If, like me, you have a good hundred RSS feeds that you look at every day, then one of the first things you do in the morning is to sort out what it is you are not going to bother to read. So this morning I decided in advance that I was not going to bother with any of the hundreds of stories analysing the results of the latest elections in the United States. I knew vaguely that there had been elections, but there seemed to be more important things to worry about in the world. Then, just glancing at a couple of the headlines, which indicated the full extent of the disastrous defeat for President Obama and his party, I started to feel that perhaps the time had come when it could finally not be denied that the guiding principles of left-wing and progressive political movements over the last generation had finally produced the catastrophe that many of us at the time thought they would.
To some extent, the weird and dysfunctional nature of the American political system has actually concealed this fact from Americans themselves until now. But in other countries – including now even the United Kingdom – it is much more obvious. Twenty-five years ago, a generation of leaders of allegedly left-wing political parties decided to adopt cowardice as a deliberate strategy. The likes of Clinton and Blair, and the numerous leaders in other countries who followed them, decided to give up trying to advance the interests of ordinary people like you and me, because it was too difficult and exposed them to too much criticism. Instead, they would largely write off ordinary people, on the basis that we had nowhere else to go, and would have to vote for them anyway. Instead, they spent their time trying to attract the educated middle class vote through the promotion of identity politics. There was even a theory that one could somehow assemble a coalition consisting of groups defined as “women”, “the young”, “the technologically savvy” the “ethnic minorities” and the various practitioners of minority sexual preferences. Indeed, it was assumed that in this way the parties of the former Left could essentially give up having to worry about the interests of ordinary people at all.
In reality, of course, the plan has backfired disastrously. The Left has lost its base of traditional support, especially among the white working class, but has not gained support elsewhere. The extent of the disaster is already obvious in most other Western countries: in the United States it is just becoming obvious now. Even at the time, though, it was clear to many people that there were a number of weaknesses with this strategy. First, it assumed that there were a series of discrete groups that could be mobilised, and were additional to each other. In practice, this was not the case. Many of these groups overlapped, and others were in conflict with each other. Even minority ethnic groups refused to be treated as a single entity, and often had bad relations with each other. Secondly, these groups were not themselves very homogeneous, and could not be relied on all to vote the same way. For example, ethnic minorities tended to vote for left-wing parties historically, because many of them came from the poorer sections of society. But ethnic minority members who became wealthy then started to vote differently. Similarly, there is little evidence that wealthy women vote any differently from wealthy men.
Just as importantly, those who might be attracted by the identity-based social agenda that the Left has been pursuing in recent years would probably have voted for the Left anyway. If you have broadly liberal social views, then it is likely that you will not particularly object to the idea of homosexual marriage. But it is most unlikely that you will be attracted to vote for a particular political party just because of that issue. Unfortunately though, it appears that the people who really dislike the Left’s new identity-based social agenda do actually allow it to influence their voting habits. Which is to say that people are much more against all these various ideas than they are for them. In a number of countries (France for example) the immigrant community which used to vote for the Left has increasingly moved to the Right because it finds that the new social agenda of the Left offends its traditional values. Indeed, in France, there are even attested cases of immigrants voting for the National Front, since they believe that only that party represents their own traditional social values. And finally, as if more were needed, ordinary people are now finally fed up with being taken for granted by the leaders for so long. Either they don’t vote, or they vote for the new (mainly right-wing) political forces that have sprung up in recent years.
In theory, the answer to all this is easy. The Left has to go back to representing the interests of ordinary people rather than just identity-based pressure groups. But that will not happen because fundamentally the leaders of the Left, after a generation of learned cowardice, no longer have the necessary backbone to tackle the forces that are keeping so many of our people poor and insecure. It is not too much to imagine that left-wing political parties as we have known them are now in their last few years of life. Unfortunately, what will succeed them is not some kind of reformed Left, but rather the radical Right, which has a combination of economic populism and traditional social values that probably expresses, ironically, the real views of the Left’s traditional electorate better than any political party over the last 25 years the start. What a state to be in