Onward Research: The politics of belonging

2020-03-24T13:23:37+00:00 October 30th, 2019|Research|

On Wednesday 30th October, Onward publishes ‘The Politics of Belonging’ by Lord James O’Shaughnessy and Will Tanner.

Read the report here | Tweet about the report here

The final report reinforces the headline shift away from freedom and choice and towards security that we discussed in our launch release in August:
  • In headline terms, two-thirds (65%) of voters want a society that focuses more on giving people security, compared to one third which wants one that prioritises freedom. This is true of all age groups, ethnicities, and regions, as well as both Leave and Remain voters.

  • On a socio-cultural dimension, two thirds (68%) of people believe communities have become more divided and segregated in recent years, versus 32% who believe that they have become more integrated and diverse. 63% of people say they believe that fewer people are getting married because of a decline in family commitment and values, compared to 37% who say it is because people have more freedom and choice in a partner. 66% of respondents say that more people going to university and fewer gaining technical qualifications has been bad for the country overall, versus 34% who think it has been beneficial.

  • On the economic axis, we find strong hostility to the key drivers of prosperity in the modern liberal market economy: global trade, innovation and urban agglomeration. Two thirds of respondents believe that “globalisation has not benefited most people” (66%), versus 34% who think it has. Three-fifths of people (61%) say that “on the whole, jobs and wages have been made worse by technological change”, compared to 39% who think they have been improved. 71% of people think that more people living in cities has made society worse, compared to 29% who think better. Less surprisingly, we find that 59% of people think that increases in immigration has had a “negative impact on the economy overall.”

This may be related to Brexit, but it also changes the electoral arithmetic, in a way that reinforces your own work around low income voters. The battlegrounds are no longer midlands marginals like Nuneaton but Northern and Midlands towns with strong working class roots and Labour traditions, but which voted Leave and identify with economic security (traditional left) and social security (traditional right). The seats to watch are Workington, Wigan, Wakefield, Castleford, Dewsbury. They are where Boris needs to win if he is to win back a majority.

This requires a pivot for the Conservative Party. We argue for the Government to articulate a new political philosophy which we call Conservatism for the Common Good. This is the best way to unite both existing Conservatives and the new groups of voters that will decide the next election. In policy terms, such an agenda would:

  1. Put investment in core public services ahead of personal income tax cuts. 65% of people would prefer government to prioritise spending for schools, hospitals and social care”, versus 35% who want government to “prioritise cutting income tax to let people keep more of their own money”. This view is held of all voters of all ages, ethnic groups, and all regions of the country apart from London. Only 7% of voters – and only 3% of current Conservative voters – pick taxation as one of the top three issues facing the country. 

  2. Focus on delivering higher paid and more secure work, through higher minimum wages, long-term investment in retraining, and technical education. 71% of people believe that we “should focus on reducing the gap between rich and poor, even if the economy grows more slowly” rather than “focus on growing the economy as fast as possible, even if it leads to more inequality.” 78% of people say the Government should invest in apprenticeships and technical courses for young people compared to just 22% who say they should cut the cost of student loans.

  3. Empower Britain’s regions and towns, by boosting capital investment allowances for businesses, actively building competitive industrial clusters away from London, and devolving rail, infrastructure and housing powers to cities and regional bodies. Every region except for London believes the country has moved away from them on both economic and cultural issues. Just 6% of people in the North East say the country has moved towards their views economically and 4% closer to them on cultural issues. 

  1. Restore a stronger sense of belonging, by boosting homeownership and taxing anti-local housing such as empty, second, and enveloped homes, introducing a form of civic national service, and letting communities take over shops, assets, football clubs and public sector land through trusts. Three in five (58%) people think we have a special duty to protect local institutions such as pubs and post offices from closure. 84% of people think that the transport network would be better run if we gave cities and regions more control. 

  1. Prioritise national security, by rebuilding neighbourhood policing, introducing honest sentencing and a 40 hour training week for prisoners, and protecting strategic industries from collapse or hostile takeover. Crime (48%) is the third highest priority of Conservative to Brexit Party switchers, behind only Brexit and Immigration. However voters marginally want a justice system that is more about rehabilitation (52%) than punishment (48%). 58% of voters say the Government should protect national industries from international competition, even if it leads to higher prices. 

Crucially, this agenda must not be nostalgic, because voters want change. 58% of voters want a society that “embraces change” against 42% who want to preserve tradition. However this change should be gradual: 80% of people said that politicians should “pursue gradual change to protect what is important, even if it takes longer to achieve” rather than “embrace radical change, even if it leads to lower living standards in the short-term”.