On Thursday 8th August, Onward launched a new project – The politics of belonging – to be led by Lord James O’Shaughnessy and Will Tanner. On the morning of the launch we published new polling by Hanbury Strategy showing the shift away from a post-war freedom consensus to a post-Brexit consensus shaped by security.
After decades of liberalising politics, from the cultural shifts introduced by Roy Jenkins on divorce and abortion in the 1960s, through the Thatcherite economic reforms of the 80s and 90s, to the social liberalism of the Blair government, the polling reveals a sea change towards a new era in which the politics of security and belonging are becoming more important.
In fact, it suggests the pendulum of liberty is swinging back the other way and that voters are now looking for a government that will protect them and their families, and provide a greater focus on place, community and security – the “politics of belonging”.
- Voters (at a ratio of nearly 2-to-1) wanting a society that “focuses on giving people more security” (65%), rather than one that “focuses on giving people more freedom” (35%).
- The Conservatives have the most to gain or lose: they risk losing half their 2017 voters at a general election – 4 million to the Brexit Party, 1.5 million to the Lib Dems and 350,000 to Labour. Net support for security among Conservative considerers is double those who would not vote Tory.
- Startling findings reveal most voters, but particularly “Tory defectors” share many traditional social and cultural values: they are sceptical about city growth, concerned about declining family values, worried about crime, and protective of local communities.
- The polling also reveals a sharp rejection of liberal democratic principles, especially among young people. 66% of 25-34 year olds favour “strong leaders who do not have to bother with Parliament” and 26% believe democracy is a bad way to run the country.
Key findings that mark this sea change were revealed in a 5,000 sample poll by Hanbury Strategy for Onward:
- People of every age group, ethnicity and social backgrounds say they would “rather live in a society that focuses on giving people more security” than one that “focuses on giving people more freedom”.
- In total, 65% of respondents favoured security, compared to 35% who chose society based on freedom.
- In terms of social & cultural issues, people more traditional values than fifty years of liberalisation would predict:
- 71% of people think that “more people living in cities has made society worse”, compared to 29% who think it has made society better.
- 66% of respondents said that “more people going to university and fewer gaining technical qualifications has been bad for the country overall”, compared to 34% who think it has been beneficial.
- 63% of respondents said they believe that “fewer people are getting married because of a decline in family commitment and values”, compared to 27% who said it was due to people having “more freedom and choice in a partner”.
- In terms of economic issues, there is a clear backlash against the modern globalised economy:
- 61% of people believe that “on the whole, jobs and wages have been made worse by technological change”.
- 66% of people think that “globalisation has not benefited most people”.
- 59% think that “increases in immigration have had a negative impact on the economy overall,” compared to 41% who said that the impact had been positive.
- Across all dimensions, support for security was highest among groups that the Conservative Party now relies on most heavily for its voters: older age groups, pensioners, White voters, and those with lower levels of education.
- Among Conservative considerers, net support for rather living “in a society that focuses on giving people more security” (46%) is twice as high among non-Conservative considerers (22%).
- On a freedom vs. security axis, loyal voters of and defecting voters from the two main parties are more interested in security than freedom. 73% of Conservative considers favour security, compared to just 27% who want freedom. Among voters who voted Tory in 2017 but now say they would consider voting for the Brexit Party, this rises to 78%.
- This is most true of Conservative to Brexit Party defectors (71% pro-security), who are socially focused on security, and Labour to Brexit Party voters, who are most economically security-conscious (70% pro-security). However it also extends to Lib Dem defectors, 77% of which favour security over freedom.
- The poll also reveals evidence that many voters are now rejecting liberal democratic forms of government in favour of more authoritarian models, especially true among younger voters:
- When asked about different ways to run the country, 80% of people support “having experts, not government, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country” and 84% who favour “having a democratic political system”.
- However, 58% of people think that having “a strong leader who does not have to bother with Parliament” would be a good way to run the country and 26% of people say “having the army run the country” would be good.
- Younger voters are most authoritarian. Among 25-34 year olds, 36% support army rule; 66% favour strongman leaders; and 26% believe democracy is a bad way to run the country.
- Older voters are considerably more democratic. Among over-75 year olds, just 3% of over-75s believe democracy is bad. Among 65-74 year olds, fewer than half (48%) support strongman leaders and just one in ten (10%) people support army rule.
The poll suggests that policies which increase freedom, autonomy and choice are unlikely to be major vote-winners in the way they were for much of the last fifty years. Instead, policies that restore a sense of belonging, provide security and protect citizens from the modern world are likely to be most effective.
Traditional social and cultural values remain popular, even though the Conservative Party has been seen to move away from them. Deciding whether to embrace this security agenda is the biggest non-Brexit policy choice the Party has to make.
Lord O’Shaughnessy said:
“This research reveals a sea change in British politics, with voters overwhelmingly looking for a society that gives them more security not more freedom. This marks a break with 60 years of liberal consensus.
“We found that voters believe the growth of cities and increasing numbers of people going to university have been bad for society. They think that communities have become more segregated rather than diverse and that family values are being eroded, and that globalisation, technological change and immigration have harmed ordinary people’s lives, jobs and wages.
“These findings are true, on average, for all voter groups but even more so for the 5 million voters the Conservatives risk losing at the next general election. To bring these people back into the fold the Prime Minister needs to deliver Brexit, but on its own that is not enough. He needs to move on from freedom and give these voters the security they crave.”
Will Tanner said:
“British politics is undergoing a sea change and it is for security, not freedom. Most voters are not freedom fighters who want more rampant individualism, a small state and lower taxes. They want well-funded public services, security for their family, and a strong community in the place in which they live.
“The new Prime Minister has a historic opportunity to embrace this new reality and redefine conservatism away from a dogmatic obsession with liberty and towards the politics of belonging. He must grasp it quickly if he wants to regain a majority.”
Notes to Editors
Hanbury Strategy surveyed 5,073 people in a representative GB sample between 21st and 28th June 2019. Vote intention adjusted for turnout was 23% Conservative, 25% Labour, 20% Liberal Democrat, 18% Brexit Party, 8% Greens, 5% SNP and 1% Plaid Cymru.
The full tables are available at www.hanburystrategy.com/polling.
Lord James O’Shaughnessy was Lords Minister in the Department for Health and Social Care between 2016 and 2018. He was previously Director of Research in Conservative Central Office and Director of Policy for David Cameron in 10 Downing Street between 2010-2011.
Will Tanner is Director of Onward, a campaigning thinktank established to renew the centre right for the next generation. He previously served as No10 Deputy Director of Policy under Theresa May, having been a Special Adviser in the Home Office from 2013 to 2016.