Labour has missed the real trend which is acting against them. It is not the anti-austerity yearning of Scotland, or the anti-immigrant sentiments of the working classes in the North of England. It is not even the rising aspiration in the Midlands and South of England. What Labour has failed to see through their statist, collectivist eyes is the colossal rise of individualism.
Society has moved on from Henry Ford’s “you can have any colour you like so long as it’s black” philosophy We are the internet generation and do not need to identify with mass movements in order to express ourselves. We can define ourselves very precisely on social media and advertise and revel in our many similarities and differences with people across the globe. We believe that what we buy is a reflection of who we are and there is a mesmerising diversity on the market. Just look at the car market. Choose your colours, body styles, interior designs, mood lighting, car audio, Sat Navs, engine size and type, gear box…define it on the web and the manufacturer will make it – just for you. No need to buy an LP record anymore, create your own playlist on iTunes from a whole world of music. No need to buy your clothes from the store on the high street but go online and find exactly what you think projects precisely who you are and how you feel. We are less likely than our elders to consider ourselves part of any particular religion and less likely to join a political party or a trade union. We can tailor our world to exactly fit who and what we believe we are. A highly individual, tailored personality.
Part of this tailored identity resides in where we are from. There is now more identity with local geography i.e. North and South, Yorkshire, Welsh, Cornish, English and Scottish, rather than British. The rise of nationalism in Scotland should not be a surprise. Many Scots don’t identify with the English and Labour’s campaigning with The Tories (“The English Party”) against Scottish Independence lost many voters. After all, 45% of Scots wanted independence. The English, London based, Middle Class personalities running the Labour Party alienated even more Scots. This was not an argument about austerity and extent of left-leaning political positioning. It was an argument about the desire for a tailored personal identity expressed as a localised, geographical belonging. The UK’s disaffection with the EU is following a similar trend.
Work has also become less collectivist. The mass employment coal, steel and car industries are long dead. Automation has taken manufacturing jobs. We are more likely to start our own business than our forbears. Starting a business online is easier than ever before. We make our living designing web sites, apps and computer games. Online we sell our marketing skills, our ability to write, entertain and solve problems. We can advertise our spare room for B&B and our car as a part time taxi. Our local bespoke businesses can now reach a global audience, be it in IT, local food and beverage or art and craft. We make a living from millions of small industries. We now get our employment protection through employment law and the EU, not from our politicians and trade unions. Politicians are only important in creating an environment where these businesses can flourish. They cannot control business as they did in the 20th Century. They cannot control the internet, let alone nationalise it.
So we are not collectivist. There is no more tribal belonging. Our individualism can be expressed in so many ways through commerce, in social social media and fashion. We believe we have a right to express ourselves by what we consume and how we choose to live.
Organised Labour and Trade Unions don’t connect with this new reality. The Labour Party are arguing there is no point offering “Tory Light” politics and that they should go back to their core vote and historic beliefs. i.e. the traditional left position by offering classic statist, collectivist, trade union supported, high tax, high spend, nanny-knows-best politics. The Tories, however inadvertently, stand for individualism and personal freedom. They believe individuals should have the economic freedom to spend more of their own money themselves and they are increasingly advocating more social freedom with the passing of laws around gay marriage for example. They believe in a small state that doesn’t interfere with our personal lives and doesn’t tell us how to think, what to buy and how to live. They are the party of free enterprise, individualism and free expression.
In the modern, highly individualistic, personality tailored world who do you think will win?