What came first, the Corbyn or the egg? Was Britain already in the throes of a subtle shift to the left when he became Labour leader or did he start the wheels in motion despite the sceptical naysayer who said he was a definite vote loser?
If the release of the most recent annual British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS) is anything to go by, Corbyn is a symptom, not the cause. This year’s BSAS has revealed record levels of support for same-sex relationships as well as women’s right to abortion and huge public support for ending austerity.
It seems that this has been brewing for quite some time, despite the failure of some political commentators and politicians to recognise it. Interestingly, last year the same survey found that the British public had become more left-wing since 2010. At the time NatCen Social Research, who conduct the survey, said that this leftwards movement in public attitudes was ‘a response to austerity, reductions in income tax and rising inequality’.
Eight out of ten people surveyed this year said that they wanted more public money put into the NHS, seven in ten supported more investment in schools and 60% said they wanted more spending on police services.
Alongside these views which suggest people support a more hands-on government when it comes to state services, the survey showed that people are generally becoming more liberal when it comes to social issues like sex and sexuality. Nearly two-thirds of people said that same-sex relationships were ‘not wrong at all’. To put that in context, in 2012 it was 47% and in 1987, only 11% of people agreed with this statement.
When it comes to sex before marriage the survey suggests that people have been becoming increasingly more liberal at a faster pace in recent years; this time around 75% of those surveyed said that having sex before marriage was ‘not wrong at all’, an increase of 11 percentage points since 2012.
On abortion, the highest ever number of people – 70% - agreed that abortion should be allowed if a woman decided that she did not want to carry a pregnancy to term for whatever reason.
This, in particular, comes at a crucial time for women’s reproductive rights in the United Kingdom after Theresa May’s deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP drew particular scrutiny due to the party’s approach to many issues, in particular, abortion.
It’s not only attitudes but legislative approaches to abortion in Britain that are changing. Yesterday, after a heated debate, the British Medical Association voted to decriminalise abortion and called for the procedure to be more readily available. This means that the BMA will now lobby the Government, imploring them to abandon the current legal framework (which requires two doctors to sign off on an abortion and, technically, means that abortion is still a criminal offence in any other circumstances under the 1861 Offences Against The Person Act). The country’s largest union of doctors want politicians to change the law so that abortion is no longer restricted at all (i.e. only available up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy), no longer seen as a criminal issue and is solely treated as a medical matter. Today’s BSAS shows that the weight of public opinion is behind this too.
They survey’s authors say that ‘it seems clear that “social liberalism” is a growing feature of British society and will seemingly remain so as the older age cohorts are replaced by younger ones’. What this means for the future of our society and politics remains to be seen, but all of this suggests that those on the right who have been dismissive not only of Corbyn’s rise but what he represents have seriously overlooked a sustained groundswell of liberal thinking on the part of the public.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.