Thursday, 7 August 2014

The terrifying scale of political illiteracy in the UK


I have often complained about the shocking level of political illiteracy in the UK, without which it would have been impossible for one bunch of neoliberalism obsessed economic extremists after another to rule the country ever since 1979.

       
The classic riposte from supporters of the neoliberal orthodoxy is to sneer something along the lines of "
ah ... just because people don't agree with your leftie views, that makes them politically illiterate does it?"

In this article I'm going to present some hard evidence that a great number of people just don't have a clue what they're talking about when it comes to understanding the political basics.

The first piece of evidence I'd like to present is a July 2014 YouGov study asking people to place political parties on a scale between "very left-wing" and "very right-wing". The results revealed that 80% of people who actually responded (excluding the 25% who said "I don't know") were under the impression that the current Labour party is a left-wing party.

In fact, the lack of awareness of Labour's embrace of the right-wing neoliberal consensus is such that more people believed the barmy proposition that UKIP (the "Thatcherism on steroids" party) is a left-wing party (9%), than accepted that Labour has long since become an economically right-wing political party (just 7%)!


The second piece of evidence is a November 2013 YouGov poll asking the public their views on nationalistaion/privatisation. This poll revealed that the vast majority of UK citizens were strongly in favour of running public services such as the rail network, the utilities companies, the NHS and the Royal Mail as not-for-profit public services. This study revealed that the public are so strongly in favour of the explicitly left-wing policy of nationalisation of public services, that even the majority of Tory supporters are in favour of renationalising the rail and energy companies!

The Tories and Lib-Dems have proven their desperation to ignore the will of the public and sell off as much as the national silver as possible by hawking the Royal Mail to their city mates at way below its true market value, and carving up and selling off the NHS. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband has been trying to obscure his support for the right-wing neoliberal consensus with a few pieces of pseudo-socialist window dressing. The public clearly want the rail network and the national energy infrastructure renationalised, however all Ed Miliband is prepared to offer is a short-term freeze on energy prices (the energy infrastructure remains in private hands) and allowing not-for-profit organisations to bid for rail franchies (meaning the majority of rail services will remain under private ownership, as well as the rolling stock companies where the biggest profits are extracted from the system).


In fact, the Green party is the biggest political party actually offering the public the renationalisation policies that they want.

Returning to the first YouGov survey, this revealed that (unsurprisingly) the majority of people place themselves near the political centre-ground. This raises the question of how the majority of the public can strongly support the explicitly left-wing policy of public ownership, yet describe Ed Miliband's Labour party as significantly more left-wing than they perceive themselves to be, despite Labour's absolute refusal to back public ownership.

If the vast majority of the British public are strongly in favour of the explicitly left-wing policy of renationalisation, one would assume that any party occupying the centre-ground of UK politics would have to support renationalisation too, however none of the big parties actually do, thus, in reality they all lie to the right of the general public.

The general level of political illiteracy is illustrated by the huge disconnect between what the public want (explicitly left-wing renationalisation policies) and how they perceive an orthodox neoliberal like Ed Miliband to be left-wing, even though he is far too right-wing to offer them the policies that they actually want.

It is quite difficult to explain how such a level of political illiteracy has arisen, however I'll give it a quick go.

In my view, the problem is that huge numbers of people simply don't understand what "left-wing" actually means. After decades of right-wing domination over the media, concepts like "socialist" and "left-wing" have been divorced from their actual historic meanings and replaced with trite negative misrepresentations instead. These informal definitions that have been endlessly reinforced by the Daily Mail, the Murdoch press and the rest of the right-wing neoliberalism fixated media have come to replace the actual meanings in the public consciousness - thus the average S*n reader might think that "socialism" is all about creating an all powerful authoritarian nanny state, enforcing an agenda of "political correctness gone mad!" and pushing open-door immigration policies, rather than realising that it actually all about promoting public ownership of the nation's vital infrastructure and services.

The only way that it is possible for the general public can possibly think that Ed Miliband's Labour is a left-wing party, whilst simultaneously strongly supporting policies which are much more left-wing than anything Miliband is prepared to offer, is if they have no idea what it actually means to actually be left-wing.

Essentially, the British public has allowed right-wing press barons like Rupert Murdoch to frame the political debate to such an extent that the actual meanings of basic political words and phrases have become lost. This alarming scale of political illiteracy has not been brought about because the public is inherently stupid or gullible, it has come about after decades of effort from the right-wing media to frame the political debate in such a way that basic political words and phrases like "socialist" and "left-wing" have been divorced from their actual meanings.

As long as huge swathes of the public remains so politically clueless that they can think of an orthodox neoliberal like Ed Miliband as "left-wing" or "very left-wing", whilst simultaneously imagining themselves to occupy the centre-ground, even though they themselves support the explicitly left-wing policy of public ownership much more strongly than Miliband or his party, there is very little hope that the electorate will be capable of making informed political decisions at the ballot box.
     
 

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