The way we think now
At last, amid the political positioning and rhetoric about ‘broken Britain’ and Etonian playing fields, a clear-eyed view the state of the nation from the annual Social Attitudes Survey published today. Britain, in short, is becoming much more tolerant of diverse lifestyles; more sceptical about the role of the state as an antidote to economic inequality; and less certain about the value of parliamentary democracy. Only a third of the population thinks gay relationships are wrong, half the level 25 years ago. Almost half the population think that it makes no difference to children whether their parents are married or not. (David Cameron, please take note.)
But traditional left-wing concerns are faring less well. When Labour was elected in 1997, most people supported a rise in taxes for spending on the welfare state: now only four in ten do - perhaps no surprise, given the size of the deficit. More worrying for those on the left is the fact that only 38 per cent now think the government should strive to create ‘a more equal society’ (down from 51 per cent in 1994). This may of course be because people think Labour has succeeded in this regard – but few on Labour’s bench would make such an audacious claim.
As a society, we have become more socially egalitarian but more economically conservative. For the Conservatives this is mostly good news, if Cameron can keep his party on a broadly socially liberal track. For Labour it should prompt some serious introspection about the need to lead and shape public opinion. And the political classes as a whole have their work cut out. One in five people now think ‘it is not really worth voting’. But this year, more than any other since 1997, it really is.