By Simon Basketter
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Are British attitudes moving to the right?

This article is over 8 years, 8 months old
Issue 2352

The Tories are panicking a bit after Ukip took a bite out of their support in local elections on 2 May.

David Cameron had previously referred to Ukip members as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.

Now he is taking a very different tack.

Cameron stressed, “We need to show respect for people who have taken the choice to support this party and we need to work really hard to win them back.”

Former leadership rival David Davis went further, warning, “The fact is if we want to win the next election we have to break this impression of being privileged and out of touch. 

“That means more straight talking and fewer focus groups, more conventional Tory policies.”

The push for more “down to earth” measures is in fact a push for more racism, more cuts and some hang ’em and flog ’em rhetoric. 

To some extent the Tory right is getting its way.

The queen’s speech on Wednesday was set to include a clump of odious right wing crowd pleasers.

Measures floated included policies to stop “health tourism” and to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Education secretary Michael Gove said the idea of axing Cameron was “bonkerooney”—presumably so as not to harm his own leadership candidacy in the future. 

But some Tory right wingers are eager to strike an electoral pact with Ukip. One, Peter Bone, even suggested they stand joint candidates.

So one way or another a bid to outflank Ukip to pacify Tories in the shires is coming.

It is important to recall that the cabinet are nearly all on the right of the Tory party, as is Cameron. They have felt the need to push the more crazed views to the background because it stopped them winning elections throughout the 1990s. 

They also still need the Liberal Democrats to stay in the coalition.


But now they claim that they can’t win the next general election without pandering to the most bigoted.

That means they will push to mobilise the Tory “core” vote with opposition to Europe, immigration and taxes—what they refer to as the “Tebbit trinity”.

One problem they have is that there are considerably fewer bigots in Britain than they imagine. 

The apparent consensus that attitudes in Britain are drifting rightwards is shallower than it seems. 

The main parties define a political consensus that exerts an influence on the political ideas held by people. It is far from totally dominant and it is contradictory. But it does often set the parameters for a debate. 

So the idea that “we must cut the deficit” is the commonsense of bourgeois politics, usually without any explanation.

But despite this people’s actual views are complex and contradictory. Ordinary people often support things that the mainstream political parties don’t represent.

The 2011 British Attitudes Survey showed that three quarters of people think there is too big a gap between the rich and the poor. 

And despite the onslaught of propaganda against disabled people, most people—53 percent—think benefits for disabled people who can’t work should go up.

Some 75 percent back an increase in benefits for those who care for sick and disabled people.

Anti-immigration sentiment is typically contradictory. People can believe that there are too many immigrants, yet the reality of working and struggling breaks down these prejudices.

The Tories want to scapegoat migrants for the crisis. But that doesn’t mean they will succeed.

That is why voices in the Labour movement who refuse to stand up to the attacks on immigration are so wrongheaded.

Contradictory ideas mean people can be broken from reactionary views. 

But to do so requires standing up to prejudice, not pandering to it, while stoking resistance to everything the Tories stand for.

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