Heath, Jowell and Curtice did a study on how Britain votes in 1985, which also suggests that class still matters. They divided people up into five groups; from group 1, managers and professionals, to group 5, manual workers. They discovered that Labour support was only present in group 5 and Conservative support fell as the list descends, which proves that class does still matter in general elections.
In 1992, Labour’s tax proposals would have meant an increase in tax for many people. At the last minute, people wondered if they could afford it. Neil Kinnock was not seen as a future Prime Minister and there was general distrust of the Labour Party. Labour was seen as a party of the past, of holding people back and of wanting to turn the clock back. It was seen as male dominated, women over thirty-five hardly voted for it and votes mainly came from social class groups D and E. the party still had an old, working class image.
However, the tie between class and party may be weakening. Yet it still seems to be stronger in Britain than in most other countries. Elsewhere race or religion may have more effect, but in Britain class is still the major factor behind the ‘political cleavage’. Even in the October 1974 general election when class voting was less obvious than usual, more than half of the middle class votes were Conservative and more than half of the working class votes were Labour. Less than a quarter of the votes of each class went to the party of the ‘opposite’ class.
In the new voting theory, the link between voting and class is much less, which is partly due to television. Between 1983 and 1987 a minority of working class people voted for Labour and the Conservative vote in the middle class had not risen above 60%. Crewe and Sarlvick argued that the class system was beginning to blur in Britain and that Partisan Dealignment was taking place as working class people were buying houses, the middle class were joining trade unions and people were paying lost of attention to policy.
Three more sociologists, Himmelweit, Humphreys and Jaeger believed in a ‘consumer model of voting’, which means that people vote as if choosing products in a supermarket, and not depending on their class. People made their choices by weighing up the pros and cons of each of the three parties and Himmelweit, Humphreys and Jaeger believed that 80% of people voted in this way.
In 1992, Labour made its most sustained appeal to the southern middle class with a series of speeches portraying it as the party of the centre and in touch with the issues that agitate the middle class, such as crime, the housing market, taxes, job insecurity and transport. Ominously for the Conservatives, the polls suggested that the strategy was working. Mori in The Times newspaper revealed that Labour was ahead of the Conservatives amongst middle class voters by 50% to 30%.
In the 1997 general election, defeat for the Conservative government then in power was not unexpected, but the scale of the defeat was surprising. Kellner said that the Conservatives had been “wiped out of urban Britain”. The Conservatives lost Norfolk Northwest, Hastings, Rye and Enfield Southgate and many top ministers such as Portillo and Rifkind lost their seats. The 1997 election saw another break between class and voting behaviour. The middle class no longer shifted to the Liberal Democrats, they shifted to Labour. There were no gender differences in voting anymore and older women moved to vote Labour. The major new development in this election was tactical voting. This had never been used in general elections before and people worked out how to remove the Conservatives. This meant a reduction of loyalty to the party and their class, which, again, shows that voting in British elections no longer revolves around class. The 2001 general election had an almost identical result to the one of 1997 as the middle class, again, voted for Tony Blair.
There are many other factors which determine how people vote in British general elections today. For instance, women are more likely to do jobs that, while officially being working class, make them view themselves as middle class, such as routine office workers. Also women over thirty-five are more likely to vote Conservative. Age is another factor and this helped the Conservatives to win elections as middle class people, who usually vote Conservative, tend to live longer than working class people. Also young people are more likely to vote Labour while older people are more likely to vote Conservative. Furthermore, because of the class system, people who have moved up to the middle class change to Conservative while people who move down to the working class stay Conservative.
In conclusion, I agree with the statement that voting in British general elections no longer revolves around class. Before the mid-1970s, traditional voting theory applied and so people voted according to their class. After that, though, the influence of television made people less loyal to the party of their social class. However, class still does play a small part in deciding who people vote for, it is just not as significant as it was before the mid-1970s.