Critical Mass readers have views and from time to time we take their pulse. This page contains the reports of our Pulse Surveys.
- 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.
- What you think about: Housing
When we decided to do a Critical Mass Readers survey we had no illusions that it would be a rival to any of the major pollsters. We are not particularly interested in what the general population think. But we are interested in what you think. We are trying to tap into where the left is on some of the big issues facing us. For that reason when we get a low response rate it does not worry us too much.
So when Sir Keir Starmer said he would “back the builders, not the blockers” and allow councils to build on the green belt, we were sure our subscribers would have a view.
Overall, it’s fair to say that you weren’t keen on the idea. 57% of those saying no agreed that there were plenty of empty homes to use before we embarked on a house building spree. whilst 55% agreed that there was a potential for environmental damage. (Note: the follow on questions here were not strictly related to the question of building on the green belt as one or two people pointed out. An error on our part. Apologies.)
Amongst those who said yes 75% said that there was a shortage of housing in many areas, 50% that it would create a lot of new jobs (although Labour had a pledge to build 150,000 council homes in 2019, that pledge has been replaced in the current policy review by a commitment to create a home ownership rate of 70 per cent. According to the 2021 Census 62.5% of households owned the home they lived in) and 25% that it could give the economy a much needed boost.
It is likely that our readers are not quite like the average person. We would certainly hope so because the average person is the one who keeps voting for the Tories and their policies!
As we conduct these surveys we are building up a picture of what type of people you are – not individually because, unlike all those polling company panels, we have no interest in selling you anything, or selling your data on. We are interested in you as a group.
In this survey we asked about what kind of accommodation you lived in. This table shows the result and compares to the Census.
In some respects our readers are a fairly typical cross section of the UK population, with 61% in their own homes (compared to 63% nationally) and 39% in rented accommodation (compared to 36% nationally).
Amongst our renters 65% thought it was likely that they would struggle to pay the rent in the next 18 months. All of them felt it was unlikely (the vast majority very unlikely) that they would be able to buy their own home in the next 18 months. Financial hardship is not confined to our readers. According to figures from the Citizens Advice Bureau, rent arrears are the third most reported reason for calling their helpline. They follow, inevitably, fuel debts and council tax arrears.
We asked a series of attitudinal questions around housing issues and we anticipated that the responses might differ between those who were homeowners and those who were renters.
The table above shows the percent in each group agreeing with each statement. Logically, you might expect more difference than we found between homeowners and renters. But, remember, this is the view of a very specific sub-section of British society. Critical Mass subscribers are left-wing, proudly so. This, it seems trumps the sectional views one might expect within the general population. The only statements where there was any significant differences were those specifically aimed at prioritising home ownership over renting. I would prefer to runt than to buy, found a clear difference between the two groups with nearly four times as many renters agreeing. Similarly, roughly half the proportion of renters agreed with the statement ‘renting should be a steepping stone toward buying your own home’.
A couple of points here. First a technical one. In the paragraph above we use the term significant. Those with an interest in science will know that this is a term with very specific meaning scientifically. We do not imply here that our results are statistically significant, the word significant only in its ‘common sense’ use of the term. Secondly, we are not overly concerned to find differences between groups as the group whose views we are seeking are socialists, already marginalised and not needing us to make them more so. That is why we find it interesting that 88% of those who responded agreed that we should use empty buildings before embarking on new building projects. According to the latest data there were 479,000 empty homes in England, 14,866 empty homes in Wales and 43,766 empty homes in Scotland. A total of over half a million homes that are currently (as of 2022) empty. Those are homes that could be used to house those people currently seeking homes. Policy, as currently stated by the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Lib-Dems is centred on building more homes and creating a bonanza for building companies and mortgage providers. Perhaps you are right. The best way to save the green belt is not to build more homes but to use the empty stock that already exists. And, whilst renters are more keen on this than homeowners the fact remains that the best method of ensuring high quality homes for the rental sector is as 58% of you agreed for house building (or the avoidance of house building) to be in the public sector.
Where we see the biggest difference is when we ask questions that go to the heart of your status on the ‘housing ladder’. There is a clear difference when we asked how much you agreed with “Renting should be a stepping stone toward owning your own home”. Whilst only 22% of renters agreed, amongst existing homeowners the figure was 41%. This could be validation of their own past choices or that, like most of the population, they regard housing as a ladder on which the top rung is outright ownership. This is rather supported when we look at the results to the statement “I would rather rent than buy.” In this case 57% of renters agreed, whilst only 15% of homeowners.
Is there a conclusion to be drawn from this? Not an easy one. It does appear that many people, regardless of politics, aspire to owning their own home. Any party that wants to win an election must be seen to support that aspiration, as we are sure Starmer’s advisors are well aware. But, there are a significant number of people who are renting and prefer to rent. In supporting house building of any sort these two constituencies will need to be confident that their concerns are being taken into account. In reality, you do not need to promise to build more homes for people who already own one. That is why the assumption that people in rented accommodation see it as a stepping stone is important.
There are actually two elephants in the room here: cost and the environment. The problem in the housing market is not a lack of property, but of affordable property. As interest rates rise that will only get worse. But whatever we decide to do must be sustainable in the long-term. The green belt may not be as sacrosanct as some people like to think, but this debate is not really about the green belt it is about whose interests are prioritised: builders, banks and landlords or ordinary workers, tenants and those on low incomes. None of the mainstream parties have shown too much interest in anything but the first group, and as things stand, that will not change any time soon.
- Deceitful, authoritarian and a Tory – Critical Mass readers’ verdict on Keir Starmer
We knew that Critical Mass/Sunday Socialist readers were not massive fans of Keir Starmer. But the strength of their feeling shocked even us. Only two people of the 122 who filled in our poll thought he might make a good leader (and one of those looked as if they had hit the wrong option given what they said).
We should start with our usual caveat. This poll does not claim to be representative of anything but those who filled it in. Only our subscribers (if you don’t subscribe it is free and you can do so here) were given the link. It is anonymous and, although we requested names, few people wanted to give them, so we have decided not to publish any names at all.
Ninety-two percent of those responding had previously voted Labour, only 4% intend to do so at the next election. This, in itself, speaks volumes. Voting is a ‘tribal’ activity, most people tend not to shift allegiances easily. Many of our readers have been members of the Labour Party and enthusiastically campaigned for that party in 2017 and 2019. They now find themselves in something of a political wilderness, unsure where to put their vote. We can see this in the following diagram.
The most popular option is TUSC, chosen by 34%, followed by the Greens on 30%. After this a whole variety of options emerged including the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, Liberal Democrats and unnamed other parties. Some, a minority, were planning on tactical voting to oust or stop the Tories, others were like this respondent “I am 79 and voted Labour since I could vote. I have no idea who I will vote for, have always said that we must vote or we have no say…. But I am politically homeless now.” Keir Starmer will not be at all worried at losing a couple of hundred or even a couple of thousand former Corbyn supporters, but in some constituencies the loss of a handful of votes could prove crucial.
It is perhaps Starmer’s greatest achievement to alienate those he regards as too close to socialism to be part of any party he leads. In this respect it is worth pointing out that our analysis of the polls indicates that around 13% of Labour voters from 2019 do not plan to vote Labour next time around. That is around 1.5 million votes already lost. Whilst Labour’s strategists have targeted what they regard as working class Tories, the fact is that the polls do not show any great enthusiasm amongst former Tories for the current Labour Party.
Starmer not trusted
As we sat down to edit your comments from our survey on Starmer, he had just made the keynote speech at the Progressive Britain Conference. It confirmed all our worst fears. He doesn’t care if Labour’s priorities sound conservative. He wants to outdo Blair in transforming the Labour Party, calling it ‘Clause IV on steroids’. And he is just as keen to follow Blair in reforming the state. That does not mean electoral reform or abolishing the House of Lords. He means the public sector and the welfare state. But you were already onto him, as your comments show.
The most common complaint was that Starmer was either a Tory, or no better than the Tories.
- He’s a closet Tory
- Tory Lite
- He supports Tory policies. Will not renationalise our assets or change the electoral system.
- Like Blair he is just a paler blue Tory. While he gives the impression this is just to get Tory votes and win the election, his vile choice of current Shadow Chancellor suggests Starmer WILL be another Blair in power
- Too right-wing and will not remove abusive Tory acts of parliament.
- He’s untruthful, devoid of integrity, extreme right wing, his values are those of a Tory.
This lack of integrity struck many of you.
- Dishonest, a liar who broke his pledges, cannot be trusted.
- He can’t be trusted he’s a liar. Will not stand up for the working class,
- He’s a worse liar than Johnson. Totally untrustworthy, duplicitous and hypocritical.
- He’s a liar … The red Boris Johnson. The evidence shows he cannot be trusted
- He is a liar and not a socialist in any shape or form, he is Blair’s child.
By breaking his pledges and turning on former comrades in his witch hunt against the left, Starmer has shown a deeply unpleasant side to his character.
- Keir Starmer rejected socialism …he has expelled every member who condemned Israel, he has expelled JEWISH members on the Left…if THAT is not antisemitic then I don’t know WHAT is and he will be NO different from the Tory debacle.
- He’s a proven liar and is untrustworthy; in purging Labour of socialists, has irrevocably damaged Labour’s left credentials.
- Starmer is authoritarian, a proven liar, who politically could sit comfortably on the Tory govt front bench. He is enmeshed in the neo liberal political establishments
- He took over as leader and said he had 10 pledges for us. As time has gone on he has done a U-turn on all of them. I thought the latest ‘ad’ campaign directed against Sunak was highly personalised and not worthy of the Labour Party at all. All he has done is to follow the Tory lead in a descent into the gutter. I no longer have any idea, what, if anything, Labour stands for
- He’s reversed LP policy without full consultation, has expelled hardworking party members without consultation with members, local groups have had outside candidates imposed on them, has used the accusation of antisemitism to smear lifelong anti-racists, has purged socialists from the party. These are the reason why I, a lifelong Labour voter, withdrew my membership and will never vote for Starmer.
You also see him as an establishment stooge who is really quite mediocre. He has no ideas of his own. He does not care about people and their problems and has no strong beliefs or principles and is better suited to middle management than leading the nation.
- He a manager not a politician. His u turns are a feature, and he has nothing meaningful to say
- He’ll be a technocrat manager; nothing more.
- He is a gutless opportunist with no genuine concern for the working class
- He has no firmly held beliefs, he’ll bend towards whatever he thinks will give him power.
- More of the same establishment nonsense. No policies, no substance and no ideas. The future is not bright it’s beige!
Thank you to those who completed the survey. We are sorry we could only include a fraction of your comments. But we value them all.
There appears to be a total mismatch between what people would like a Labour government to do and what they expect it to do. I’m not sure people on the left have ever had great faith in Labour governments to deliver a left agenda, but it’s not clear that the gap between expectations has ever been this low. The chart below shows the mismatch graphically.
On almost every issue listed, many of them taken from the 2019 manifesto (which, incidentally Momentum is still trying to force on a reluctant leadership) our readers felt it was unlikely that a future Labour government would deliver. This explains, together with the mistrust of Starmer as a leader, why so many are looking to vote elsewhere come 2024 and the General Election. Some of these policies were included in Starmer’s infamous 10 pledges. But he has made it clear that he feels under no obligation to deliver. Other frontbenchers have also been rapidly ditching both the 2019 Manifesto, party conference decisions and Starmer’s pledges.
There is another issue here though. Labour governments are not obliged to deliver the conference policies. This makes you wonder what the point of conference is when, with the wave of a press statement, a new policy can be announced regardless of what the members may think. Jeremy Corbyn was a total anomaly in this respect. His leadership was probably the only time in the history of the Labour Party where conference was regarded as sovereign, yet another reason he was so hated by the cabal of MPs (many now in their pomp as shadow ministers) who worked tirelessly to undermine him.
The irony of the arrogance of MPs and trade union leaders who believe that the conference should be ignored is that the people closest to the electorate are likely to be the activists who do the door knocking. Rather than ignore them it would be in the interests of a party beguiled by public opinion to listen to those who engage directly with those whose opinion they are supposedly mirroring.
For the left what seems clear is that, with the exception of a few for whom Labour is an addiction they cannot break, the infatuation with Labour as a progressive force has painfully proved the myth some always said it was. This is not to rehash the old reform or revolution argument, life was never quite that simple.
As we can see, only a small minority, 16%, believes a revolution is ever likely in the UK, though less than half rule it out completely. Given this it is hardly surprising that for many on the left reforms which mitigate the worst excesses of capitalism are the most important way in which their politics manifests itself. In this sense, a reformist party makes absolute sense. It’s not so much that people do not desire revolution, they simply do not see it on the horizon, a theme we explored in the Sunday Socialist Edge Notes only last week. In such circumstances a party that they feel represents the interests of the oppressed and voiceless is not just wishful thinking but an important part of resisting the onslaught of capital. Such a party must be responsive to the concerns of its members and led by a leader of integrity. Sadly, the truth, as represented by this survey, is that the Labour Party currently fails on both counts.
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