So. How do you read a newspaper? How do you understand what really happens in politics? Why do they do what they do? Why do they say what they say?
In my first talk to Eton Bridge Partners and their guests at their CFO Dinner hosted at The Langham, London, I set out five of the most important political rules. The ones I use to guide me when working out what is going on.
Number one. Always remember when you are following politics, that other people don’t. Most people most of the time don’t recognise the major political figures, don’t read the newspapers, and often don’t follow when technical political terms are used – backbencher, for instance, or sovereignty. Talk of growth, inflation, percentages and tax rates goes over many people’s heads.
Process issues – such as who debates who – are of no interest to most voters.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have views, of course. It’s just that these views are a result of their direct interests and experiences. In 2015 real incomes were going up and the Tories won, in 2017 they were going down and they lost their majority.
Number two. Most people use contrast to tell things apart. They may not have liked David Cameron hugely, for instance, but they knew they preferred him to Ed Miliband.
At the last election the Tories had the advantage that Theresa May was streets ahead of Jeremy Corbyn when the campaign began. However, of course, most people hadn’t formed a very strong view of Jeremy Corbyn. As the campaign went on he begun to seem to them just like a bog standard Labour leader.
The result? May still beat Corbyn but the gap closed. And by the way, people still don’t know all that much about him.
Number three. Politics is demographic. If you want to understand people’s politics it is better to work out who they are rather than form a complicated view about their ideology. They probably don’t have one. Most people don’t.
But people do have abiding interests. If you work in the public sector for instance you are more likely to favour greater spending and higher public sector salaries.
And if you have a higher degree? You are more likely to favour civic equality. After all, who can compete with you as long as the playing field is level.
Brexit was all about demographics. There were two countries – Remainia and Leavia. They had (and have) different people in them, living different lives with different abiding interests. Something that is of use to a resident of Remainia (the ability to work abroad for instance) is seen as a threat by a resident of Leavia (the ability for someone from abroad to take their job).
But two more factors were involved. Number four. People are loss averse. they fear losing what they have and they worry about taking risks when there is the possibility of loss.
This helped the union defeat the Scottish nationalists. So why didn’t it work in the European referendum?
Number five. Economic loss should have seen remain home but there was another kind of loss that cuts the other way. We have a fairness norm – I should be able to take out in proportion to what I put in. We are always on the look out for people we think transgress against that norm.
This is the root of politics about immigration. A view (in my view incorrect) that immigrants are taking out what the rest of the country put in. And there was a feeling of loss as immigration grew that rivalled the feeling of loss represented by economic risk.
This is a central reason for Brexit’s victory.
So if you want the core of politics, try to understand the fairness norm. But if you want to take away just one useful thing from my talk, remember that if you are up watching Newsnight, everyone else has probably gone to bed.
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