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Coffee House General Election 2017

Sticking up a ‘Vote Labour’ placard is an exercise in virtue signalling

To judge by the number of Labour placards outside people’s houses at the moment, you’d be forgiven for thinking the party is heading for a romping victory. Sure, you will see some ‘Vote Conservative’ placards dotted about here and there. But for the most part, putting up political posters is now predominately a left-wing pastime.

This is certainly the case in the urban heartlands of England’s three big cities, London, Birmingham and Manchester, where the rare Conservative posters that have made an appearance are often defaced or torn down. Perhaps surprisingly, ‘Vote Labour’ posters are most conspicuous in the wealthier parts of our cities. In Crouch End, a prosperous part of North London, you can’t move for Labour placards outside people’s houses – the only competition came from the odd Liberal Democrat contender. Elsewhere, a friend relates how they are also in abundance in the well-to-do Warwickshire outskirts of Birmingham. It’s a similar story in Cambridge. 

The strange thing is that when you leave Crouch End, you’re struck by the total absence of Labour posters along the Caledonian Road and in other, far poorer north London areas, where it would make more sense to vote for a high-taxation, redistributive party. Vested interests would dictate that the poor campaign more vociferously for a Labour government. But the sheer number of Labour placards in wealthy areas is consistent with our era of conspicuous compassion and ‘virtue signalling’, in which gesture is as important as action.

The act of displaying ‘Vote Labour’ placards outside one’s home is less today about rousing support for the Labour Party, but is more a demonstration to prove to your peers what a caring person you are. ‘Vote Labour’ is now a sign aimed at cementing your place among the compassionate liberal upper-middle classes. 

This is why you so seldom see ‘Vote Conservative’ placards. In our grandstanding, Instagram generation of manicured public images, Tory posters are taboo – certainly in areas where your liberal-left friends might spot them and cast a disapproving eye on them. Conservative posters convey the message that you are heartless and selfish.

But Labour placards – no matter how dismal the party is under Jeremy Corbyn – are all the rage. There is now an unspoken competition as to who can have the bigger – and by implication, more caring – ‘Vote Labour’ sign. A Facebook friend recently posted an image of a gigantic one outside her mother’s neighbour’s house in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Clearly, the owner cared more deeply than their neighbour, who only had a regular-size ‘Vote Labour’ sign. How very uncaring of her.

Patrick West is author of ‘Conspicuous Compassion’ (Civitas, 2004). His new book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times (Societas), is published in August


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