Monday, 13 July 2015

The pizza party

Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour party, said yesterday that Labour will not oppose the welfare cuts in the recent budget and should not oppose the two child limit on child benefit. In doing so she has almost certainly driven the last nail into Labour's coffin, especially since Liz Kendall, one of the front-runners in the Labour leadership contest, has defended Ms Harman's views.

So, now we have an opposition that is curiously reluctant to oppose the government.  Where has it all gone wrong?  I think a lot of the blame lies with Labour's over-reliance on focus groups.

A focus group is a research tool where a small group of people is interviewed about a particular topic (for example a product), led by a trained moderator.  In the group people are free to express their own views in the discussion in any way they please.  The group will be reflective of the general population demographically speaking, with appropriate numbers from each age-group, social class, etc.

Labour have relied on focus groups for a number of years to try and guide them into shaping policies that people like and will vote for.  They have moved from being a party with principles to being a party that will try to give you what you want.  This explains a lot about their drift to the right.

Focus groups for political parties make me think of asking a group of children what they want for dinner.  Mostly they're going to say pizza.  Some will want chips with it, some will want potato waffles.  None of them will want to share their pizza with the others.  Sure, you can offer them healthier alternatives and ways to share, but in the end they're going to vote for the person who gives them a pizza to themselves.

One thing that we found in the Scottish independence referendum is that a large percentage of the population don't want to think about things.  Instead they will believe whatever their newspaper of choice or TV programmes tell them.  This explains why many people believe that, say, immigrants only come to the UK to claim benefits, when in fact most immigrants are working and claiming benefits as an immigrant is not nearly as easy as people think.  You can offer them the facts, but most will stick to what they've already decided is the truth, right or wrong.

Given this, it's not hard to see why Labour's policies have drifted to the right, since a fair percentage of their focus groups will be regurgitating opinions based on the mainstream media, especially since most people, not unnaturally, are self-centred in their approach to politics ('what's in it for me?').  Labour then end up formulating policies that are imitations of Tory policies with a few tweaks.  They are then surprised when people vote for the Tories rather than Labour, on the logic of why vote or Tory-lite when you can vote for the real thing?

I am no supporter of the Tories, but I will give them this.  They have principles.  Vile, self-centred principles to be sure, but they have them and they're not afraid to try and implement them.  Labour, by abandoning its principles, have lost their way, and I'm not sure they can find their way back.  To be honest, most of them might as well join the Tories, for all the difference it would make.

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