How we use Cookies

Well-meaning middle class liberals used to run the country but now they have nobody to vote for

People like me have been rejected by both major parties. Maybe we deserve it.

So who is a well-meaning middle class liberal meant to vote for?

I almost wrote nice middle class liberal, but that’s tempting fate. Some readers may think the type of people I’m talking about - people like me - aren’t that nice.

But we’ve run the country for a long time. So long that we took it for granted.

Tony Blair was one of us. A believer in free markets who also backed immigration, gay rights and spending a bit more on the NHS.

Tony Blair was one of us
Tony Blair was one of us

The catchphrase that made him famous, "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime", was designed to appeal to us.

Yes, we need to tackle the problems that cause crime - poverty, poor education and unemployment. But we do need to punish criminals too.

And while Blair’s New Labour believed in giving public services the funding they needed, it also believed in keeping taxes low and backing businesses to the hilt.

New Labour’s architect, Peter Mandelson, famously said he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes”.

With hindsight, perhaps Labour was too relaxed, given that lack of regulation appears to have contributed to the banking crisis. But at the time, it sounded reassuring to those of us who worried that the type of left-wing government that went after the millionaires might come after the middle managers next.

Conservatives, of course, were also intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.

That was reassuring. But other Tory positions were hard for middle class liberals to stomach.

There was the obsession with Europe, for one thing. We liked Europe. And the focus on immigration was also kind of worrying.

That all changed when David Cameron came along.

He was a new type of Tory - a liberal Tory.

David Cameron - also one of us
David Cameron - also one of us

When David Cameron suggested that young people involved in low-level crime need a bit more love, he was mocked for advocating a “huge a hoodie” policy.

But we knew what he meant. He meant we should be tough on crime, yes, but also tough on the causes of crime.

He believed global warming was a problem and we had to do something about it. He wanted the Conservatives to stop “banging on” about Europe. And he knew the Tories had to be anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic.

Mr Cameron rebranded the Conservative Party to appeal to the type of people who read broadsheet newspapers (or their websites, nowadays) and might consider voting Tory - but would feel guilty about it.

And that was great for those of us who fit into that category. We probably represent a tiny proportion of the population, but we’d grown so used to having things our own way that we rarely thought about that.

It got better. Because there was a time when not one, not two but all three UK-wide major political parties were in our camp.

The Liberal Democrats have always been a broad church. Big-statists, proud of being to the left of Labour, mingle with radical liberals who flirt with ideas verging on anarchism.

But in Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats had a leader tailor-made for us. Sensible, middle-of-the-road, firmly in our camp on social issues and also a believer in low taxes and the free market.

How long ago that seems.

The Brexit vote was a repudiation of our views. Given a choice, it turned out that most people disagreed with us on the EU and immigration.

As new Conservative leader Theresa May said in various speeches, it also demonstrated an unhappiness with the general drift of society.

And she responded by making it clear she was abandoning the consensus that had dominated public life in the UK for so long.

Theresa May rejected the liberal consensus
Theresa May rejected the liberal consensus

In her conference speech in Birmingham last October, she said: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.”

She was talking about people like us. Like me.

Labour, of course, has moved to the left. “Blair” is a dirty word in today’s Labour Party, and not just because of Iraq.

And while none of the policies in Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto are that objectionable on their own, there is a definite theme when you add them together.

Labour now believe that prosperity, and a fairer society, are achieved by taxing more - a lot more - and government spending the money.

Meanwhile, newish Lib Dem leader Tim Farron doesn’t inspire. It’s hard to pinpoint anything he’s done wrong, but he just doesn’t feel like a big figure in the way Nick Clegg, or former leaders such as Paddy Ashdown, once did.

My tribe has lost control. We’ve been rejected, and perhaps we deserve it.

But it makes it very hard to know who to vote for.

Comments

Journalists

Graeme Brown
Editor (Agenda and Business)
Enda Mullen
Business Reporter
Tamlyn Jones
Business Reporter
Neil Elkes
Local Government Correspondent
Emma McKinney
Education Correspondent
Ben Hurst
News Editor
Jonathan Walker
Political Editor