Two charts for the price of one this week – looking at how the political landscape has changed in these tumultuous months. Or, indeed, how it has not.
These two charts are from an Opinium poll, full details of which are in this Guardian article. The first chart above, shows people’s perceptions of their own politics along the traditional Left-Right spectrum. There are many interesting points to draw from this – that men apparently view themselves as more right wing on average, for example. But the most striking point about this graphic is the overwhelming similarity across gender and age group. If you take all those who consider themselves of the political centre (be it ‘centre’, ‘centre-left’ or ‘centre-right’) they total to no less than 75%. On this evidence, the British electorate see themselves as moderates.
The contrasts with the second chart couldn’t be more pronounced. It shows the same people’s perceptions of various MP’s political leanings. Naturally enough, Conservative MPs are seen as more right-wing overall, and Labour MPs as generally to the left of the spectrum.
Whether this perception of politics is an accurate reflection, or owing to media bias is a fair question to ask. The point is somewhat moot however – how the perceptions are arrived at it less important than the fact they exist.
Contrast Theresa May’s numbers with those of Jeremy Corbyn. These go a long way to explaining why May’s rating among voters are so much higher than Corbyn at this point.
Of those politicians still on the scene, Saidq Khan’s figures are the most telling. Khan ran a widely -praised campaign for Mayor of London this year that was deliberately non-partisan. His victory might not have been a surprise in the capital, which is increasingly sympathetic to the metropolitan, progressive policies of Labour and the left. The scale of his win was not a foregone conclusion however, and was owing to no small degree due to his deliberately broad appeal.
The Left-Right political spectrum is a blunt and generally inaccurate instrument for understanding the policy positions of political parties: the EU referendum united the ‘extreme’ wings of both Labour and Conservatives in campaigning to leave for example; rail nationalisation is a textbook example of a left-wing idea which none-the-less most voters support – including 70% of UKIP supporters.
So what then do people mean when in their minds they place a politician on the political fringes? Owing to the British admiration of pragmatism above all else I suggest that for most people politically extreme = unrealistic.
Those on the ‘left’ (progressives, if you will) are sometimes despairing of the need to ‘move to the centre ground’ as an unconscionable compromise with key principles. To gain votes from the majority of the electorate is not a case of having to move yourself to a bland and uninspiring middle-ground.
Instead it’s being successful in communicating ideas, policies and ambitions in such a way that are seen as logical and pragmatic, even obvious.