’ intentions.
The Democrats’ coalition looks increasingly strained. The gulf between the values of the party’s traditional blue collar base and those of the rich metropolitans was on show in last week’s defeat of Joe Lieberman in Connecticut. Michael Barone noted:
"In Stamford, where Joe Lieberman grew up the son of a liquor store owner, and where there are still sizable blue-collar and black communities, Mr Lieberman won with 55 per cent of the vote… In next-door Greenwich, where Ned Lamont grew up as the scion of an investment banker family and where housing values are now among the highest in the nation, Mr Lamont won with 68per cent of the vote."
Lower income voters are readier to understand the sacrifices necessary in the war on terror than the richer ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ set.
Few contemporary conservative politicians are more understanding of the shifting nature of electoral geography than Australia’s John Howard. His blend of economic and social conservatism has appealed to many of Labor’s traditional voters. John Howard has consistently championed ‘the battlers’. ‘Howard’s battlers’ are those lower income voters who cannot afford things to go wrong. They live on the margins between comfort and trial. For battlers, life moves from comfort to trial because of a tax or interest rate increase, a poor local school or job-destroying environmental legislation. Many Australian blue collar workers have left the Labor Party for John Howard because he has consistently rejected the causes of the metropolitan left. They have also rallied to his leadership because they like his social values – his tough stance on immigration and his opposition to gay marriage both score highly with them. At the 2004 election John Howard’s party matched Labor among manual working class voters.
David Cameron cannot win the next election without also appealing to Britain’s strivers. As I have written before:
"The Tory leadership does not need to abandon its outreach to higher income values voters. The environmental and social justice messages are essential to unseat LibDem MPs but the party also needs to twin these ‘breadth’ messages with action on affordable housing, relief from Britain’s record tax burden, more action on anti-social behaviour and control of immigration."
How we deal with the fact that Britain’s ideas class – the BBC, the universities, the voluntary sector – is so left-wing is a subject for another other day…