On this page you will find our commentary on the latest polling numbers.
- Honesty, Greta and the left
Nobel prize winner Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg is, undoubtedly, an inspirational young woman. Almost single-handedly as a teenager, now just 20 years old, she started a worldwide movement of school strikes. These strikes occurred in virtually every part of the globe and have involved millions of young people concerned for the future of their planet. CNN calculated that strikes took place in over 1600 towns across 125 countries and involved more than 2 million school age young people. Critical Mass has always taken the view that Ms Thunberg is somebody we would like to have a lot more of. In an age where young people are often derided for their political apathy, she has shown that it is not apathy to politics but apathy to the political elite that is the issue.
As a result I was convinced that, if you ask a group of socialists their views about Ms Thunberg, the only issue would be just how much she was admired. How wrong could I be? Certainly she retains plenty of admirers but she is also attracting, on the back of a celebrity she never particularly courted, many detractors. Our latest Pulse survey asked about her appearance at a meeting of the International Working Group on the Environmental Consequences of War. This might not have been controversial. War, after all, is not good for the environment. But this meeting was held in Kyiv, Ukraine, and hosted by President Zelensky. It also included ex-President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and Sweden’s former foreign minister, Margot Wallström.
This was not a popular move by Ms Thunberg as far as the left was concerned, with 77% saying she was wrong to take part and 37% saying they would admire her less for that decision. Although 59% said it would make no difference. In the comments section there were two quite distinct views. Those who said they admired her less tended to take a view of the Ukraine War in which Ukraine is the villain and Zelensky a fascist dictator being manipulated by the US.
“I don’t admire her now. I believe Ukraine was responsible for blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines and Kahkovka Dam, which both created an ecological catastrophe. She has accepted the prevailing narrative without asking any questions about it, despite reports from Seymour Hersh and others. I am opposed to the use of depleted Uranium and cluster munitions which have been supplied to Ukraine by the UK and the US. How can she support these?” said one.
“Well, I don’t admire her at all but the choices were limited. However, she is a mere publicity tool to mislead young people and in particular in Ukraine, where the young are being kidnapped and dumped on the front lines after two weeks of ‘training’.” “Wars pollute mother earth. Someone should tell her that!”, said another. On similar lines another said: “Because the Ukraine conflict and its causes are not as simple as ‘it’s all Russia’s fault’ . The issue of who destroyed the dam has not been resolved at all and based on Cui Bono it seems unlikely to be Russia. Not only that but she has been silent about depleted uranium and the Ukrainian destruction of Russia’s ammonia pipeline. Must say she has made a massive error supporting the corrupt far right Ukrainian regime.”
Another line of attack was that she had gone beyond her remit. Typical response on this line was, “Ms Thunberg should stay apolitical and not mix with politicians.” Strangely, it was fine to mix with politicians when she was castigating the United Nations, and it is hard to see how the climate emergency is non-political. Another made a similar point: “Until now her stance has been uncorrupted by politics. Now I’m not sure.”
Most however simply saw Zelensky as beyond the pale: “Because Zelensky is a crook and because she met him, her advisers have made her less credible”, “Because Zelensky is the biggest con man in the world at the moment”, “Zelensky is a puppet of the UN and USA” and “There aren’t many environmental disasters that are as devastating as war, the war in Ukraine being one of the worst. Supporting a president who has shown little inclination to start peace negotiations to stop this war makes Greta Thunberg just another fake political Barbie doll, not a sincere fighter for environmental safety.”
For those who, whilst not supporting her decision to take part in this meeting, but who said they still admired her none the less, her age was certainly a mitigating factor. For example “She’s young, and we all make mistakes.”, “She is young and allowed to make mistakes.” and “I think she’s misguided to do it and will come to regret it. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt due to her age.”
There were a few who said that decision made no difference because “I don’t like her anyway”. Do we have to like the messenger or the message? Many people continued to support her for a simple reason: “She wants to save the planet. So do I. Appearing with Zelensky does not change that.” Whilst another respondent noted, “She has to take her opportunities to raise climate change impacts where she can.”
All of this was taking place within a survey which set out to see how much we valued honesty. Only 10% said that they would vote for a party that was led by somebody they believed was not honest. Were they all thinking ahead perhaps and still wanting to vote Labour? Honesty clearly matters, with 46% saying it was the main reason they would vote for any particular candidate. Against that, 53% saw it as one of a range of factors. Based on that it is fair to say that honesty matters, certainly to the left, if not to the average voter.
Whilst YouGov claimed recently that honesty was overrated, an academic survey carried out by the University of Central London found that, given a list of characteristics, honesty was the top choice. When asked to “imagine that a future Prime Minister has to choose between acting honestly and delivering the policy that most people want”, 71% chose honesty and only 16% delivery. Which rather begs the question why do we end up with politicians for whom honesty is an aspiration rather than a principle.
We asked people to judge a range of politicians on an honesty scale in which 1 was ‘not honest at all’ and 7 was ‘totally honest’. The following chart shows the results:
Perhaps it is no surprise that Jeremy Corbyn received such a high figure with this particular audience, but it does show that he was a very different type of politician from the norm. Which is precisely why the ‘norm’ hated him with such venom. It should give those supporting Labour still some pause for thought that Rishi Sunak gets a higher rating than Keir Starmer, and that even Tony Blair, labelled as dishonest by the Chilcott Enquiry, is regarded as more honest than Labour’s current leader.
Honesty matters. But, if our results are correct, honesty matters far more to those in the public eye. 98% agreed that those in the public eye should be held to a higher standard than ordinary people. I am not quite sure why those in public office should be more honest than the rest of us. Does this mean that we should only have politicians who are exceptionally virtuous. Admittedly, if that were a rule, it would remove, at a swoop, the majority of politicians. But would it not also ensure that most of us could never aspire to public office because we failed that test of virtue? Clearly I cannot tell people what they think but I can disagree with them and I feel that politics would be best served if more ordinary people were involved at all levels of public service. But for that to happen, the bar has to be set at a level they can hope to reach.
This survey shows that amongst Critical Mass readers there is a clear and unambiguous desire for honesty, particularly amongst politicians and public figures. It shows also that neither the current Prime Minister nor his most likely successor is regarded as honest. Those figures are likely not dissimilar amongst the general population. Among commentators, however, honesty is regarded as an expedient characteristic. As John Humphrys wrote recently on YouGov, it doesn’t matter whether politicians are honest because we never trusted them to start with. This is the kind of twisted logic that counts as profound at the BBC presumably. But to me it just sounds entirely cynical. It is almost as if we get the politicians we deserve. Except we don’t. We deserve so much better. It is not just socialists who desire honesty, but it is a foundation for how we expect people to behave. We may see politicians lying consistently but we are still shocked when they are caught out doing so.
It seems to me that we crave not just honesty but a purity which, so often, our leaders fail to deliver. That is the only explanation I can come up with which explains the animosity toward Greta Thunberg displayed in this survey. This desire for purity is, I would argue, the cause of much division on the left. We are so busy setting up individuals to fail that we are unable to unite on things we agree on. It is not that we should avoid criticising people, but that we should constantly remind ourselves that people who find themselves on the front line have very often not wanted to be there. Politicians generally seek the fame they find. Activists such as Greta Thunberg get the fame almost by accident. If we demand a level of purity that few of us can attain, then, rather than undermine those whose entire existence is determined by their desire to continue a system that benefits only a few, we undermine those who would be our allies in changing that system.
- Time To Protest: what you think
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Critical Mass readers say they are less likely to protest because of a fear of being arrested. However, 44% say it will make no difference. Interestingly, of those less likely to protest, the vast majority (95%) still support the right to disrupt everyday life as a means of protest. As one person wrote:
“Freedom of speech and protest is the most fundamental right in a democracy. Without it, there is no democracy.”
It is worth noting here that, of those less likely to protest, 83% had taken part in protest previously — which is hardly different to the 85% who had taken part in protests previously and said the legislation would make no difference to them doing so in future.
The sense that our rights are under threat and that we must take action was a common theme of those who responded, summed up succinctly in this comment: “It’s the only legitimate way to hold power to account and to ensure they work for the majority’s best interest – democracy dies without protest. Counter protests ensure fascists fall, not western “democratic” governments, who often incorporate their thinking.”
Forty per cent of those who responded cited human rights as the reason to support non-violent direct action; another 35% cited defending democracy. Typical of those citing rights were these comments: “People should have the right to protest if they aren’t happy with their employer or government. Without the right to protest you are living in a dictatorship”, “Protest is a basic human right. Also, there are other laws which are effective if protest becomes violent or unsafe”, “Public protest is a democratic right and often the only means of being heard”, “The right to protest is a human right. Whether you agree or disagree with the protest everyone is entitled to voice their concerns over actions by others, whether its a school syllabus or an arms factory supplying an apartheid state”, “Without a right to voice my opinion there is no democracy” — and there were plenty of others.
For those who cited democracy, these were a few typical responses: “Without protest and disruption, nothing will change. Our rights to democracy and dissent has been grossly eroded”, “We live in such an unequal, undemocratic society that protest and withdrawal of Labour are the only means we have of preventing things getting even worse”, “The parliamentary system is rigged against people power. Protesting may help to partially restore a modicum of democracy”, “Protesting against injustice is a part of democracy”, “Protest is the cornerstone of any democracy. It is a way of holding the government and/or the elite to account between elections”, and finally, a warning: “There are already laws in place against one major form of protest – striking. These need to be repealed. Protest is a basic democratic right. Legislation won’t stop people protesting. At best, protestors will become more adept at evading arrest, at worst protestors will feel if they’re going to be arrested they may as well do something serious that is ‘worthy’ of arrest – ‘You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb’. There are laws in place already, such as those on criminal damage, assault, etc., that may also occur during protests. There should be a right to counter protest.”
Critical Mass/Sunday Socialist have tended to take a supportive view of the members of such groups as Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion, and assumed, rightly or wrongly, that our readers would do so too.
For those who agreed with disrupting the lives of ordinary people, we gave a list of things protesters might do and asked them to choose all of those which they considered to be legitimate forms of protest. The results are summarised below:
As you can see, preventing people from entering their place of work received the most support. In retrospect, we rather suspect that this was being regarded as picketing which, whilst one way in which we might prevent people from entering their place of work, was not strictly what we had in mind. It reminds us that in survey work it is important to be clear with wording. In this case it hardly invalidates the responses, but we are not entirely clear that they have answered the question we thought we were asking.
There is, though, no ambiguity about the second choice. Most readers of CM have no issue with protest that disrupts sporting events. Indeed, 79% overall and 85% of those who supported disruptive action were in favour of this as a form of protest. There were then a range of protests that had slightly less support — disrupting local councils supported by 65% overall (69% of yeses), holding up the traffic by 63% (68%), and stopping people from entering shopping centres by 57% (61%). Meanwhile, hacking into computer systems was not something most people thought was okay, with only 39% (42%) seeing this as a legitimate form of protest. To be fair, very few people have the technological skills to do so, which makes this an elitist occupation. On the other hand, many people (for family and work reasons) are not keen on being arrested, so confrontational protest is unlikely to be mass protest unless circumstances change to such an extent that it feels like the only option we have left.
Those who were against disruptive protest were not right-wing and were concerned about the consequences of their choices. All of them cited “It is important that protests maintain the support of ordinary people” and “Disrupting everyday life could create a backlash against important protest movements”. Most of them also cited “Ordinary people are not the enemy”. Clearly, even those CM readers who opposed the use of disruptive action are not anti-protest as such, but rather want the tactics to be correct. Maintaining the support of the public is important — but an over-emphasis on public support may be overly influenced by whatever the current media obsession is, particularly where elites feel threatened. An interesting academic paper by Ruud Wouters found that ordinary citizens were likely to support protests if they could identify with the protesters — in order to identify with them they needed to know they existed; visible protest is a key component of that identification. In an age where media outlets are invariably hostile to protesters from the left (though interestingly, less so from the right) dissenters are being forced to adopt ever more disruptive tactics simply to get themselves seen and heard. In this respect, 97% of respondents thought the media was invariably hostile to protesters.
Many CM readers, as we have seen, have a history of political protest — 84% had taken part in a political protest in the past (only 84% I hear you say!) — of those, the majority (93%) had attended a demonstration or signed a petition; 63% had taken part in a picket line, whilst only 15% had taken part in an occupation or blocked traffic.
The main reason people had not taken part in protests was that they were too far away, or personal circumstances which prevented them from taking part, including child care and disability. Interestingly, only one person said “I guess I don’t see much point”, though another added “I’m probably not enough of an activist to go out of my way”, which has the advantage of being honest.
How does this compare to the rest of the UK (with apologies to readers who are outside the UK)? According to a House of Commons Research Paper from 2019, around 23% of the population are what they call ‘engaged representative democrats’, meaning they talk about politics most days — I think most of our readership would certainly fit that definition. What are referred to as ‘stealth democrats’, about 14% of the population, have little interest in politics and tend toward right-wing libertarian views around strong leaders. ‘Dissatisfied democrats’, around 19%, do care about politics and are probably on the left, but they are dissatisfied with the current system. Meanwhile, ‘engaged direct democrats’, representing some 38% of the population, do pay attention to politics, are keen on referendums, but don’t think politicians care about people like them. Indeed, none of these groups thought politicians care about people like them, revealing that the British public may be more astute than we often think. The remaining 6% were ‘unsure’ about everything, not seeming to have any opinions or being certain about anything. If ignorance is truly bliss, then 6% of our fellow citizens may well be deliriously happy!
Our next question asked people to rank five forms of protest — from signing a petition through to occupying a building — to find what kinds of protest people were most likely to take. The results are hardly astounding: on first choices alone, sign a petition (57%) and attend a demonstration (30%) were by far the most popular; nobody placed occupy a building first. However, when we combine first and second choices, whilst signing a petition (76%) was by far the most popular action, write a letter to an MP or newspaper (54%) was as popular as attending a demonstration (54%). If we extend this and see how many people put each action in their top three, then attend a demonstration (95%) comes top, with sign a petition (88%) marginally behind. The fact is that the first choices of sign a petition were incredibly high to start with and it is easier to do, especially with so many online sites, so it would be a surprise if it was not the top choice.
The bigger question is what we think about the right to protest. We asked a series of statements, and our analysis suggests there are few differences of any note among CM readers. Differences tend to be a question of nuance rather than principle.
‘Everybody has the right to protest’ had almost universal support with 93% strongly agreeing — which is probably not a huge surprise amongst readers of a left wing journal — 84% that there was one law for the rich and one for the rest of us, and 75% strongly agree that the UK is now governed by an authoritarian elite. Taken together, these three statements give a strong indication that people on the left support protest, but partly at least because the UK is being run as a playground for the rich. There are plenty of everyday examples to support this view.
One rather surprising result was the 36% who strongly agreed that even fascists should have the right to protest: this rather suggests that socialists are more libertarian than those who call themselves libertarians. The issue is not one of abstract rights to protest, but also the context in which protest takes place — most left protests are aimed at oppressive governmental structures, whereas most right protests profess to be about the right of individuals (such as Brexit and Covid), but you do not have to scratch far below the surface to find an insidious racist and authoritarian undertone. It is clear that the ‘no platforming’ strategy has come under attack, not least from the government who are happy to ‘no platform’ anybody on the left but will always defend free speech for those supporting authoritarian, racist, and homophobic hate speech.
- The Results Are In
Our team of tellers worked through the night and can now reveal that Critical Mass supporters are overwhelmingly in support of Diane Abbott. Asked whether she should be expelled from the Labour Party over allegations of antisemitism, an overwhelming 99% answered ‘no’. Of the 132 people who answered our poll only 2 (both in England and about to vote Labour) thought she should be expelled.
Whilst we are not claiming our survey is representative of anything other than those who filled it in (we are not YouGov with bogus claims of representativeness), we do feel that this shows that on the left in the UK, and including people who intend to vote Labour in the local elections, there is support for Diane Abbott, a stalwart of the left in the Labour Party for over 40 years, serving as a councillor in Westminster Council from 1982 before becoming the first black MP in the House of Commons in 1987. An Amnesty International report in 2017 revealed that she received over half the sexist abuse aimed at MPs on Twitter and received ten times more abuse, much of it the most vile racism, than any other MP.
Support for a Jeremy Corbyn/Diane Abbott-led breakaway party
We asked whether our readers would support a new party led by Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott who are both now sitting as independents in the House of Commons, with Abbott likely to join Corbyn in being prevented from standing as a Labour candidate in the next election.
The 75% who said they would definitely vote for such a party indicate that there is support for a new left of centre electoral party among those who were enthusiasts for Jeremy Corbyn. Overall 88% of our readers in this poll were supportive of this idea. The greatest support was amongst those planning to vote Green in the local elections, where 77% said they would definitely vote for a new party, with the remaining 23% saying probably. What this suggests is that the Greens are picking up left-wing voters disillusioned with the Labour Party, but voters who are far from convinced of the Greens’ socialist credentials. Whether there are enough socialist voters out there for any party to the left of Labour to consider them worth wooing is an entirely different matter.
Among those planning to vote for TUSC in the forthcoming elections, 82% would definitely switch to a party led by Jeremy Corbyn and a further 12% would probably do so. This is interesting because the majority of the policies advocated by Corbyn as Labour leader have been adopted (or already were) TUSC policy. For some reason people who will vote for those policies when advocated by Jeremy Corbyn are less convinced by them when advocated by David Nellist, himself a former Labour MP, even when he has popular Corbyn ally, Chris Williamson, on board. We can only speculate that for many people who joined Labour during the Corbyn years they are yearning for a return to the excitement of those two elections where it really seemed for a while that left-wing policies were not only popular on the left but had broader support among the wider public. It does start to look a little though like a Corbyn cult rather than a socialist movement looking to promote socialist policies, and that is a worry for the left because in the foreseeable future there is simply no chance that the left in Labour will get anywhere near the leader’s office again.
We asked who people were going to vote for in the forthcoming local elections, if they had an election.
On May 4th (next Thursday) voters go to the polls in England and Scotland in a variety of elections which will, as we discussed in our editorial last week, be seen as a poll on the state of the main parties.
Among our readership there is strong support for parties to the left of Labour but some residual support for Labour remains.
The largest proportion of those with an election are intending to vote Green, currently on around 5% in the national polls; they have 37% support among our readers. TUSC, which does not even register in most national polls, has the support of 21% of our readers, with Labour, currently polling at 44% nationally, only receiving 15% of the vote along with others (mainly independent candidates). Interestingly, 13% are not going to vote. Now, that could mean lots of things. Many people do not vote in local elections. Typical turnout is less than half what it would be in general elections. And sometimes voters stay at home in a kind of silent protest. They may feel less enthused to do so in a national election. We should probably note as well that national coverage of local elections is very low level and is simply concentrated on what it means for the main parties’ wider political chances.
What issues do our readers care about?
We gave a list of 5 issues and asked people to order them from the most important to least important. Those issues were climate emergency, maintaining the NHS, cost of living crisis, electoral reform, and tackling racism and sexism. The table below summarises the results.
Whilst the climate emergency received the most 1st choice votes, with 46 (36%) placing it first, overall maintaining the NHS is the most important issue for our readers. Either by counting 1st and 2nd preferences or by including 3rd preferences the order places the NHS as the main concern for Critical Mass readers.
Depending on how we calculate the final figure, the climate emergency, the NHS or the cost of living crisis are the top 3 issues here. Tackling racism and sexism was a priority for very few of our readers. With only 4% placing it in their top 3. Whilst electoral reform (which we did not specify) only made the top 3 of 15%.
A quick note on how these results are calculated. First choice number (n) and percentage are obvious. It is whatever was placed top. But that we felt was a crude measure, so we have tried to account for the fact that most people find it hard to order things and therefore felt that if somebody put something second that may have been simply because there was no option for first equal. So we took all the first choices and added them to the second choices and this gives us a percentage not of individuals but of first and second choices. When we do the same with 3rd choices it explains why tackling racism and sexism receive 15% of first choices and that percentage is the same for top 3 choices. The first percent is of individuals placing it first, the second is the percent of first, second or third choices it received overall. Hope that makes some sense, let me know if it doesn’t.
What we can see from this result is that for Critical Mass readers, and we would extrapolate from this to the left more generally, see the big issues as the ones that require immediate attention. Yet, interestingly, the national debates rarely mention the climate emergency or saving the NHS. Both are subsumed inside short-term electoral concerns, making it more important than ever to maintain an independent left media. But we would say that, wouldn’t we?
How do our readers feel?
On these results you are a very pessimistic group. Asked to say how positive you felt about the political future, only 2% said they were slightly positive and nobody was ‘very positive’. We understand where the negativity is coming from and we are probably responsible for feeding that particular monster with our own coverage of events.
Perhaps there is some comfort to be taken from the fact that, if you are feeling less than positive about the future, then you are not alone. Most people on the left are probably having exactly the same feelings. As I pointed out in my last cost of living column, it is not just the left who are pessimistic, that feeling pervades the economic elite, and in their hands such feelings are devastating for all of us. All we can say is that things can change very quickly, and we may well take your pulse again in the near future to see whether you feel more optimistic.
We would like thank all those who took the time and effort to fill this survey in. The results, we hope you agree, make interesting reading. We hope you are sufficiently motivated to fill in another survey next week when we will be asking you how you feel about the prospects of a Labour government.