Liberal instincts unite us more than they divide usby Peter Kellner / February 19, 2015 / Leave a comment
Read Philip Collins on who British liberals should vote for?
How liberal are we? To a large extent, it depends on what we mean by “liberal.” Is it a normative idea, embracing freedoms of which we approve but not those of which we disapprove? Or does it have a wider meaning, to include freedoms of which we disapprove? Is the ban on smoking in offices, pubs and restaurants a liberal or anti-liberal measure? What about bed-and-breakfast owners who claim the right, on religious grounds, to exclude gay couples?
Let’s start with those issues on which there is broad agreement about language—for example the debates of the past half century on abortion, cannabis laws, gay marriage and immigration. Opponents of reform generally accept—even boast—that theirs is an anti-liberal stance.
The liberal stance commands a clear majority on two. By 64-28 per cent we think “parliament was right to allow same-sex couples to get married.” And there is a broad consensus: not one political or demographic group clearly opposes gay marriage. Some Conservative MPs grumble that a number of activists have switched to the UK Independence Party on this issue; but as far as the voting public is concerned, most people who voted Tory at the last election back reform. Second, by 53-25 per cent we reject the view that “it is too easy for women to obtain an abortion.” Again, there is a broad consensus across all political and demographic groups.
But on immigration and cannabis, liberals are in a minority. Conservative voters have broadly the same attitudes to both issues: by 61-29 per cent they oppose the legalisation of cannabis; by 64-29 per cent they think immigration has been bad for Britain. Labour and Liberal Democrat voters are slightly more liberal on cannabis, and significantly more liberal on immigration.
So far, so expected. But many Ukip voters respond differently. By 91-7 per cent they dislike immigration, but as many as 38 per cent would like cannabis legalised. This fits with the view that some people like Ukip because they dislike the political classes and want the state to regulate us less.