The future of the left since 1884

For The Many?: David

For The Many? takes an in-depth look at Labour's changing electorates based on 6 case studies. David is 35 and works as a financial services lawyer in London.

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Interview

I met David in Canary wharf, a labyrinth of grey, glass and expensive shops. We found a quiet corner in a coffee chain, where I bought him a green tea, and he efficiently sped through the basics. Originally from Ireland, David works in financial service regulation as a lawyer but he’s just applied for a new job in Berlin. He owns his own flat in south London, but rents a room out to a 27-year-old who, he complains, is ‘always bringing girls home’. His childhood, he tells me, was ‘comfortable enough’. His mother didn’t work, and his father was a civil servant. He attended high-performing state schools away from his local area. His parents were very conscious of him receiving a ‘proper education’ and to make sure he went to university, and wanted him to be ‘as good as, if not better’ than their friends’ children.

David met me straight from the gym, and it is when he starts talking about his passion for CrossFit, a high-intensity fitness group, that he comes to life. He goes to CrossFit sessions most days, and it is where most of his friends are. He feels that CrossFit gives him a sense of community, and that most of the people he knows there are ‘just like’ him.

It is clear that David is driven in both his personal and professional life, but he also has a clear moral code. It is ‘important to be trustworthy, honest, faithful, to not screw people over… to treat others as you would expect to be treated yourself’. He also feels the desire to ‘make a difference in a positive way’. He tells me his current job allows him to do that: “What I’m working on is not for the banks, it’s for ensuring that people don’t get screwed over.” He also values personal freedom, perhaps a reaction against his parents’ determination that he would not get himself into trouble. He tells me he thinks people should be able to ‘do whatever they want really’ and that it is important to ‘be true to yourself’.

The cafe begins to empty out as we move on to memories of the 2017 election. He remembers when David Dimbleby declared that the Conservatives would be short of a majority, ‘jumping up on my couch, and posting on Facebook immediately’. He knew how he was going to vote before he arrived at the polling station: “There is a website that tells you… how you can vote to somehow reduce the Tory majority… it indicated to vote Labour, so I knew I was going to vote Labour.” He also tells me he’d written to his local Labour MP to ask her to vote against article 50, and was pleased to get a reply from her saying she had: “I knew then that I was happy to reward her with the vote.”

Despite his very pragmatic approach to decision-making at the 2017 election, David tells me he has voted Labour in most elections since he’s been in the UK. I ask him why: “They’re more on the side of working people…they just seem more honest…they’re just more…approachable”. But he’s cautious about Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. Although he tells me he has ‘warmed up’ to Corbyn more recently, he worries Labour is ‘unrealistic… I don’t think you can offer everything… without actually having the money in the bank to do it’. He also says he has no emotional loyalty to the Labour party. There is no family tradition of supporting Labour, and it is his principles that are more important than which party he votes for. He sees voting Labour as ‘more transactional…I would prefer not to have a Tory government’.

In contrast to this, I’m struck by the strength of David’s emotional reaction against the Conservative party. He tells me he ‘can’t relate’ to any Tories, he doesn’t ‘even like the way they speak’ and thinks they are ‘alien’ to what happens in normal lives. He has a ‘strong dislike for them’ and thinks that they are ‘selfish and greedy’. This reaction seems to be tied up in part with his Irish identity and family background. The Conservative party has ‘held the Irish state back’ and he can’t see himself ever voting Conservative because his grandparents would be ‘stunned’.

I was also struck by the strength of David’s reactions during discussion of the EU referendum. “I don’t feel there’s anyone really representing my view on leaving,” he tells me. Any party that promised to stop Brexit would ‘without a doubt’ get his support. He’s still hoping that Brexit doesn’t actually happen and he thinks that people who voted to leave the EU are closed minded and intolerant.

It’s clear David values policies and politicians that he can relate to. He worries about Labour policies that might have a detrimental effect on him. Labour’s plans to raise taxes at the 2017 election have clearly stayed with him: “The higher taxes [policy] was ridiculous, I don’t think £75,000 is an awful lot of money, living in London.” And he looks for the qualities he values in himself in politicians. Labour is ‘more in tune with who I am as a person’ and ‘more likeable.’ The only time he felt he ‘couldn’t’ vote Labour was in 2015, when he ‘couldn’t warm to Ed Miliband, I just could not warm to his style.’ When I ask him to describe what he thinks an average Labour voter is, it doesn’t surprise me that he describes himself: “They are around my age, working, educated to degree standard, with a young family perhaps. Open-minded, curious, and intelligent.”

David is a pragmatic Labour supporter. The pollsters would count him as a regular Labour voter, but he doesn’t vote Labour out of loyalty. He aims to be true to his values, find politicians who are in tune with his life, and prevent a Tory government. As I wend my way back through the towering displays of wealth, I can’t help but think how precarious his allegiance really is.

This interview is taken from For The Many? You can read the report here.

To read the interview with Devon, click here.

To read the interview with George, click here.

To read the interview with Mary, click here.

To read the interview with Michael, click here.

To read the interview with Yasmin, click here.

Olivia Bailey

Olivia Bailey is deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society. She was previously political advisor to a member of Labour’s shadow cabinet.

@livbailey

Lewis Baston

Lewis Baston is a psephologist and writer on politics, elections, history and corruption.

@lewis_baston

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