Monday, May 20, 2024

The real reason for the Tories assault on universities? Educated people are less likely to vote for them

They dress it up in concerns about immigration and academic quality, but I suspect there's a more fundamental reason for the Conservatives' current war on the universities.

You can find it in a research paper published by the Social Market Foundation:

The education divide has played a decisive role in recent votes in the UK. Education is one of the strongest predictors of Brexit preferences, with school leavers and graduates overwhelmingly backing Leave and Remain respectively. The Conservatives’ increased vote share in 2017 and 2019 was also driven by a near doubling of support among school leavers between 2015 and 2019.
This is a new development - before 2016, school leavers were more likely to vote Labour in every election since 1979, while graduates have tended to vote Conservative.

Education is the strongest predictor of voters’ social values - graduates tend to hold more liberal values while school leavers tend to have more authoritarian views. It also predicts social identities, as graduates are more likely to identify as middle class and European, whereas school leavers tend to identify as working class and with local and national identities.

That's right: people who study at university are less likely to vote Conservative.

If this seems too simplistic - almost a conspiracy theory - then look at this 2016 Independent article where Nick Clegg talks about the politics of the Coalition cabinet:
The Conservatives refused to build more social housing because they worried it would create more Labour voters, Nick Clegg has said. 
Speaking ahead of the release of his new book, Politics Between the Extremes, the former Deputy Prime Minister said top figures on David Cameron’s team viewed housing as a “petri dish”. 
“It would have been in a Quad meeting, so either Cameron or Osborne. One of them – I honestly can’t remember whom – looked genuinely nonplussed and said, ‘I don’t understand why you keep going on about the need for more social housing – it just creates Labour voters.’ They genuinely saw housing as a petri dish for voters. It was unbelievable,” he said.
If party advantage dictated Tory housing policy, then it can dictate their education policy too. And the Social Market Foundation paper forecast that, if current trends continue, graduates will outnumber school leavers by 2031.

That paper, incidentally, may also give a rationale for current Liberal Democrat strategy:
Steeply rising graduate vote shares in ‘blue wall’ seats in the London commuter belt present new opportunities for the Liberal Democrats to build a geographically and demographically coherent heartland.
The blue wall is a flexible concept indeed if it can encompass London suburbs, but I'd rather bet on education than ignorance.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations for illustrating a piece about higher education with a picture of a university other than Oxford of Cambridge! Most of the press seem unable to do this. I guess Sheffield Hallam is a nod to Mr Clegg?

Jonathan Calder said...

I remembered photographing some university buildings near Sheffield station. When I looked in the folder they turned out to be from Hallam, which was a bonus for the reason you give.

Jonathan Calder BA (York) MA (Leicester)