The people against the powerful
In his book 'the Unfinished Revolution', Phillip Gould wrote about how he felt sick listening to people in his focus groups talk about how they would be happy to pay more tax to improve public services. It was an early example of how New Labour wasn't always prepared to pay close attention to what was popular or what 'Middle England' was saying, if it contradicted their view of where the 'centre ground of British politics' was. Here's three more examples of the political centre and elite pundits holding unpopular views:
1. The 'mansion tax' was an example of the politics of envy and appallingly badly thought through and presented. Nonetheless, 69% of people support it, 24% oppose it.
2. Peter Mandelson is being hailed by activists on all sides of the political spectrum and pundits as the most effective senior Labour figure. Yet an opinion poll found that if he were leader, Labour would do worse than under the leadership of Harriet Harman, Ed Balls, Jack Straw, Alan Johnson or either of the Miliband brothers. The Labour Party may have learned to love Peter Mandelson (certainly I've warmed to him a lot) but he's not a vote winner.
3. The Royal Society of Arts and IPSOS-Mori found that 50% of people do not believe there is a need to cut spending on public services in order to pay off the national debt, and that only a quarter of people - 24% - believing that public spending cuts are necessary.
Commenting on the last point, the chief executive of the RSA, said that, "This is not a good starting point for politicians of any party to win approval for being either realistic or bold. The fiscal challenge is...a challenge of political leadership." and the chief executive of IPSOS-Mori commented, "The public are still in denial about the size of spending cuts now needed. The challenge will be to deliver them without the sort of shocks and disruption that saw Mrs Thatcher as unpopular as Gordon Brown two years after taking office."
Note how this works. The assumption is that the public must be in denial if they don't understand that they need to pay more for worse services, and that the job of politicians is to be 'realistic' and 'bold' in persuading people to go along with cuts without shocks and disruption. Peter Mandelson is thought to be good at this, so gets much praise from insiders, while policies which more than two-thirds support get described as political suicide.
Here's an alternative idea. Maybe people aren't 'in denial', and they are right that they shouldn't have to pay more and get less because a few rich people screwed up. And maybe the real challenge of political leadership is in resisting the groupthink of the wealthy political elite, and instead working out how to minimise any cuts and listen to the people, not the powerful.