Class has long been pre-eminent among the factors used to explain party allegiance in Britain — and not just by academic observers. The Labour canvasser is warned away from the suburban villas lest he ‘stir them up’ while some Conservative agents can be heard dismissing council estates as ‘90 per cent socialist’. There is, in fact, evidence that partisanship has followed class lines more strongly in Britain than anywhere else in the English-speaking world.1 Yet, as we shall see, the links between class and party are more complex than is often supposed and their extent and nature have changed substantially over the years. Indeed, considering the large amount of attention focused upon these links, the evidence about their nature remains oddly limited. The analysis of class alignments is incomplete in two main respects. First, too little attention has been paid to the beliefs that link class to party in the voter’s mind. The fact of partisan differences between classes is documented in a wealth of statistical evidence; the system of ideas, the attitudes, motives and beliefs which lie behind the observed differences have been largely neglected. Second, treatments of class alignment have tended to be static in their approach. Class has supplied the dominant basis of party allegiance in the recent past; but within living memory the alignments were less clear and even in recent years they have shifted noticeably. This chapter considers some problems in the measurement of class and explores the links between class and party, including the beliefs that give meaning to politics in terms of class. The chapters that follow consider the changing nature of this relationship.
KeywordsMiddle Class Labour Party Class Conflict Class Interest Party Support
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