Politics and society have become radically estranged from one another in modern Britain. The intermediary and civil society institutions that have traditionally connected people and politics--including the trade union movement, local government and associational life more broadly--have been gradually breaking down. As members of the University of Southampton's research project on 'anti-politics in Britain' observe in this issue, there never really was a golden age of faith in British democracy: popular scepticism of the political process has been significant since at least the Attlee years. But anti-politics has intensified recently, and one way in which it has manifested itself is in the geographical fractures that have emerged in the British political system, particularly since devolution.
At the time of writing--in the immediate aftermath of the local and devolved elections--much is unclear. These seem to have been genuinely local elections in many places: driven by local issues, local successes, local failures, local identities. This means that it is not easy to relate the results to a national picture. And the elections also took place at a time when both the Tory Party and the Labour Party have been riven by division, with effects that are hard to analyse. But it is fair to say that Labour's fortunes were at best mixed.
In Scotland the results are at their worst, with Labour driven into third place behind a resurgent Tory party. In London, as in other major conurbations, the results are better: Sadiq Khan resoundingly defeated a mayoral campaign from Zac Goldsmith characterised by tactics so unpleasant they drew fire from key Tories. In the aftermath of defeat, Baroness Warsi argued Goldsmith's campaign had damaged the entire party's reputation on race relations. (1) But Khan's campaign was resolutely about the candidate himself, his narrative and his priorities, largely eschewing reference to Jeremy Corbyn on the doorstep and in the media. Labour won in London because London is succeeding economically, is confident about multiculturalism, and is consistently being failed by Tory policy--housing policy most of all, for London's housing market works for fewer and fewer people every year.
Labour also won in London because Khan was a candidate with a clear image and a strong narrative: principled, dynamic, representing the future. His victory has reignited a national conversation about multiculturalism, integration, and what it means to...