Owen Jones’s letter to Ukip voters exposes the Left’s blind spot

16 January 2014

2:47 PM

16 January 2014

2:47 PM

I try to avoid mentioning Owen Jones because he already gets so much attention from people on the Right, including quite a lot of abuse on t’internet; the poor man’s probably blocked more people than have followed me. But his letter to Ukip voters in today’s Independent interested me as a study in what Jonathan Haidt described as the Left’s blind spot.

Owen’s argument is that Ukip supporters have Left-wing views on the economy and therefore should desert former City trader Nigel Farage and join him in voting for a socialist party.

A lot of Ukippers (horrible word but I can’t think of any other) do have fairly socialistic views on things like public ownership; they are far more economically anxious than Tory loyalists, and express far less confidence in George Osborne’s economic strategy, which appears to offer little relief for the struggling middle class. But the figures Owen cites also reflect the fact that a large and growing proportion of Ukip supporters are ex-Labour.


The reason for that is at the heart of the Left’s big problem, namely its failure to see social problems in non-economic terms. There are unquestionably economic reasons for the angst of Ukip voters, but the Left is blind to the social anxieties that go with them, problems that can’t be resolved by higher taxes or soft words about understanding their concerns.

Immigration is the most glaring issue, obviously, but very few people see this in purely economic terms, even if competition from eastern Europeans does worry unskilled workers. He talks about blaming immigrants, but I don’t think many people do ‘blame’ them for the problems facing Britain; they understand why they would want to come here, but still resent the huge social disruption caused by mass immigration. (If they blame anyone, it’s those in Westminster who brought this about.)

I don’t speak as a representative of the working class, who I don’t wish to demonise or romanticise; as you can see by my floppy, foppish hair and soft, delicate hands, manual work would probably kill me if I tried it. I speak only as a member of the human race, and for the vast majority of our species social contentment is affected not just by economic satisfaction (though hugely important) but by social tranquility too. If you can’t see that, it’s going to be very difficult to understand why people don’t vote for you.

Most Labour voters are small-c conservatives, as indeed are most members of our species. Conversely many of the intellectual leadership of the country are disproportionately well-educated and socially mobile, and live un-conservative lifestyles; they are often young and family-free, and so unfazed by churn and change, or wealthy enough to live in areas where housing costs insulate them from many changes.

As Jonathan Haidt said in The Righteous Mind, the ‘fundamental blind spot of the left’ is that it fails to consider the effects of changes on social and moral capital, and even the Left’s great goals – social equality – depend on these things. And you can’t buy social capital, any more than you can buy love.

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Show comments
  • Eddie

    If anyone wants to know why so many will vote UKIP in the coming European elections, just watch the following clip (emailed to me by an enthusiastic friend in Athens).
    Farage speaks truth to power, is honest, and is so obviously in touch with the people (not the Eurocrats) and speaks so much common sense that they LOVE him in Greece now. Really.

  • tigerlily

    The ‘blind spot’ is deliberate. Talking only in economic terms is their way of deflecting from the other real issues which worry people – they can’t just use the word ‘racist’ these days.

    • Telfennol

      Agreed. This seems to be the latest tactic: Make it all about economics, focus in on a convenient figure (like total GDP, which grows with more people here because it reflects the size of the economy), find a suitable report to back you up and hey presto! the case for unlimited migration is made. And all the incovenient downsides like the loss of opportunities for the resident population, the drop in wages at the lower end of the market, the pressure on an overheated housing market or the discomfort and alienation of locals are kept out of discussion.

      • Eddie

        Absolutely! None of those who crunch the immigration numbers and do the sums factor in the huge negatives – the massive costs in future of paying all these people pensions or caring for them in old age, for example, or the damage done to native people and their home areas with social cohesion and a sense of community shattered, or the great costs of councils providing translation and other services to these immigrants, or the hurt caused by so many natives being unable to buy their own property (even if in good jobs) because of absurd house prices caused in part at least by immigration.
        Of course, those on the left adore immigration (they see more Labour voters in those lost brown faces); but they have a fetish for immigration on the right too – more immigrants = lower wages = more profit. Landlords love the rising rents and property prices. All utterly short term thinking and selfishness writ large.
        So the left and right are at one on this – in bed together, as they are in pandering to Islam too. Maybe that is why people are so disillusioned and will vote UKIP in great numbers?

  • Robert Taggart

    The naivety of OJ could perhaps be explained by his upbringing – in Stockport !
    Having known folk from that dismal place all our life, and having lived there for nigh on thirty years – one can only conclude that their water supply must have a mollescent effect on their brains ! How else do you explain the continued LieDum dominance of that towns council ? !

  • James Proctor

    Who is this guy everything he say’s is a bit odd, even on benefits street I disagreed because benefit street highlights problems of people, which will help improve society, these people don’t like the truth of what the Labour culture left it’s not good, indefensible. I like the new idea of buying computers to enable the poor to access more opportunities it will help, like it would help if benefits street had one, but they would need a team of highly skilled people to teach them how to generate wealth from 0.

  • Eddie

    Owen Jones is a publicity-seeking pillock. He is not working class either – he is the son of a university professor (these twerps are well-known for being leftie hypocrites in their unsackable £70k a year jobs with massive pensions).
    Own Jones is a middle class brat, who thinks he knows how everyone else should live their lives – and he has no less a sense of entitlement than the worst Eton upper class twit.

    • John Clegg

      Eddie, are you sure you’ve spelt “winks” right!!

    • ianess

      Apparently, he was never allowed to address his mother as ‘Mum’ when he was a child.

    • Stephen Whitaker

      But he is NOT the son of a university professor with a .£70k a year job…do your homework.

  • outraged

    The real blind spot of UKiP is the number of illegal immigration, influx of which over the last 10 years was 2 times the size of the total Polish minority.

    As a ‘working middle class’, I would be slightly more receptive to arguments against large scale unskilled immigration brought in from Asia under the skilled label with explicit purpose of displacing English professionals and graduates.

    • Wessex Man

      er, Blind spot! UKip are the only party that’s willing to face up to this disaster situation, face up to it and talk responsibly about and come to that about Empire of Evil which is the EU, the dumming down of our schools and local authorities and just everything else a proper National party should.

      • outraged

        Are the schools dumbed down? Perhaps. But somehow English graduates are still as smart as they come. They should not be deprived opportunities of career in banking or telecommunication only because of 30,000 annual intra company transfers from the likes of Tata Consulting, Infosys or Wipro, which then bill Lloyds, Cooperative and RBS at £400-£700 per day per person.

        • Wessex Man

          only those that graduated in subjects that are relevent to the real living world rather that Tone, Gords and Daves not really sensible subjects that were invented to hit the 50% admissions targets!

          • outraged

            That sounds very interesting, could you also share your opinion about the quality of graduates produced by Indian IT Colleges?

  • Swanky

    social contentment is affected not just by economic satisfaction (though hugely important) but by social tranquility too.

    Indeed, this is Politics 101. And ‘political’ is the word you should use: it’s the right one. We’re not talking about people’s (private) social lives. We’re talking about politics. It’s part of Britain’s trouble that it can’t even identify the categories when trying to address them.

  • Daniel Maris

    Good article with a lot of wisdom in it – far more than you get from the “big boys” at the Speccie.

    We really need a strong, unapologetic democratic populist party in this country. There is none now. Maybe the Liberals in the early 1900s and Labour in the 1940s came close. I think the Conservatives disqualify themselves by definition although they had populist elements in the 1980s – Norman Tebbit (ex trade union official, let us not forget) is clearly not a natural elitist.

    The priorities should be:-

    1. Restoring sovereignty to the people through referendum government so no longer can an elite foist seriously unpopular policies on a reluctant public.

    2. End mass immigration which is destroying this country.

    3. End welfare dependency and ensure every young person has the right to go through to proper paid employment after education.

    • Swanky

      as the right to go through to proper paid employment after education
      What does that mean? And why does a party have to be ‘populist’? You *are* aware of the dangers of populism, I hope?

      I support your other 2 suggestions.

      • Andrew Kennedy

        Better populist (listening to the people) than elitist.

  • First L

    The Independent is up for sale again.

    I really really hope that Murdoch or Desmond buys it. Just so we can see the look on Owen Jones’ face.

  • Jez

    UKIP = A stick.

    The present situation = A bike rolling out of control, a 100 miles an hour down a hill to a cliff face.

    The rider = The UK populace, doped out of their minds on misinformation, Big Brother and engineered guilt.

    UKIP stick + Bike spokes = a crash stop before the cliff face = time to smell the coffee = happy ever after.

    Happy days!

    • Rallan

      I agree, but at some point (not yet) we’re going to have to talk about the unavoidable cuts & bruises we’ll suffer when we come off the bike.

      • Robert Taggart

        Even those of us without our own transport ? !

        • Rallan

          Well, if you’re coming off an out-of-control bike that’s travelling at speed it doesn’t really help you to have a skateboard on hand.

          Not sure how far this metaphor can be pushed, really 😀

    • Robert Taggart

      Strewth ! – AYE !!

  • witwoud

    I believe ‘Kippers’ is the correct term for Ukip supporters.

    • Wessex Man

      You can call us what you like, anything on earth will do, as long as the great British people vote for us. We won’t take offense, you’ve run out of arguments.

      • witwoud

        I’m not making any arguments at all. Personally I think kippers are great. They’re salty, pungent and thoroughly British — just like Ukip 🙂

        • Wessex Man

          well in that case welcome aboard.

  • Staedtler

    Speaking from the lower decks, I feel less cultural alienation from immigrants than I do from the political aristocracy, the royal family, the public school media and all the rest of it which, though I share a nationality with them, seem about as relevant to my outlook on the world as the Queen’s corgis.
    If there’s a British culture that feels alien to me, I’m afraid it’s yours.

    • gram parsons

      blah blah blah

  • Ricky Strong

    I quite agree with your point about the left failing to see social problems in non-economic terms. They appear to be utterly fascinated with the economy and so wholly nonchalant about the people who really support the beast, which really is rather ironic.

  • Colin

    Don’t do or say anything to make him disappear, please. He’s a kind of polly toynbee, in reverse drag: one of the unintentionally funniest, belly laugh inducing, ignorant, lefty tw@ts, ever to grace our national discourse.

    A comedic darkness would descend, if ever his comedic genius (unintended) were to be spiked.

  • Martin Adamson

    I don’t blame immigrants for Britain’s plight. I do blame people like Owen Jones’ parents, both left wing teachers, who have contributed more than most to the demoralisation of the British working class by their destruction and dumbing down of Britain’s educational system.

    • John Lea

      I blame them for forcing Owen Jones on the world.

    • DaHitman

      I blame the Lib-Lab-Con who flooded our country with the third world and forced us into the EU without a mandate from the British public

  • Mynydd

    To equate working class with manual work, and conservative with a small c with foppish hair and soft delicate hands, just shows how out of date Ed West is. How would Mr West classify a young man/woman shop steward working in a call centre

    • Ed West

      it was a joke

      • Mynydd

        Was working class, foppish hair c-conservative the joke, or was the whole piece the joke.

        • JackyTreehorn

          Wow good come back

          • Wessex Man

            sadly all too Owen Jones though.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        Ed, have patience with our resident leftist troll.

    • gerontius

      “How would Mr West classify a young man/woman shop steward working in a call centre”

      Media Studies graduate?

      • La Fold

        well its a step up for them from “big Mac Please.”

      • Wessex Man

        How would you, Tony Blair would classify them University Graduates!

  • Eyesee

    Owen Jones won’t understand this. And there are very few socialists in Britain, OJ certainly not being one. Marxism is the creed and undermining capitalism and family values their goal. So they hate small-c conservatives more than anything, because they are normal, respectable, help-each-other, moderate British people. Unlike Owen Jones, for whom hatred is the only useful emotion. As all good Marxists believe in promoting class hatred, racial hatred and inventing big scare stories like Global Climate Warming Change.

    • gram parsons

      the son of two lecturers both involved in left wing politics,educated at one of the uk’s top state schools and finished his education at oxbridge.

      yet he claims he’s working class,a real bad case of polly toynbeeitis