I work in a politics department and so I am surrounded by people of the left. Much of the discussions I have been on the edge of over the last few months, as we moved towards the 2015 General Election, was why was the Labour so timid and why could it not be properly left wing. I have made myself rather unpopular by providing a one-word answer: democracy. I have told my colleagues that achieving socialism in a country like Britain is impossible as long as people are allowed to express their preference through the ballot box. Perhaps it is not surprising that this view fails to gain much traction amongst my colleagues, who regardless of setbacks still persist with the myth that socialism is what people really want. As a result they concoct ever more elaborate explanations as to why the people choose wrongly: it is due to the media, the education system, hegemonic class relations, and whatever else is currently fashionable.
But what cannot be admitted is that many of Britons, perhaps now a clear majority are small ‘c’ conservatives. These are not people who have any wish to labels themselves as such, and they would certainly not seek to join a political party: that would be a very unconservative thing to do. Instead they quietly focus on what matters and this is mainly what is already familiar. When there is an election they will start to engage at the end – only when they must – makes their choice, vote and then get back to what matters. They know that what they are able to do after the election is exactly what they were able to do before it. The sun still shines, the earth still spins, bills need to be paid, meals prepared. In short, life goes on. Most people are not angry, but then neither do they expect politicians to be able to do much. They have low expectations and instead seek to rely on their own resources and use what is around them for comfort.
It is easy to portray this attitude as stupid, ignorant or lazy. It provides all too ready fodder for those who wish to argue that the people are being deluded. But these views are wrong. Most people are not stupid. Rather they are too sensible to be drawn into things that do not matter to them. They know there was no crisis or imminent threat. They know what tomorrow will bring and that it will be there because of their own efforts and not because of someone else’s theories, ideas or principles. And this, I have to say, is really very comforting. At least until they take the vote away.