Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Geoffrey Evans and James Tilley's "The New Politics of Class"

James Tilley is a professor of politics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford. He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book (co-authored with Geoff Evans), The New Politics of Class: The Political Exclusion of the British Working Class, and reported the following:
Page 99 of the book is at the centre of a chapter which discusses media coverage of class politics in Britain from 1945 to today. This chapter shows that media discussion of class, and especially the working class, has largely disappeared. That “until the 1970s newspapers talked more about the working class than other classes. After the 1980s newspapers talked more about other classes than they did the working class”. This represents one strand of the argument we make in the book which concerns how changes to parties, and the media coverage of parties, have affected British politics. Before page 99, we show that class divisions within society in terms of economic inequalities and political beliefs are very static over the last 60 years: divisions between voters did not change. By page 99 we are discussing the second part of our argument that parties, and the media’s coverage of class politics, did change, and this was rapid, and unprecedented, change during the 1990s. A crucial part of this is that “the nature of newspaper discussion about class changed”, but more central is the subsequent chapter which shows how parties became more similar in terms of policy, rhetoric and personnel. In particular, New Labour adopted policies that were aimed at middle class voters, began to speak not to ‘workers’ but ‘families’ and started to draw its politicians almost exclusively from the professional middle class.

The book goes on to show that these political changes have had two hugely important consequences for British politics. First, they have affected who votes for different parties. While over 60 per cent of the working class voted Labour in the 1960s, in 2015 Labour actually did better among middle class professional voters than among manual working class voters. Second, while some of those working class voters decamped to UKIP in the 2000s, many turned their backs on democracy altogether. Up until the 1992 election, differences in turnout among social classes were fairly small, a few percentage points at most. But in 2015 over half of people with low levels of education in working class jobs did not vote. This potentially leads to a spiral of exclusion: parties do not represent certain types of people, those people do not vote and parties become even less likely to represent those non-voting groups. Thus while class appears to have featured slightly more heavily in the current election campaign than for some years, it seems unlikely that the changes we document will be reversed.
Learn more about The New Politics of Class at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue