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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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