New Internationalist

How can anyone working class vote Tory?


Photo by thegreatgonzo under a CC Licence.

In 1979, at the time of the general election, I was a sheet metal worker in a factory in the Black Country. I voted Labour, as I always had done. All to no avail. Margaret Thatcher romped to victory.

It was to be the first of three consecutive election triumphs for Thatcher and the Tories and they immediately set about unleashing unfettered, laissez-faire capitalism on the British public, its disastrous consequences still being felt today. And a crucial element in these Tory victories was the working class vote.

Working class Tories. What a contradiction in terms. But it is nothing new. Ever since working class people won the vote a large number of workers have voted for the Conservatives.

And the question is, simply, why? Why do they vote for a party that so clearly and consistently attacks their interests? What does someone eking out a living on the minimum wage or collecting benefits have in common with an over-privileged, multi-millionaire Tory politician? Absolutely nothing as far as I can see. But, somehow, the Tories manage to persuade gullible sections of the working class to help put them – and keep them – in power.

And they are still at it. Cameron, Osbourne, Lansley et al. Mostly Old Etonians, Oxbridge, filthy rich. That’s about as elite as it gets. Yet, again, working class people, tugging at their collective forelocks, voted for these toffs. Turkeys voting for Christmas. And the tragic (and this really is a tragedy) irony is that the present government is presiding over the dismantling of the welfare state whose whole premise was to provide a decent life for working class people.

It all seems ominously, and depressingly, reminiscent of some of the characters in Robert Tressell’s classic book: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Completed in 1910, it was a detailed and scathing analysis of the relationship between working class people and their ‘betters’. The ‘philanthropists’ of the title are the workers who, in Tressell’s view, acquiesce in their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses. Some things, it seems, never change.

For any working class person to vote Tory is nothing short of a betrayal. A betrayal of the workers who fought and died to create a better world for their class. And a betrayal of future generations of workers who will have to start all over again.

They have much to answer for.

Below photo by I See Modern Britain under a CC Licence.

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  1. #1 Charlie Mansell 12 Apr 12

    Same issue as why does Kansas vote Republican? Since it is not long-term economic benefit, it may be a mix of safety and security values reinforced by 'proximity judgments' and local social networks creating social norms in families and communities that massively overcome any form of class consciousness whether it is defined in 19c philosopher terms or more recently reframed 1% v 99% terms. Fortunately instead of just bemoaning it, we can now measure it to understand it better and reframe messages to actually communicate with those values to take people on a journey: http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/assets/Uploads/Publications/Consultation-and-communicationsReport.pdf and http://www.thersa.org/projects/connected-communities/connected-communities-report
    and

  2. #2 Angus 12 Apr 12

    There is surely plenty of interesting discussion to be had about why people vote in such a way that is obviously not in their interests. It's a shame this article didn't delve into anything so troublesome as this. Instead it rants against working class people who vote Tory and repeats the same old 'elitism' cliches. There's nothing much new here. Presumably these people voting against their interests might be relatively easily swayed against the Tories. Articles like this won't help in that cause.

  3. #3 Danielle 12 Apr 12

    My grandfather was working class and as blue as they came. We used to joke that if a someone painted a turnip blue and it ran for parliament then he's have voted for it - he even agreed with us.

    There is a long standing tradition of working class Irish, of which my granddad was one, voting Tory. My granddad was very much a ’pulled myself up by the bootstraps’ kind of man and worked like a trojan every day of his working life. He hated the thought of charity and had to be talked into accepting benefits he was more than entitled to in his old age. As far as he was concerned you got what you worked for and this somehow resulted in him voting Tory, even through the Maggie years and the collapse of local industry - the same industry that has paid his wages.

    On the other side of my mother's family, they were all proper old Labour. My great grandfather was part of the original Labour movement and I know it pained him that his son-in-law was so anti-Labour. I also know I was glad he didn't live to see New Labour ruin what he believed in.

  4. #4 Nick 12 Apr 12

    Angus, this is a blog, not an article. And, yes, no real analysis here but I don't think that's the intention. Sometimes it's just good to put the question out there (which can sometimes spark off 'interesting discussion').

  5. #5 Somerandombint 12 Apr 12

    Perhaps because not all working class people are poor and living on benefits?

    As Danielle demonstrates so well in her description of her grandfather, there are a large number of working class people who buy into the idea that benefits are for workshy cheaters, and everyone should be made to work as hard as they have in order to live. I don't agree with that opinion, but I can understand their reasoning behind it. Thatcher's Tories seemed very appealing to the man in the street, working to support his family, and rewarded them for taking care of themselves. These people are far more likely to accept the notion of work = money.

    And it's just possible, whisper it, that some working class people vote Tory because they don't want to vote Labour. In all honesty, they haven't exactly covered themselves in glory in defending the country against the cuts. It seems a case of potato/potahto to a lot of people living on the breadline.

  6. #6 Phil Vanes 17 Apr 12

    What an absolutely brilliant piece of observation.
    Spot on

  7. #7 Joe Taylor 17 Apr 12

    But why do they do it? I've been trying to work that one out since I was a kid? Got any answers?

  8. #8 Alan 18 Apr 12

    Not sure what the answer is Joe. I would suggest it's a number of things. I know there's a lot of stuff been written about it, academics and the like theorising about the phenomenon.
    But, as I said in the blog, to get a real sense as to what is happening and where we are headed I would urge everyone to read Robert Tressell's book. To be honest, I still can't believe what is happening... that we are returning to those terrible times.
    And to those who think I am just some 'Leftie' slagging off some sections of the working class (and don't forget they are MY class) I would say wait and see my friends.
    The nightmare has only just begun.

  9. #9 Phil 05 May 12

    It's a question of identity which has become fractured in recent years. There have always been working class tories, yes but is it a question of where you want to be rather thAn where you are? Aspiring people may see themselves as tory. Concered middle classes as labour. But what does any of this mean when many people are concerned with constructing their own complex subjective identity and resent being labelled from outside by simple socio-economic classification. I do agree though that this plays into the hands of the wealthy as they seem to manage to get all sorts of people to vote for a government that seems hell bent of recreating victorian britain, at least economically. But this is not just against the interests of the working class but also middle classes Who have a lot to lose from a smaller welfare state. The only winners are the rich, who are relatively few. The real question is how have Labour allowed this to happen? I would suggest they need to stop messing around with the politics of identity and multi- culturalism and return to economics, something which is part of everyone's identity

  10. #10 Sarah Jackson 28 May 12

    That's it in a nutshell. If rich people vote Conservative and poor people continue vote Labour, then they'll always be poor. Only poor people vote Labour. The poor people living on sink estates, all overweight and scoffing on chips and burgers and smoking 40 a day voting Labour should try voting Conservative, then they too might one day be living in a big house in the country and sending their children to private school and feeding them on protein, fresh fruit and vegetables. One day they might too get a job where they make a contribution to society instead of sponging off of it and the wealthier having to pay for it all. As the old saying goes 'you ain't never gonna be rich voting labour'.

  11. #11 Anon 08 Jun 12

    “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
    ― John Steinbeck

  12. #12 David leckie 02 Oct 13

    although I am fiercely anti-Tory,my very good friend who is profoundly anti-catholic and favours the Tories and is of course dead set against Scottish independance This I think colours his attitude in politics because of his religious beliefs.

  13. #13 Mary Lane 07 May 15

    My sentiments exactly! Read your history books people!

  14. #14 Joe Miller 08 May 15

    It's aspirational in the same way as the American dream is. ’You too could be rich if you just worked harder.’ You can have your own house, your own independence, and make your own choices. It appeals to people's belief in their ability to control their own destiny.

    The left, for the poor, offers none of that. It offers struggle, and possibly slow, incremental improvement. More hard work. Easier to move out of the slums and make your own future.

  15. #15 Martin 08 May 15

    This blog's definition of working class as someone 'eking out a living on the minimum wage or collecting benefits', and a Tory as 'an over-privileged multi-millionaire' is puerile and vicious enough to explain why so many working people (like myself) have voted Tory.

    Get it into your head: class warfare of this sort is over. Choose a better tree to bark up, and you might not see the disaster over which Miliband is presiding today.

    Oh yes, and millions of workers voted for the SNP.

  16. #16 David J 09 May 15

    So why can't Labour persuade the ’working class’ to vote for them instead? The ’working class’ is shrinking and has been doing so since Thatcher came to power.

  17. #17 Philip Keeling 09 May 15

    1984, anyone? Big Brother Murdoch speaks.

  18. #18 AL PILLAY 12 May 15

    I BELIEVE that many working class people operate from a shame based agenda take showbiz examples such as cheryl cole, cilla black. Shirley bassey, Michael Caine ect,ect,that aspiring to establishment and poshness Absolves them in some way? Acts AS A COVERLETT for the embarressment of being a product of working class impoverishment of mind body and spirit in such cases, Whilst in another schizoid syndrome make out that WE CAME FROM NOTHING!LOOK! What we achieved...They are blinded by their confusion and cognitive dissonance. I CAN with hand on heart truly say i detest the NEUROSIS of a Tory..even now they continue to prove a point by frontlineing natal females and so called working class cabinet ministers{who try as they may will never be blue bloods}! SO MY LUVS FROM ETON! STILL SO TRANSPARENT IN ITS MOTIVATION...ALL IT PROVES is that tory is about being intouch with your inner nasty EVIL TWISTED TWITCHED F--KING BASTARD!...and knowt changes..

  19. #19 Sargeo Hair 12 Feb 16

    Martin (15) states that ’Get it into your head: class warfare of this sort is over’

    See his from IPOS Mori 2015 General Election review published in August 2015-
    ’ Labour only had a clear lead over the Conservatives among 18-34s, voters in social class DE, among private and social renters, and BME voters.
    2. Even worse for Labour, their vote share actually fell among those aged 65+, the highest turnout group, to just one in four. This group is where the Conservatives were most successful, gaining a 5.5 point swing from Labour since 2010. The Conservatives also achieved a 3 point swing from Labour among ABs, another high turnout group.’

    Thus, it seems that the class conflict you so dervive is actually alive and well.

  20. #20 C Nelson 06 May 17

    too black and white to be much more than a rant in my view..........and mentally entrenched........greed and snobbery are the dividers here and from any class...and they vote accordingly.Example...Russian peasants post revolution were in three classes.the top class exploiting the others.as if they were themselves the masters.....we need people who think alike from all walks of life to join together and fight exploitation by any form of government or institution etc......interesting to study the Swiss government which is seriously democratic.......changing the party leader each year and picking their cabinet from right and left wings according to their assets.

  21. #21 tom 06 May 17

    Absolutely spot on,I despair.
    Just because people dont like Corbyn they have to vote Tory.

  22. #22 Northbrit 06 May 17

    Here's the thing
    If you are very poor or sick or old or otherwise disadvantaged you vote labour
    If you are rich you don't
    Unless you have a conscience and want to live in a society that it healthy educated and happy
    People in the middle have to choose
    If they think they can't afford the 'higher taxes' under labour and don't want to see their hard earned cash going to shore up shirkers they won't vote labour and why would they? (My working class parents)

    Labour had done not enough to join the dots and paint a positive picture of life in a happy Scandinavian style society. They only rant on about how cruel and dastardly the tories are. We saw in the eu referendum how well negative campaigning goes down. And they don't show that it is affordable without raising taxes on already stretched households.

    Hers another thing. The right wing is united. The left is not. How motivating and uplifting it would be if non tories actually did come together because of their fundamental similarities and show the public they really mean business when it comes to real change? Otherwise it just looks the same old squabbling hilghly partisan gaggle that care more about themselves than their policies.

  23. #23 Dave Besag 06 May 17

    Perhaps people writing things such as ’tugging at their collective forelocks’ and ’betrayal’ doesn't help? Class based politics has always been counter-productive and pointless

  24. #24 dammi 06 May 17

    Shame that the people in no time forget who they were, and also forget their own community when they financially get slightly better off. It's even worse than going against their origins, they are voting against their current interests.

  25. #25 Martin 06 May 17

    All you need to do is read all the comments in this stream to realise that if you have a single partical of decency or humanity then you would never align yourself with the people who have posted in support of the Tories (whether you consider yourself working class or not), espe cially a certain female poster whose comment I found mindbogglingly awful and inhumane. I vote AGAINST the Tories because they have no moral compass and no understanding of anything but their own self interest. As Alan says in this blog, We ain't seen nothing yet, God help us if May is elected for in June.

  26. #26 Guy Anderson 06 May 17

    It beats me-
    I don't know anyone who admits to voting Tory-it is such an obvious uncaring and unsociable act against your fellow countrymen. Two possible reasons come to mind.
    It's aspirational, maybe people don't want to be called working class, even if they do just go out every day selling thier labour for enough to live on. We need new classifications, Everyone else and The Tories, or Society vs The Tories. The Progressive Aliance looks like a good strategy.

    The second reason maybe that the whole divide and rule system is so rigged, so effective at targetting the swing voters, that it really doesn't matter who you vote for-The Government always gets in. Tories don't do marches; why is that-becauase they are so comfortably entrenched in the actual ownership of the nations wealth they just don't feel the need?

  27. #27 Fatman 07 May 17

    Why do working class guts vote Labour? Milliband, Blair, Brown, Corbyn, all millionaires who had privileged education. What have the Labour party given us apart from erosion of education and the NHS. War. And snatching houses from the elderly to pay for late life care that they have already paid for. I don't vote...and none of that nonsense that I have no right to complain, I don't vote because I'm not represented. Voters have no right to complain--they get what they ask for...indeed what they deserve. Moan and rant about the Tories; but all you offer to replace is Tories in red suits.

  28. #28 David Hughes 07 May 17

    This is an absolutely awful article; zero attempt at all is made to understand why working class people vote Tory. The author seems to be far more content to refer to working class people as traitors. (Because, obviously, referring to people as traitors is the best way to convince of your point of view.)

    Assuming that we want working class people to not vote Tory, we have to make a serious effort to understand what underlies that decision, and work on trying to persuade them that it's a bad decision. Hurling shit at people isn't going to solve anything.

  29. #29 lulu lafayette 07 May 17

    They vote Tory because they are:
    1. Brainwashed by the MSM against 'radical socialists' such a Jeremy Corbyn.
    2. Not encouraged or made to educate themselves about our democratic political system and how it is meant to work to serve the people.
    3. Greedy and selfish enough to think that they could maybe (if they work hard enough) get the chance to benefit from the self-serving ideology and policies of the Torys.
    4. Made to hate other people who are 99% just like them, but the 1% which differentiates them has been blown out of all proportion and wound up into a fear based hateful frenzy which convinces them that (despite all the bad stuff they do,) at least the Torys hate the same people that they do, and that gets their vote.
    5. Read the Sun, the Telegraph, watch the BBC etc, think that what they are told by the main stream media is the ACTUAL TRUTH.
    6. Isolated and disconnected from their fellow countrymen as a result of the clever manipulation by the powers that be to keep people at home, watching their idiot boxes instead of down the pub (it's too expensive these days to just go out for a couple a pints and a game of darts every night) or at the park etc talking to each other and sharing ideas and opinions.
    7. Racist, homophobic, sexist, Islamaphobic, anti-immigrationist etc, generally prejudiced in some way towards one or an other sub-culture of the population, and the Torys pander to these (often closeted, but very real) notions.
    8. Very supportive of the Brexit thing, and are afraid that a Corbyn led Labour government may try to stop Article 50 from being implemented.
    9. So very affected by the relentless campaigns of mind control, brain washing, mis-information, junk news, anti education, dumbing down of the populous and general imposition of distraction & diversion techniques that the Torys, (with allies such as Rupert Murdoch, the BBC and the Corporate Entity), have forced upon them over the years, that it's actually been very successful and these poor fkrs no longer know their own minds, much less who to vote for.
    10. In conclusion, we The People, have been the unwitting, involuntary and oblivious subjects of a very clever and covert plot, hatched by a small number of wealthy elite, to use psychological warfare to enslave and subjugate the countries population. The working class make up the majority. 'They' (the elite, the Torys&Friends) depend on 'our' (the Working Class') co-operation and hard work to fuel their grotesque riches and insane thirst for power. So, as has always been the way, throughout history, 'They' have found a way to harness our might, to bend it to their will. In the ultimate degradation, to make us vote for them, and to self police ourselves and each other.
    Do not doubt for a moment, the reason why working class people vote Tory is the result of a secret, psychological war waged against us, The People, for many long years, decades now. It is a deep and dark agenda, an octopus of evil whose tendrils have wound their way even into hearth and home of everyman, where, not so long ago, love and compassion yet reigned.
    It is sad, and it is dark, but I fear that the job is so well done that working class people will continue to vote Tory, vote to send themselves and their children off to the slaughterhouse. The streets will run red with our working class blood (rather than the red of the Socialist banners which would save & protect us) for some time, until we really have nothing at all.

  30. #30 m 08 May 17

    I like the way you didn't get distracted by facts or intelligent argument and instead leant on boring and sneering arguments, looking down your nose at those ’turkeys’ who don't have the intelligence to agree with you politically.

  31. #31 paul 08 May 17

    All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be. But if, as in propaganda for sticking out a war, the aim is to influence a whole people, we must avoid excessive intellectual demands on our public, and too much caution cannot be extended in this direction.

    The more modest its intellectual ballast, the more exclusively it takes into consideration the emotions of the masses, the more effective it will be. And this is the best proof of the soundness or unsoundness of a propaganda campaign, and not success pleasing a few scholars or young aesthetes.

    The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses. The fact that our bright boys do not understand this merely shows how mentally lazy and conceited they are.

    Once understood how necessary it is for propaganda in be adjusted to the broad mass, the following rule results:
    It is a mistake to make propaganda many-sided, like scientific instruction, for instance.

    The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away, for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material offered. In this way the result is weakened and in the end entirely cancelled out.

    Thus we see that propaganda must follow a simple line and correspondingly the basic tactics must be psychologically sound.

    Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

  32. #32 Patricia Palmer 09 May 17

    There are 3 very good reasons to vote for Theresa May.
    1. The Labour Party is a joke and More Communist than ever before.
    2 E
    very time Labour get in they bankrupt the country then someone else has to sort it out!!.
    3.Theresa May is focused on the UK and the interests of Great Britain alone and will carry through the wishes of the people if it kills her.
    I am working class and I vote for what is best for the whole of the country long term. NOT what is best for me short term.

  33. #33 JB 21 May 17

    How does one define ’working class’ in the 21st century ? Someone on the minimum wage ? A manual worker ? A member of a trade union ? Someone who lives in social housing ? Someone who lives on benefits ? Someone who earns below the higher rate tax threshold ? Someone who is employed by an organisation as opposed to being self employed or having their own business ?

    I'd be very interested to find out.....

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About the author

Alan Hughes a New Internationalist contributor

Alan Hughes was a graphic artist at New Internationalist. He retired in 2014. He is a life-long socialist and trade unionist and is currently involved in the Keep Our NHS Public Campaign. He is passionate about The Beatles and has supported Aston Villa FC for over 50 years. He lives in Oxford with his daughter.

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