Whether political leaders can deliver this for them is uncertainby Sophie Gaston / January 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
Ever since the seismic shock of the 2016 referendum, Westminster has been preoccupied with defending the “will of the people”—with both sides asserting a supreme interpretation of citizens’ deepest impulses. This hyper-consciousness of public opinion deepens a process that had been developing over many years. But this especially rabid modern tendency to justify or condemn political actions around the perceived expectations of the people obscures this fact: the electorate has never felt more difficult to read.
One reason for this is that many of the forces that used to unite us—whether the mass audiences of television’s heyday, or communities we once built around religion, trade unions or social clubs—have given way to fragmentation. Our culture and our technology have encouraged an unprecedented level of global connectivity. This has raised individual awareness and agency, but also concurrently unleashed tribalism, discouraging the sense of commonality of experience we once shared.
A large suite of focus groups I conducted across England in the last three months of 2017 capture the depth and complexity of this fragmentation. While I spoke to citizens from a wide range of backgrounds and locations, they were primarily White British over-50s, in areas that had undergone substantial economic upheaval over recent decades. And yet, even amongst this group, mutuality of understanding often gave way to considerable differences of opinion about many of the fundamental issues of the day.
Broadly, there were those who—however reluctantly—accepted that life in Britain had irrevocably evolved and that the younger generation would see the country through further periods of change over the coming decades. This group contrasted, and sometimes clashed, with those who fundamentally believe the country is on the wrong track, continue to see themselves as the most authentic representation of British cultural values, and are resistant to further adaptation.
It is certainly the case that those in the second group tended to express the greatest sense of personal precariousness—generally a potent combination of economic, social and cultural insecurities. It is also important to remember that much of our contemporary political and economic structures feel increasingly unknowable.
“There is a very modern kind of class divide”
Globalisation, which represents the ultimate convergence of political and economic power, also marked the first time when market forces become truly opaque for many citizens, eroding their sense…