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May 05, 2015


David Rose

There are structural and cultural factors you neglect. The poor (i.e. the working class) has even less in the way of structural and cultural supports to sustain their political involvement than in the past. The Trades Unions and chapels declined in significance with the loss of the old industrial communities and other secular changes. Nothing has really replaced them. People are thus more atomised and indvidualised. They don't learn politics from working class institutions because the latter have declined in significance. It was always a struggle even in the old days of male, manual, muscular workers employed in large numbers in unionised factories, mines, shipbuilding yards, etc and living in occupational communities. Hence Frank Parkin's excellent analysis of working class Tories back in the 1970s. In his thesis, given that the vast majority of institutions supported the status quo, the fact was that it was working class socialists who were deviant, not wc Tories. Maybe what was true back then is even truer now after deindustrialisation and the decline of working class occupational communities, except that, while the proportion of wc Tory voters hasn't declined (c. 30%) the proportion who are at all politically engaged, even to the point of voting, has.

gastro george

This is what you get when New Labour is just another Hammer Of the Poor.


Wait, I think you're looking at this the wrong way round. Nobody is proposing doing anything nasty to pensioners *precisely because* they vote.

Chris Purnell

In the recent municipal elections in Ferguson, Missouri black-American turnout increased from 6% to 30%. As a result two black-Americans were voted on to the city Council. Unfortunately it took a death plus riots plus huge publicity to make this significant increase in turnout. And the turnout is still low(ish) by UK local election figures- 38% in 2014.

Luis Enrique

did anybody else read the last para and think of The Guardian?

Dennis Smith

It will be interesting to see if there is any difference in turn-out between Scotland and England. Various commentators have argued that the referendum experience transformed political participation in Scotland, not least among young and working-class voters.

Dave Timoney

I'm dubious that a decline in commitment among the young and poor since the 80s can be explained as "learned helplessness". Before you know it, you'll be claiming that there are families who haven't voted in three generations.

Allowing for the structural factors of education and wealth, I suspect a lot of the "tuning-out" (as the IPPR put it) reflects the shift in the popular political agenda since the 80s, notably the focus on house prices and tax cuts. I think the "I'm not interested" response is closely related to the "politics is not for the likes of us" response.

The root issue is representation, which perhaps explains why the SNP appears to be doing a lot better in attracting the young and the poor to the polling station. Like Dennis, I will be interested to see the turnout breakdown in Scotland on Thursday.

The lesson for Labour is that traditional bankers like the NHS are not enough (not least because the NHS discourse has always been dominated by the middle class). Wages and welfare are the core issues for both the poor and the young (even middle class youth are likely to have some exposure to the welfare system early on), which is why Reeves's comments were so tin-eared.

gastro george

The respective Scottish/English turnouts will indeed be interesting because, if there was one thing that the referendum showed, it was that people are not disengaged by politics. But they are disengaged from Westminster politics as currently practised.

It's interesting that the latest analysis of the possible outcome from an Alternative Vote election today (on the Newsnight blog) shows that the Tories would have gained over 20 seats under AV. Ironic considering they sabotaged the AV vote, which caused the Lib Dems to veto boundary re-drawing, which leads to today's situation. AV would arguably lead to greater engagement, as every vote would count. But for some, short-termism always rules.


I am old and will vote, it is an easy afternoon out. But I wonder if any party really wants the youth vote. Any realistic youth party would probably offer homes and jobs - but mainstream parties dare not big up houses for nimby reasons and jobs suffer from similar problems as well as economic fundamentals. Now a politician might lie in order to get started with the young demographic but that strategy would soon run out of road - so don't attract the young - its political suicide.


In some ways it is similar to why rich people are anti-welfare, "I never needed welfare so why can't they just apply themselves more and succeed like I did?".

The richer you are, the more you're deluded into believing in your own agency. This naturally leads to a belief that your vote or opinion matters and can make a difference. If you've never been able to affect your own destiny, notwithstanding your daily efforts, then you don't have faith in the ballot box's ability to do it for you.


@gastro george

I think the LibDems vetoed boundary changes because the Tories failed to deliver HoL reform. You may remember 90+ Tory MPs voting against the second reading in 2012 despite there being a three-line whip.



Where I think "learned helplessness" is an issue is the same place I always use the phrase. We live in an age of Hayekian myth. We are constantly told that the market creates the best possible outcomes and the politics is powerless.

Chris himself spends a lot of time selling that myth.

And then we wonder why people don't vote?

gastro george

@sjb My mistake. Thanks.

Redwood Rhiadra

"Perhaps we are reverting to the pre-democratic age, in which politics consisted of the rich debating among themselves how best to deal with the poor whilst the poor themselves were excluded from that debate."

Already happened in the US: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy

Andrew Curry

Aren't there some electoral register factors at play here as well? Young and poor more likely to move more frequently, less likely to be registered. Some of which may have been dealt with by the changes (as I understand them) to the registration process this time around.

Andrew Curry

@gastro george.

The political epitaph of Cameron and Osborne will be that they were too clever for their own good. The last five years is littered with pieces of tactical opportunism that probably seemed smart at the time (blocking AV, EVEL in response to the referendum vote) but actually counter-productive in terms of the strategic interests of the party.

Tony Woolf

A quick search turned up some research about this (http://survation.com/apathy-in-the-uk-understanding-the-attitudes-of-non-voters/) and no doubt there is more. Even with research it could be quite hard to get real insights because people often don't know why they do certain things - or don't do them in this case. But even so it is the only way forward. I don't mean to be rude to people here but untested personal opinions are not worth a lot in this sort of thing, which is why I won't give you mine.

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