Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Exploring the relationship between class and voting

Harold D. Clarke


We asked a selection of authors to respond to ‘The New Politics of Class’ by Geoffrey Evans and James Tilley

The New Politics of Class by Geoffrey Evans and James Tilley is a new and noteworthy contribution to the huge literature on the impact of social class on voting and elections in Great Britain decision and other important developments in contemporary British electoral politics.

In their book, Evans and Tilley boldly revive the class politics debate and argue that their findings have relevance for understanding public support for parties such as the SNP and UKIP and the historic Brexit decision voters made in June 2016.

The basic observation of the book is that the strength of the relationship between social class and voting in Britain has declined greatly since the 1960s when the first British Election Study (BES) was conducted.

The erosion of historic ties between the working class and the Labour party has been accompanied by a significant decrease in turnout among working class voters. Evans and Tilley contend that the decrease in class voting occurred rapidly in the 1990s, coincident with Labour's decision to rebrand itself as ‘New Labour’ and enhance its ideological/policy appeal to the growing middle class of post-industrial Britain.

It bears emphasis that for Evans and Tilley the decline in class voting and the decrease in working class turnout largely are consequences of changes in the ‘supply-side’ of party politics.

As the authors put it: “Class divisions in social attitudes and political preferences remain robust. It is the political parties that have chosen not represent these class differences. This has led to a decline in class voting, but also an accompanying accentuation of class divisions in non-participation.” The merits of the supply-side argument are discussed in more detail in my article for The Political Quarterly.

New Labour's failure to offer working class voters attractive policy choices is the key example here, but the 2017 election can also be viewed as an interesting test case for Evans and Tilley's supply-side argument for the decline in class voting. If they are right, then one might expect that the old-line socialist policy appeals articulated by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would have generated a surge in working class support for Labour.

In the event, the party did enjoy a marked increase in support (from 30.4 per cent to 40.0 per cent of the UK popular vote), but available survey evidence suggests that this was largely a result of a huge increase in turnout by young people of all classes who were very enthusiastic about Corbyn and his message.

In contrast, survey data displayed in Figure 1 show that increases in Labour voting between 2015 and 2017 occurred in all classes as measured by the standard Market Research Society social grade classification with the largest increases occurring in the lower middle class (C1) group and the smallest in the unskilled working class and unemployed (D/E) group. There clearly was a class gradient to Labour voting in both 2015 and 2017, but it actually was larger in the former election than in the latter one.


Evans and Tilley might respond by pointing to their hypothesis that Corbyn's appeal to working class voters was likely limited by his social liberalism, which does not resonate well with many working class people.

In this way and many others besides, the book points in multiple interesting directions for future research. Equally, it is an engrossing read for anyone interested in political choice in Britain.

Harold D. Clarke is Ashbel Smith Professor, School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas.

This article is adapted from a piece in The Political Quarterly journal. You can read the full article here.


Friday, 24 November 2017

With long-term care, stop giving expert answers to the wrong questions

Deborah Mabbett


In the UK’s uncertain economic landscape, one bright spot continues to shine. The country is wonderfully rich when it comes to property wealth.

The ONS put the total net property wealth of private households at nearly £4 trillion in 2014. Of those households in the game, median net property wealth was over £150,000, rising to £260,000 in London. Much of this is a windfall gain, achieved by buying at a lucky time, and the wealth is very unequally distributed. The IFS has shown that inheritance is also highly unequal: those with the highest incomes can expect to inherit the most wealth.

One might expect that the median voter would look at this and advocate that more of the windfall should find its way into the public exchequer. But no: those with large sums to bequeath – and those who expect to inherit – are politically influential and astute in defending their hoard. They frame any raid on wealth as an attack on the striving middle classes, and they largely succeed in convincing many of those at the bottom of the property pile that their interests lie with those higher up.

The failures of the Dilnot report


Nowhere is this more evident than in the debate over how long-term care costs should be met. The Dilnot report on ‘Fairer care funding’ advanced a distinctive conception of ‘fairness’. Having to sell your home to pay for care, the report argued, was widely regarded by the public as unfair. The report gave no hint that there are vast inequalities in housing wealth; instead it claimed that ‘everyone’ faces a significant risk from care costs. This is patently untrue. Only those who have assets above the means-test threshold face a financial risk, and the scale of the risk increases with wealth.

The policy instrument that Dilnot advocated to protect housing wealth was a lifetime cap on the amount that a person should have to spend on long-term care. The cap would protect housing wealth, because people could plan to ensure that they could pay the capped amount without raising a charge on their homes. They could ensure that they had enough liquid savings, or they could buy an insurance policy.

My informal surveys suggest that few people understand the cap, but that did not save Theresa May’s policy advisers when they left it out of the 2017 Conservative manifesto. They proposed to raise the means-test threshold to £100,000 from its current level of £23,250 in England, but, until assets fell to this level, people would pay for their own care. Housing wealth, released if necessary by Deferred Payment Agreements, would count in what could be afforded. There was an immediate outcry about the failure to include a cap on lifetime costs. This might be £75-100,000 (Dilnot recommended a lower level, but that was some time ago now).

What do these policies mean in practice?


Faced with thinking about a cap and a means-test, both set at similar levels, most people begin to glaze over, so here is a handy table to illustrate their operation.

How means-tested and capped care costs are affected by household wealth 

The table shows three households. The first, in the lowest part of the income distribution, with modest savings of £30,000, would currently be expected to contribute £6,750 to their own care costs, but a higher means-test threshold would preserve their nest egg and all their costs of care would be met from the public purse. The cap on the lifetime amount they should pay is irrelevant to them.

The next case, with somewhere around the median of net wealth, possibly in the form of a house, would have to find £60,000 before qualifying for public support due to the raised means-test threshold. Since £60,000 is below the lifetime care cost cap in this example, the cap is irrelevant to them too, although a lower cap, nearer to the £35,000 that Dilnot originally proposed, would help them somewhat (by £25,000, to be precise).

Finally, the household with relatively high wealth is unlikely to qualify for public support in a means-tested system. It would have to run down its assets substantially, spending £220,000 before qualifying. But the cap is wonderful news: now only £100,000 has to be found before public support comes in, saving a possible £120,000. If this wealthy household took the precaution of setting aside £100,000 in liquid assets or buying a limited long term care insurance policy, then its housing wealth would be preserved to pass on to its heirs, with the aid of support from the taxpayer.

In short, the cap is blatantly regressive. Tinkering with its level does not solve this problem. Set the cap low, and the state will have to meet the bulk of long-term care costs, which it is already failing to do, so the policy problem will not be solved. Set it high, and more and more people will find their wealth is not protected. Not only will the number of prospective beneficiaries of the cap fall, but also the beneficiary group has an undesirable feature: it consists of wealthy people. The higher the cap, the more it will be that only the wealthiest benefit from it.

Housing equity insurance


There are much more equitable ways of enabling people to protect their homes than the cap. The starting point must be that people have different amounts of housing wealth to protect, and, the wealthier they are, the more they should pay for their protection. An insurance scheme for those who want to protect their equity in their homes would achieve this. The premium would rise with the value of the house. Those who don’t believe in inherited wealth could choose not to take out insurance.

Economists from John Stuart Mill to Thomas Piketty have pointed out the iniquitous and damaging effects of inheritance on the distribution of wealth. Their arguments have often come to nought, as those with wealth play their political cards well.

A politician with equitable ideals will know that she can easily be derailed by clever rhetorical strategies, but she might at least hope that the economics profession would come to her aid. Instead, Dilnot has bestowed the imprimatur of economic expertise on an opaque instrument that serves the ends of the wealthy and does nothing to solve the problem of funding long-term care.

Deborah Mabbett is Professor of Public Policy at Birkbeck, University of London. 

This blog is adapted from Deborah Mabbett’s editorial commentary in The Political Quarterly journal, available here.



Thursday, 23 November 2017

The 'new' power of class

Mike Savage


We asked a selection of authors to respond to ‘The New Politics of Class’ by Geoffrey Evans and James Tilley

Class still fundamentally affects political engagement, but today it happens indirectly rather than through overt class struggle at the ballot box.

From the time of the 1992 general election, and certainly from the electoral success of ‘New Labour’ in the 1997 election, it became clear that the relationship between class and vote was breaking down. The Labour party was moving to the middle ground and downplayed its historical association with the Labour movement, and winning more middle class votes. On the face of it, there has been a declining salience of class in affecting electoral outcomes in the UK.

Not so fast! Geoffrey Evans and James Tilley’s new book attempts an important rebalancing act. They argue that class is still at the centre of political alignments, but that the ‘new’ power of class lies in differential levels of political engagement rather than in differences in party preferences.

The new class divide is that the working classes increasingly abstain from formal electoral politics because they feel they are not being effectively represented. To illustrate, the class gap in non-voting has risen precipitately since 1987. Only around 20 per cent of well educated professionals did not vote in 2015, compared to around 50 per cent of workers with low education levels (controlling for trade union membership, gender, race, region and religion).

Interestingly, Evans and Tilley’s argument chimes with that of Pierre Bourdieu, whose brilliant observation in Distinction that the prime political divide is not between left and right, but between those who are engaged and excluded from politics, is underlined here (although his work is not mentioned here).

This book does a signal service in insisting that class is not dead, but there is a sense that the book seems both narrow and also detached from the real world of political debate we are currently experiencing. We learn little about the politics of populism, elites, experts, racism, immigration, nationalism and meritocracy, which currently dominate the agenda, and which indicates the visceral ways that ‘a new politics of class’ operates today.

We need to careful in assuming that there is strong class consciousness today. There is abundant evidence that ethnicity, sexuality, gender, nationality, age and location are often more salient than social class, but as this is not discussed here. For example the relative success of Corbyn's Labour party in the 2017 general election, with its left wing manifesto, appears much more linked to the support of younger votes and ethnic minorities than to any recovery of its working class base. Class is often powerful precisely because it is not talked about, or fully recognised by electors.

Make no mistake, this is an important book reasserting the importance of class, though I feel that further work needs to be done to draw out how class itself is being remade and how intersectionalities with race, gender and age are crucial in generating contemporary political divisions. My Social Class in the 21st Century is one attempt to do this.

Mike Savage is Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics.

This article is adapted from a piece in The Political Quarterly journal. You can read the full article here.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

How austerity has impacted our school system

Fran├žoise Granoulhac


It is time to take stock of what austerity policies have meant for the school system in England.
Seven years after the election of a Conservative-led coalition government engaged in a lasting deficit reduction programme, the extent of spending cuts between 2010 and 2016 is such as to raise serious questions about their short-term and long-term impact on the school system.

In addition, the distribution of resources is indicative of the priorities underlying policy decisions, and can be contrasted with the pledges initially made, and renewed by David Cameron five years later.

The reform agenda


The Coalition government came into office with a reform agenda based on two main commitments: reducing educational inequalities and completing the ‘schools revolution’ started under the Thatcher administration.

The objective was to establish a diverse school system in which independent state schools (academies, parent-promoted free schools, university technical colleges) would co-exist with and eventually replace locally administered schools. Autonomy – the end of local authority control – and diversity – the end of the ‘bog-standard comprehensive’ - were seen as drivers of excellence, helping to raise standards and close the gap between poorer and richer children.

The impact of austerity


However, right from the beginning it had been made clear that the reduction of public deficits would take precedence over any other policy objective. In a context of financial restraint, how did the government fulfil its pledges?

Examined closely, the spending choices during the Coalition and Conservative terms in office followed a political and ideological agenda. Cuts were not spread evenly, affecting local authority budgets and further education much more severely than schools budgets, which were relatively protected. This reflected George Osborne’s and the government’s wish to avoid a crisis on the frontline but also, strategically, to “make local authorities running schools a thing of the past’”.

Above all, the allocation of resources, while being aligned with the reform agenda, showed how priority was given to ‘choice and diversity policies’. The expansion of the academies programme was prioritised over ‘corrective policies’ aiming to provide additional resources to help disadvantaged children (through a Pupil Premium) and families. While schools were modest ‘winners’ in this uneven distribution of resources, they did experience severe cost pressures linked to inflation, rising pupil numbers and, after 2015, rising labour costs.

From cutting spending to cutting costs


But what the school system went through was more than another cycle of spending cuts. Meeting the objectives set in the 2010 and 2015 Spending Reviews, which linked long-term deficit reduction and the return to growth to reform of ‘unproductive’ public services, required a shift from cutting spending to cutting costs.

The transformation of local comprehensive and most faith schools into academies and the creation of free schools was a key feature of the new cost-effective school system. It ultimately made funding of local authority education services redundant, as the costs of those services, especially school improvement, would now be borne by schools themselves and their sponsors.

This first decisive step has opened the way to other forms of cost-effectiveness, with increasing reliance on voluntary organisations and civil society groups and widespread marketisation of remaining local authority services, such as careers advice or provision of supply teachers.

Likewise, the rapid growth of Multi Academy Trusts, which are clusters of schools forming academy chains run by different types of public and not-for-profit private organisations, responds to the need to ‘deliver better outcomes from resources available’ through economies of scale. The fact that the largest academy chains are run by edu-business firms operating under charity status, or by private international groups such as Edison or Cognita has entrenched the presence of private sector providers and opened up opportunities for indirect profit-making.

There are two ways of thinking about the function of privatisation: first as an instrument of austerity, but also as its main beneficiary.

The end of public service state education?


Does that mean that we are witnessing the end of public service state education? The rise of academies as the standard model of state schooling has accelerated the move from ‘a national system, locally administered’, to what has been termed by David Bell a ‘system of many small systems’, with different types of schools – now including grammar schools - led by different types of providers (universities, private groups, or even successful academies) serving specific individual or community interests.

However, the threats to the public service may be overstated. Full-fledged privatisation, with for-profit companies being given freedom to run schools, has lost some of its appeal for David Cameron, as for Theresa May: over the last few years the financial and educational risks involved in allowing indiscriminate growth of academy chains have come into the public eye, following reports of repeated cases of financial mismanagement and conflicts of interests.

While the mingling of private and public actors seems here to stay, the state has not been hollowed out yet. In fact, it has retained a strong hand in the direction of education policy, setting targets, determining the desired outcomes, overseeing the performance of the school system.

Public opinion is also a force to be reckoned with, as former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan realised in 2016 when forced academisation of schools, especially primary schools, was resisted. The fact that the education debate is now largely in the public realm suggests that the idea of public service state education is not obsolete. What matters now is to define what degree of public/private privision should be looked for in an education service.

It remains to be seen how this delicate balance, as well as the balance of power between state and private actors in the education system will be played out under Theresa May’s leadership.


Fran├žoise Granoulhac is Senior Lecturer in British Studies at University of Grenoble Alpes

This article is adapted from a piece in The Political Quarterly journal. You can read the full article here.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Why our governing economic model is at a tipping point

Alfie Stirling, Laurie Laybourn-Langton


It is widely accepted that macroeconomic policy in the UK and the USA has experienced two major periods of breakdown and significant transition since the start of the twentieth century. But has a third period of comparable change in the UK already begun?

To answer this, it is important to place the UK's present economic ‘moment’ in historical context.

The first period took place between the financial shock and global depression at the end of the 1920s, which led to the forty-year period of economic and policy approaches generally described as the ‘post-war consensus’, in the UK.

The second period came between the currency and oil shocks during the 1960s and 1970s, leading to the development of ‘Thatcherite’, or free market economic policies from the 1980s onwards.

Over the course of the decade since the 2007 financial crisis, it has increasingly been acknowledged that a cyclical crisis has become a structural crisis. Many western economies are exhibiting significant structural weaknesses, particularly the stalling of productivity growth and stagnation of average earnings.

We argue that we are currently experiencing a third period of faster than normal transition, with significant change in economic ideas and policy. Notable features of this include the 2007 financial crisis itself, as well as the failure of economic theory to predict it; the unprecedented deviation from historical productivity and earnings growth; and the challenge of setting monetary policy in a world where interest rates are already at their effective lower bound.

It remains to be seen whether the current acceleration in economic change proves to be the beginning of something akin to previous eras. There is not currently a credible candidate for an alternative programme, partly because heterodox theories, such as in complexity economics, necessarily present an existential threat to the very institutions—for example, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Bank of England or private sector forecasters—that they would need to influence in order to enter mainstream policy.

And yet, powerful, normative demands for an alternative to mainstream economic practice already exist and have been expressed through democratic process in many countries. The conditions are apparent for considerable change in economics and on an historically significant scale, but as yet the missing ingredient is an alternative with the power to displace the existing ‘world view’.

Alfie Stirling is Senior Economic Analyst at the IPPR. Laurie Laybourn-Langton is a Senior Reearch Fellow at the IPPR.

This article is adapted from a piece in The Political Quarterly journal. You can read the full article here.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Mixed communities or missed opportunities?

Bert Provan


Large social housing estates – often high-rise post war blocks – are common in Europe. Frequently seen as problem neighbourhoods, these estates have become unpopular and hard to let, fallen into disrepair, gained reputations for crime and poverty, and from time to time been the scene of riots.
In both England and France these problems have led to major programmes run by both local and national government agencies. In recent years there has been a move towards the policy of ‘mixed communities’ – the idea that in order to improve these neighbourhoods, an influx of middle class working families is needed, to improve not only the income base but also the social and moral capital of the area.

But does this work? And who benefits, even if it does work? The evidence suggests that this is not a magic bullet, despite the political popularity of the approach.

In the period after 1945, there was a crisis of housing due to the very high levels of need created by bomb damage and the pre-war legacy of inner city slum housing. Driven by this housing crisis, and informed by architectural and welfare state notions of modernity and state provision, high rise system built estates were rapidly constructed. Apart from anything else, their pre-fabricated structure mitigated the need for skilled building workers, who were in very short supply.

In many cases the initial reaction of residents was very positive – they had new, light and airy flats with central heating, indoor plumbing, and separate rooms for their children, which was a great improvement from what they had before.

The problems emerged after only a few years – buildings were poorly constructed and damp, estates were isolated and poorly served by transport, and design problems led to high crime rates.
With these problems came difficulties in letting the flats, not least as other housing options were becoming available with continuing high rates of construction. The estates could only be let to households with few other options, including homeless people and people with very low incomes, and a cycle of decline let to the entrenchment of these problems.

Government intervention and mixed communities


Government intervention started in the early 1970s in both England and France. Programmes were invented, implemented, inspected, interrupted, and re-invented every few years, dealing with a variety of factors from the quality of the buildings to attempts to build community identity and social capital. There was very mixed progress in significantly improving the outcomes for residents. Although decline was halted and the neighbourhoods mainly stabilised, they remained pockets of poverty within their wider city framework.

The arrival of ‘mixed communities’ as a new putative solution came in the early 2000s. The proposal was to transform these estates into areas where there was a mix of all classes, ethnicities, and capacities to engender higher social capital and community cohesion.

Part of the implementation of this approach can be seen in planning frameworks in England and France, where there are strict (if not entirely watertight) regulations around the need to achieve a specified level of ‘mix’ of what are now termed ‘affordable’ homes within any new housing and community developments or area renewal projects. In France this laudable aim is covered by the “law of city solidarity and renewal” indicating the egalitarian impulse behind it.

When social ‘mixing’ becomes problematic


However, this aim of ‘mixing’ becomes much more problematic when applied retrospectively to existing neighbourhoods with concentrated poverty and dense social housing. The first problem is the underlying objectives of the programme.

One way to look at it is as a means to bring new families, businesses, finance for better housing, social capital, and a better image to the neighbourhood.

Another way is to see it as a morally driven imposition of ‘middle class morals of hard work and good living’ on an estate mainly inhabited by some kind of ‘criminal classes’ or benefit cheats, and expect that the overall standard of behaviour can be raised.

This rather exaggerated sounding second option reflects many more historic characterisations of the residents of poor neighbourhoods (for example in England, Booth’s poverty maps). But in fact even today these attitudes often form part of political rhetoric about poor areas - and for evidence of this we can recall ex-President Sarkozy’s 2005 characterisation of the residents of these areas as “racailles et voyous“ (scum and hooligans).

Experiences of the residents


For residents, things may appear and be different. One key element emerging from some of the many varied programmes mentioned above is the existence of strong local communities, with high social capital and levels of self-help and cooperation on these estates.

Many programmes have worked to develop the existing capacities of residents, driving improvement from the inside and building on existing strengths. Not only do large scale demolitions and rebuilding with middle class housing undermine this, they also very often result in the forced or inevitable eviction of existing residents from the neighbourhood.

Where ex-residents go is also seldom studied, but the limited evidence suggests that they often go to neighbourhoods or to housing conditions which are no better than those on the estate they left. Evidence from the slightly different and more systematically studied US experience of moving families from similar neighbourhoods of ‘project’ housing had clearly shown that even if they move to better (more ‘mixed’) neighbourhoods, the outcomes in terms of levels of achievement of the families are little changed, or poorer, compared to families remaining in their original homes.
There is also a version of this poor outcome in existing attempts to create ‘mixed communities’ which often quickly morph into areas of gated middle-class households who go to different schools, shops, and clubs, and seldom if ever mix with the original residents.

Beyond the ‘mixed communities’ approach


But if the ‘mixed communities’ approach does not work for existing problem neighbourhoods, what should we do?

This is not a problem that can be ignored, and good social policy and city governance considerations suggest that better solutions to tackle these pockets of poverty and disadvantage should continue to be developed, despite the patchy results of past programmes.

Perhaps we should start by accepting that mass displacement of poor residents undermines existing capacities and social capital. We can also recognise that many of these programmes are driven by the unfounded fears of more affluent parts of a city rather than a real desire to address the concerns of residents on these areas.

One key thing that the range of original improvement programmes have shown is that stability and progress can be made not by exporting the residents to unknown and unsupported places. Instead, these poor neighbourhoods need to receive not only their fair equal share of economic and social investment in jobs, schools, hospitals, transport and training, but also require high quality housing improvements, local management and control, and specific attention to the needs of the vulnerable residents.


Bert Provan is an Occasional Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

This article is adapted from a piece in The Political Quarterly journal. You can read the full article here.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Understanding the post-liberal centre ground

Adrian Pabst


Much of the post-2017 general election analysis has focused on Theresa May’s spectacular fall from grace and the surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn. What is lacking is a reflection on the fundamentals of British politics.

A decade of financial disruption, austerity and stagnant wages has produced a popular rejection of market fundamentalism. Weaker civic ties have left many people feeling dispossessed and ignored. In an age of economic and cultural insecurity, the task of politics is more than ever to rebuild accountability to people and democratic participation in the polity.

The liberal centre is in retreat

In my article for The Political Quarterly, I conceptualised the double demand for greater economic justice and more social cohesion in terms of ‘post-liberalism’ – moving beyond the free market dogma of the liberal right since Margaret Thatcher and the identity politics of the liberal left since Harold Wilson. These two liberalisms converged in Tony Blair’s ‘third way’ and David Cameron’s ‘compassionate conservatism’, and the liberal centre that has dominated British politics for nearly four decades is now in retreat.

After the Brexit referendum and the 2017 election, we are seeing a series of paradoxes that cannot be mapped according to the old binaries of either left vs. right or liberalism against the rest.

The first paradox is the return to a two-party contest where neither commands a majority. The Tories ran one of their worst campaigns in living memory, but still managed to get 318 seats on a vote share of 42.4 per cent, up 5.5 per cent from 2015. Corbyn’s lively campaign and popular policies galvanised Labour, which increased its share of the vote by 9.6 per cent to 40 per cent, but the party’s achievement of securing 262 seats remains over sixty seats short of a working majority of 323. Despite the Corbyn surge, Labour lost for a third consecutive time against the backdrop of the slowest economic recovery in 70 years and a government that is anything but ‘strong and stable’.

The second paradox is that the Conservatives lost their majority even as they broadened their electoral coalition, while Labour has built a platform for victory next time based on a narrower electoral coalition. Although the Tories lost support among middle-class Remainers and especially young voters, they are at about 40 per cent among manual workers (same as Labour) and at nearly 50 per cent among people with no educational qualifications (compared with Labour’s 35 per cent).

Labour won 21 extra seats in England, but it lacks support among the over 55-year old voters and in large swathes of the country – especially suburban places, coastal regions and rural communities. The traditional working class are switching to the Tories, while Labour is now the party of the affluent and the university-educated. For now, neither party is building a cross-class and cross-cultural coalition that can win a stable majority.

The third paradox is politics is moving both left and right at the same time, but not in a liberal direction. Since Thatcher’s victory in 1979, parties had to move right on the economy and left on social issues in order to win. Now parties are moving left on the economy and right on some social issues (like controlling immigration). 2017 defied the conventional law that British elections are not won on a left-wing economic manifesto. Both parties promised an active industrial strategy and central state intervention in energy and other markets. And both committed themselves to ending the free movement of people after Britain leaves the EU in 2019.

The fourth paradox is that after the election both parties are retreating into their ideological comfort zones just when the country needs a national popular politics. At first, Theresa May seemed to articulate a more economically egalitarian and socially communitarian politics. She denounced both the libertarian right and the socialist left while promising greater economic fairness and more social stability. The narrative of the much-maligned 2017 Tory manifesto was in fact a fusion of Burke, Beveridge and Blue Labour, as I argued in a blog piece for the New Statesman.

Missing: A politics of the common good

But all the talk about breaking with Thatcherism – “we do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism” – came to nothing. Already in her first year as Prime Minister, May’s initially ambitious proposals for corporate governance reform were watered down and the government’s industrial policy provided nothing of substance. Now the Tory arch-Brexiteers want ‘more neo-liberalism in one country’ as they make plans for a low-regulation, low-tax economy boosted by free trade deals with the other countries of Anglo-Saxondom.

Corbyn’s opposition to austerity continues to be very popular and he has been vindicated for his consistent critique of capitalism. But his utopia of ‘socialism in one country’ is fusing twentieth century-style statism with twenty-first century digital platforms. It offers a future for the new, networked generation of globally mobile cosmopolitans. The rest will subsist on a universal basic income funded by taxing tech companies. Automation and artificial intelligence promise to create a post-capitalist economy without work or workers.

Neither party is currently offering a national popular politics of the common good that can build new alliances across the deepening divides of rich vs. poor, young vs. old, north vs. south, urban vs. rural, university-educated vs. no qualification, and so on.

Post-liberalism may not be the right word, not least because it accords too much significance to the economic liberalism that has lost support. But it does name the ‘new times’ we inhabit – the search for political purpose in an age of upheaval.


Adrian Pabst is Reader in Politics at the University of Kent and co-author of The Politics of Virtue: Post-liberalism and the Human Future (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016)

This article is adapted from a piece in the Political Quarterly journal. You can read the full article here.