“What Revolt of the Right captures is a society that, politically speaking, is cleaving along new lines. These lines are not those of nineteenth- or twentieth-century class-based politics; and the political vernacular is not that of socialism and capitalism, of left and right.
The emergent picture, rather, is of a society dominated by a financially secure, university-educated middle class. And more importantly, it is a society dominated by the values of this class. Ford and Goodwin namecheck Adam Przeworksi’s Capitalism and Social Democracy when describing these values as ‘post-material’, encompassing such concerns as the environment, civil liberties and global social justice. But there’s more to this ruling outlook than new left verities. It is seen by its possessors as progressive. They are pro-gay marriage, and against all forms of nastiness. They are cosmopolitan, and against all forms of narrow-mindedness. They are for the European Union, and against all forms of Little Englander sentiment. In short, their values and attitudes are, in the own minds, completely and utterly the right values and attitudes. Their ground is the moral high ground.
But just as this social stratum has come to dominate British public life, to fill public space with its sense of progressive self-righteousness, so other sections of society, from older generations of Britain’s working class to shire Tories, have experienced a shutting out, a quick-quick-slow assault on their values, attitudes and experiences. These people, then, are not simply the Daily Mail-reading Home Counties stereotype, trotted out by too many a complacent London liberal; they number, as Goodwin and Ford make clear, a large section of Britain’s working class, too. And not only do they feel under cultural attack, not only do they feel that even raising the issue of immigration, for example, is ‘politically incorrect’, not only do they feel that they are constantly being told that their values and beliefs are wrong, or backward; politically they have no representation, no voice.
As Goodwin and Ford point out, none of the mainstream parties try to appeal to this ‘left behind’ section of society. More importantly, given the deracinated, relatively memberless nature of the modern political party, which has deeper roots in Oxford University’s politics, philosophy and economics course than in society at large, they have virtually no connection with the so-called left behind. As Ford and Goodwin put it: ‘[The left behind] look out at a fundamentally different Britain: ethnically and culturally diverse; cosmopolitan; integrated in a transnational, European political network; dominated by a university-educated and more prosperous middle class that holds a radically different set of values, all of which is embraced and celebrated by those who rule over them. This is not a country that the rebels recognise, nor one they like.’
What you have, then, is not a political conflict, but a culture war, a face-off between two sets of values and attitudes, with each competing for moral authority. Yet so far it has been a largely one-sided battle, with a self-styled progressive middle class, represented fairly uniformly by a political and media cohort, telling the ‘left behind’ that they’re, well, wrong: that their ‘bigoted’ views are wrong; that their fags and fatty-foods are wrong; that their whole being is, somehow, a bit wrong. The discourse is intemperate and condemnatory, personal and insulting.”