Everyone is doing post-mortems of why Labour and the Lib Dems did so badly in the general election and why the Tories were able to make such a massive electoral breakthrough. Understandably, a lot of this has focused on leaders, manifesto policies and short campaign tactics. I would like to now move onto the bigger picture: why I think the Right keeps winning and the Left keeps losing in broader, cultural terms. As I wrote about yesterday, many on the Left want to say it wasn’t all Corbyn’s fault and that Labour has been bleeding votes for some time. They are at least half-right, but as usual fail to really understand what is wrong.
Over the last ten years, I have worked in a variety of NGOs and campaigning organisations. I have worked in places where pretty much everyone apart from me was a member of the Labour Party, and also worked in organisations where everyone apart from me was a Tory. As such, I believe I have some insight into the wider cultural pluses and minuses that each side of the political equation has going for it.
For a start, left-wing organisations are much more focused on where you come from, what school you went to and what you look like on paper than right-wing ones. Partially, this comes from a place of wanting to be more inclusive – picking people on supposed merit as opposed to cultural background/race – but it often has the precise opposite effect. Right-wing think tanks tend to be much more focused on you as an individual and what they think you can bring to the table, whereas left-wing ones often want to plug your CV into a sort matrix which weighs lots of different pieces of data about you in order to be supposedly neutral in picking the best person. This means that – in my experience – left-wing NGOs value Oxbridge graduates way more than right-wing ones. Left-wing organisations also value more orthodox career paths than right-wing ones. This has always hurt me with left-wing outfits because I didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge and did not work for an MP in my twenties. This is an issue with all organisations in the sector, but is much more of an impediment with left-wing organisations. Again, in my experience.
Right-wing NGOs tend to be more generally inclusive as well. As someone who is most closely associated with being a Lib Dem, I have found that in right-wing NGOs this is looked on with positive curiosity more than anything else – as someone from a different political culture, you probably have some interesting insights they wouldn’t have. They take the fact that you want to work for the organisation as enough commitment to their general political aims. In left-wing NGOs, this is much more of a problem. The fact that you aren’t Labour is always THERE, something that makes you negatively different, something that makes you the Other. And since they try and avoid making people the Other most of the time, when left-wing people do other you, man, they go in hard. You would think with the dominance of Brexit over the last four years, this would have been a handicap against the Right; yet, no, I have not faced any real hostility from right-wing organisations I have worked in as a result of being a Remainer. There is – and I say this with genuine sadness – more political open-mindedness on the right than on the left.
I find that while “jobs for the boys” is a problem across the political spectrum, I think it is actually worse on the left. Even when it is done on the right, it is usually done apologetically; when a left-wing organisation does it, they don’t even blink. Person X has the “right background” and has done their time in the right part of the movement. Okay, they know nothing about the area we’ve hired them to cover, but there are more important things in life. It’s about the “movement”, after all.
More broadly, my experience of all these different organisations has left me with the impression that the Right is in recruitment mode and looking for converts – they figure anyone who isn’t a raving Corbynista can be reached. Meanwhile, the Left is all about purity and exclusion. If you aren’t a holder of the true flame, they are not only not interested in you, they actively want to exclude you.
Now, the instant riposte to all this is: this is all Westminster bubble shit. How and why people get jobs in SW1 has nothing to do with what happens in the rest of the country. Yes, of course, but the tone of political discourse, like it or not, is often set in Westminster, at least in terms of how Labour and Tory activists throughout the country think and behave. Also, Westminster is where the MPs are, where the major party political decisions get taken, where manifestos get decided upon amongst many other crucial factors. It matters a lot, whether you like it or not.
None of this changes what I fundamentally believe in. I remain a liberal social democrat. Yet I find myself in a situation where working for predominantly right of centre organisations is much more realistic for me than working for a left of centre one, for all of the reasons I’ve just described. And that, in microcosm, is why the Tories are winning people over to their side in enough numbers to win a landslide in parliament – and why Labour will continue to bleed votes to them, until they come to terms with the bigger cultural problems on their side.