“Economics, values and identity ALL matter for Labour” – Paula Surridge’s presentation on the politics of England

This presentation was given at the English Labour Network’s event in Parliament on 3 March 2020. Paula Surridge is a senior politics lecturer at the University of Bristol.

My recent academic work has been primarily around how values are shaping our society, which I’ll come to in a minute.

But today I want to bring values and national identity together. The interaction between different types of values and identities is really, really important. We keep finding different Labour factions that want it all to be about economics, or all to be about culture/values, or all to be about identity, and they are all wrong, because it’s how those things combine that is really, really important.

National identity

I want to begin by talking just for a minute about measuring Englishness. Often the Morano question is used to measure nationalities when people hold more than one (‘English not British’ vs ‘more English than British’ vs ‘more British than English’ etc) but I’ve found this doesn’t work as well in England as it does in say Scotland, Canada or Catalonia.

My problem with the Moreno question when I first came across it, living in Scotland as this much younger wee English lassie, was that it didn’t capture very well somebody who was just a bit non-plussed about their national identity altogether, or somebody who felt very strongly English and very strongly British, because both of those people would end up in that equally British and English category. However, the British Election Study asked about English in a slightly different way [which I believe is more useful]. The data I have in this first slide looks at this…

Surridge graph 1

The left-hand side as you’re looking at it is the standard ‘Moreno’ question – which I’ve seen John Denham use. The bottom of each chart is the mostly strongly expressed Englishness and then it gets weaker as we go through. The Moreno question gives you data that shows 40% in that equally English and British section, which isn’t actually very helpful for analysis because it gives you not very much variance.

If, as with the second chart, we instead ask people to rank their ‘Strength of Englishness’ on a scale of 1-7, 35% of voters in England say they are very strongly English. They give 7/7 on that scale. You can see actually really quite small proportions that say that they’re not English at all. So actually in some respects, by using the Moreno question, which I think is great for all sorts of things, it runs the risk actually of underselling Englishness a little bit because lots of people who feel very strongly English also say they feel very strongly British.

Interestingly, it’s actually about 70% of that 35% who give a 7/7 for ‘very strongly English’ also give 7/7 for their Britishness.

Values mapped against Englishness

I want to combine this mapping of identity with my work on values. I’ve been talking about them for 20 years, nobody cared, but ever since the referendum people are interested! I have written extended pieces on them here: https://medium.com/@psurridge

There are two scales that real matter. First, the traditional ‘left-right’ scale which is about economics. Key issues include attitudes towards:

  • Redistribution of wealth
  • Relationship between business owners and workers
  • Fair application of law across society

(Please note that on this traditional scale there are no measures there about welfare and benefits. So it’s a very old conception of economic justice, all about ownership and control.)

Likewise, the liberal-authoritarian dimension focuses on attitudes towards authority, more than towards social and moral issues, which the scale sometimes gets conflated with. Key issues include attitudes towards:

  • Respect for traditional values
  • Attitudes towards crime and punishment
  • Discipline in schools

It is interesting to see whether English-identifiers, of varying strengths, sit in a value space defined by those two dimensions. Left-right on the horizon axis, liberal-authoritarian on the vertical axis. We’re using the 1-7 scale, 1 being not English at all.

Surridge graph 2

35% of the sample of the population are in that ‘very strongly English’ category, and they are some distance from everybody else in terms of those socially liberal/authoritarian values. They are also a bit less left wing than most of the other groups, but they’re very distinctive on that other scale.

We’ve also got a very distinct pattern going on with those that say that they’re not at all English. They must be a very particular type of person that needs a bit more dipping into because they’re actually more authoritarian than we would expect if you’ve got a linear pattern going on there. So those two groups, the two biggest groups in fact, are quite distinctive.

The next chart attempts to fit a lot of information into a very small space. For each of the scales, I’ve broken Labour’s 2017 voters (2019 data not out yet) into three segments:

surridge graph 3

They’re not equally sized segments, but they’re equal parts of the scale.

Things to note:

  • The key difference here is between left, centre and right – this is the greatest variance. Left-right still really matters. Labour does pretty well on the left, much less well in the centre and really appallingly badly on the right, as perhaps you expect.
  • But then within each of those groups I have added the liberal-authoritarian axis. Now, this is relatively new. It shows Labour voters are by far and away more liberal than authoritarian.

I’ll quickly show you some charts that show that this wasn’t true in 2010, and it certainly wasn’t true in 1997. But it’s been true since 2015 onwards:

surridge graph 4

The difference between the coloured bars on that 3rd graph (not the one directly above) shows you the effect of Englishness, which also varies depending on where on the spectrum we are. And it isn’t always the case that it’s linear. Labour is doing worse amongst those who feel very strongly English.

So that’s the picture in 2017. And here was the picture in 2015…

surridge graph 5

So clearly this was also happening in 2015, so anybody that tells you that these differences are a result of the referendum itself rather than the divides that led to the referendum result (or recent changes in leadership) is missing the point that these divides have been going on for a really long time, and both of those things accelerated that but they didn’t cause it. These divides were there previously.

Labour’s challenge

This final graph is the best I have in terms of indicating 2019 voting intentions (from June 2019). Unfortunately it loses Englishness altogether, but I think it illustrates the challenge facing Labour and given that we know those very strongly English voters tend to be towards the top part of that distribution – authoritarian.

surridge graph 6

Here you’ve got plotted groups of voters for Labour and the Conservatives in 2017, and which way they intended to vote in 2019. These are data from June 2019 so bear in mind that this is the point at which the Lib Dems and Brexit Party were at their highest last year. People were asked how likely they were to ever vote for a particular party, and plotted on the graph are people who gave a six out of 10 or higher for each of the parties. Some people will be in more than one of those blobs because they will actually give a 6 out of 10 for Labour and Lib Dems, and various other combinations.

For all the talk about Labour losing votes to the Brexit Party or the Lib Dems, I reminded Labour members that the voters who move over to the Conservatives are the most damaging because they count twice, and they’re not just a little bit more authoritarian, they’re also a bit more towards the centre on economics as well.

The critical thing is that all these three things – economics, culture and identity – interact with each other and anybody that’s trying to solve the problems of the 2019 result by looking at any one of them is not going to have a very good outcome, because all three are needed.

Read more blogs from the English Labour Network’s Politics of England event.


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