Why I voted Conservative

May 16, 1997

Fred Inglis' criticises my reasons for voting Conservative (THES Letters, April 25).

First, my little piece may have been frivolous, but it was not meant to be funny. The gist of my argument was that I supported the Conservatives for largely negative reasons, namely the defects of the other "sides". What's wrong with that? There is considerable evidence that this is not only what most people do when they vote, but how many Conservative leaders have viewed "their" party.

Why should political behaviour be viewed solely in terms of positive support for particular organisations, issues, or doctrines? Only academics at those two ancient universities, best labelled Jurassic Park and the Fenland Gulag, appear to believe otherwise.

Moreover, for political scientists who actually teach British politics there is a lot to be said for adopting a low-intensity approach to their own party preferences.

Second, Inglis does not consider my argument that the Conservative party may be the underdog in British politics to be serious. He makes the elementary mistake of confusing election outcomes with the structural position of a party and its perceptions of that position.

Traditional class patterns in Britain, allied to the territorial distribution of the Conservative vote and the dynamics of the electoral system, are factors which elsewhere would be regarded as unfavourable to a rightwing party. Tory supporters, realising this, are rarely an optimistic bunch. Nor are their leaders.

Significantly, of the three Conservative leaders Inglis cites to rubbish the argument - Baldwin, Churchill and Macmillan - only Churchill may have believed the Conservative party to be the natural hegemonic unit in British party politics. All this means that although the Conservatives-as-underdogs may not be "right", it is plausible. Inglis has a lot of reading and thinking to do on this point. It is one which most A-level students would be able to take on board, even if they disagreed with it.

Finally, Inglis objects to my criticisms of John Smith's 1992 "budget". Where has he been the past three years? Surely, the whole basis of New Labour's macro-economic strategy has been to accept that, in electoral terms, Smith's proposals were an "idiocy". That is one of the reasons why the Blairites have just won the recent election.

If Inglis wants to criticise me on this matter he will have to criticise Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as well. But, I suspect, his real point was to imply that anyone who openly criticised that budget has no feelings for, or knowledge about, "the poor". Let me put him right on this. I was born poor. I was born disadvantaged. I was born in the working class. That means I know only too well what it is like to be at the bottom of the heap. And because I know, I sympathise with those in that position in the 1990s.

At issue is the problem of how you confront the problems of poverty and class injustice. What is certain is that I do not need any member of the bourgeois left, any professor of cultural studies to read me lessons on these matters. Let me repeat the point, I have been there, I have suffered, I remember, and no one is ever going to say to me that, as a professor of politics, I have forgotten and do not care. You care because you never bloody forget.

My advice to Fred Inglis is to continue to concentrate on his day job. He knows very little about British politics, even less about the Conservative party, and absolutely bugger all about me.

Jim Bulpitt

Professor of politics

University of Warwick

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