A caveat: I am not well-versed in politics. What I do know is that I get upset and angry by injustice. I say this because the most powerful governments in the world, such as the U.S. under Trump and the U.K. under May and previously Cameron, target those who are already disadvantaged, such as the poor, immigrants, refugees and those of different ethnicity. They are demonised as the ‘others’, who threaten the nation state and bring disorder to a perceived peace. Public services and common goods are continuously cut and privatised which affect the vulnerable most. But here is the thing that baffles me all the time: A lot of people support and vote for right-wing governments.
When David Cameron was re-elected in 2015, like many of my friends and colleagues, I was in shock. The same was for Brexit in June 2016: as a non-U.K. EU national I was not allowed to vote and did not concern myself much with it. I thought there would never be a Brexit and all the frenzy was just hyped up by a right-wing and sensationalist media. I did not worry - I really believed that of course the Brits want to stay in the EU. So when the results came in, it dawned to me that I was perhaps living in a bubble amongst other ‘left-wing’ friends whilst a major part in the country thought differently. I realised that of the few friends I have, none of them are Conservatives or openly admit that they have voted Conservative so there is little exchange or discussion with those who are. I would probably go as far as to say that if any acquaintance supported the Conservative party, it would be quite unlikely that a friendship between us would be developed. However, this way of seeing the world and people in narrow terms of right/left politics (Conservative/Labour, Republican/Democrat) is only divisive and will make it hard to create understanding and empathy amongst us.
On Quora, a user from the U.K. wrote an interesting answer to the question ‘Why do people vote the Conservative party in the UK?’
Often, for the same reason that poor whites vote Republican in the United States: they have been led to believe that blacks, immigrants, etc. are harming their own opportunities for employment, and so vote for the party that they feel is supportive of their interests and hostile to the others'. This is, of course, absurd; poor blacks, immigrants, and whites have a common cause against the plutocrats who oppress them if only they would realize it. Turning them against each other is a divide-and-rule tactic and unfortunately a very successful one. (May 5, 2015)
The divide-and-rule tactic is an old political strategy to break up large powers or groups that could challenge or threaten the ruler or sovereign by creating rivalry and discord amongst them. A lot of political campaigns run on an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ rhetoric. Bill Schneider, a U.S. political analyst and professor wrote in the Huffington Post: ‘Who you vote is who you are.’ What he meant is that we are now in an era of identity politics where you are to pick one political side which becomes part of your identity. Campaigns are no longer to persuade the undecided, but to rally your support base and demonise the other party. And that is the case in the U.K.: Labour and Conservative supporters are extremely divided.
A major political influence that shapes public opinion is the media. During the election campaign in the U.K., more than half of the daily newspapers supported the Conservatives (almost 60%), while 30% were neutral and only 10% supported Labour. The most popular tabloids, the Daily Mail and the Sun, known for their fear-mongering, racist and hyperbolic agenda, depicted the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a terrorist sympathiser, extremist, saboteur and Marxist. Even the Guardian, a (centre) left newspaper, showed bias against Corbyn and echoed the rightwing-populist propaganda of him being ‘unelectable’. And not longer than a year ago, even Labour MPs turned their back against their leader and called for Corbyn to resign or else they would do so.
On the other side, almost as an antidote to Corbyn’s ‘unelectability’, the Conservative Party promised ‘a strong leadership, a strong, stable economy, the best Brexit deal that defends Britain’s interest, the world’s greatest meritocracy’. The Conservatives also claim to stand for ‘ordinary, working families’ and this idea seems to appeal to many voters: Work hard, and you will get rewarded.
The comment section on the Facebook page of the Conservative Party also shows an immediate insight on why people vote for them. Most of them were related to work and the belief in meritocracy and little government regulation. I quoted some comments that had garnered the most 'Likes':
‘They (Labour) know nothing in life is free you have to work for it not expect others to pay for you’
‘When you teach people they don’t need to work because the other half will take care of them, and the other half get the idea that there is no point to work because what they work will go to someone else, that is the downfall of any nation’
‘If Labour win, I will give up work as there is no point in working hard anymore’
This also leads back to the popular belief that the global recession and economic crisis from 2008 onwards was due to Labour’s economic mismanagement of the budget by overspending and borrowing, or at least it played a significant part in it. While Labour did increase spending, this had little bearing in the wake of the recession that was already looming. The real mistakes, which played on a global level, lay in the failure to regulate the financial system, banks and housing market and the Euro currency.
The Conservative Party also appeals to high earners and business people who don’t want to pay high taxes. The argument behind low income tax is that business curbs the economy and an introduction of high taxes would only be penalizing and in the worst case, could deter businesses from settling down and trading in the UK. Then there is also the disapproval of a welfare state, and the belief that each is responsible for himself, with little intervention from the government.
Last but not least, perhaps one of the most important and pressing factors at the moment, there is also the issue of immigration and the fear of overcrowding, uncontrolled and illegal migration, threat of terrorism, abuse of overstretched, limited resources such as housing, the NHS and schools and the fall of wages due to the influx of low-skilled workers.
Now, I do not want to leave these fears out in the open and undiscussed without introducing some facts and figures. While I do not want to dismiss these fears as unreasonable, the media has augmented these concerns into racist and xenophobic lies. What they hardly focus on is the failure of the government to invest in public services, infrastructure and education. The U.K. has always been a destination of migration so there is no ‘pure British race’. One also needs not forget that the U.K. (alongside the U.S. and other ‘Western’ countries) has become this prosperous and highly developed country that it is now through imperialism and slave labour in past and modern times: The exploitation and control of other countries’ resources, cheap labour, land use and a monopoly in global trade policies and governance has made it possible for us to lead largely comfortable lives. In regards to the refugee ‘crisis’, many flee not only from war zones but also because of huge inequalities in wages and lifestyle between Europe and Africa and the impact of climate change. The influx of migration also creates jobs and many studies show that migrants positively contribute to the U.K. economy. In fact, migrants pay more in tax than they consume in public services.
The Red Cross has also released some interesting facts regarding refugees:
There are an estimated 60 million people throughout the world who have been forced to flee their homes. The numbers of protracted conflicts have increased. This has created more than 15 million refugees worldwide - but developing countries host over 80 per cent of people. There are an estimated 117,234 refugees living in the UK. That's just 0.18 per cent of the total population (64.1 million people).
And if one is worried about the link between refugees and terrorism, the recent terrorist attacks have shown that the majority of perpetrators have been native-born residents.
The result of the recent U.K. election has been a U-turn against all predictions and criticism: In the highest election turnout since 25 years, Corbyn has rallied support throughout the country, especially amongst young people, despite the media backlash from all sides and against all odds. Millions of people who were previously politically disengaged and alienated came out and voted. They proved wrong the politicians and journalists, who vilified the Labour manifesto and its policies as too radical, socialist and delusional to appeal to millions. In what was an election gamble to consolidate her power and strengthen her Brexit negotiations, prime minister Theresa May lost not only 13 seats, but also lot of support and confidence within her own party and supporters whereas Labour gained 30 seats. Because she did not win a majority, the U.K. will have a Conservative minority government in alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a deeply socially conservative party infamous for its anti-abortionist and homophobic views. We are yet to see the deal between them. The future of the U.K. is perhaps more than ever, uncertain and unpredictable, but the mood is different now: Out in the streets, there is now a united, passionate drive for change ‘for the many, not the few’.
You can read the Labour manifesto here: http://www.labour.org.uk/index.php/manifesto2017 and the Conservative manifesto here: https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto