It's how we see ourselves—not how much we earn—that shapes our party loyaltiesby Peter Kellner / May 22, 2014 / Leave a comment
Those who think class-based politics went out with the miners’ strike should think again. © http://underclassrising.net/
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As so often, some of the sharpest political insights come not from the sage columnists of our upmarket papers but from comedy writers. They have noticed—and exploited—some of the social class cross-currents that conventional analysis has tended to overlook.
Fifty years ago, things were simpler. The working classes voted Labour while the middle classes voted Conservative. In 1967, Peter Pulzer, the political scientist, wrote: “Class is the basis of British party politics; all else is embellishment and detail.” He had good reason to say this. Labour had won the general election a year earlier, taking more than 60 per cent of working class votes. It attracted only one in four middle class voters, who preferred the Tories by more than two-to-one.
Today, Britain’s economic and social structure is completely different; and so is the nature of party loyalties. Today, using the same yardstick as in the 1960s—whether the job of the head of each voter’s household is essentially manual (“C2DE”) or non-manual (“ABC1)—the class gap is far narrower. In YouGov’s survey for Prospect of more than 3,000 electors, Labour enjoyed a 1 per cent lead among ABC1 voters, and an 11 per cent lead among C2DE voters—a class gap of 10 points. However, this fails to tell the full story. Class may no longer affect votes as powerfully as it used to—but its influence is far greater than conventional polls suggest.
As well as ascertaining their conventional class position, we asked people whether they regarded themselves as “working class,” “middle class” or “upper class”. It turns out that almost one in three gives the “wrong” answer: nine million ABC1 adults consider themselves working class, while five million C2DE adults say they are middle class. (Only 1 per cent called themselves upper class.) As far as I know, no equivalent data exists for the 1950s or 60s, but it is hard to believe that the equivalent cross-over figures would have been anything like as high.
Does this matter? Isn’t social class a relic from the era of factories, coal mines, shipyards and steelworks, of little relevance today? One reason why it deserves attention is people’s party loyalties. When we analyse party support by the social class…