GE 2019: The Court Jester vs The Bogeyman

‘I couldn’t vote Labour because I don’t trust Corbyn, so I’ll vote Conservative for the first time in my life’ – a refrain repeated over and over again, with some variations, on the doorstep during the 2019 General Election campaign. An extraordinary piece of logic by any reckoning: I don’t trust Corbyn so I’ll vote for a proven liar, racist, misogynist, serial breaker of promises etc. etc.. How can Labour’s soul-searching analysis of why it lost so badly come to terms with this level of irrationality? Looking for ’causes’, statistically torturing demographic data until it surrenders its innermost secrets, trying to find the magic formula that will win back lost votes. None of this makes any sense in the face of such perverse logic.

In the oldest part of the electorate’s age range 64% voted Tory and 17% supported Labour. Which is bizarre when you think the Tories run the NHS into the ground and don’t have a credible story on social care, and this age group will be in need of these services the most. Again, the logic is unfathomable.

There is a view that the election outcome was distorted by Brexit, and there are plenty of vox-pop instances of former Labour voters declaring their support for the Tory promise to honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum – this on the grounds of ‘democracy’. These declarations now have the flavour of post-rationalisation, and they ignore the fact that Labour were offering even more democracy: a referendum on the deal negotiated to finalise the terms for leaving the EU. A democratic choice between certainty and uncertainty results in a resounding vote for the latter. Even more absurdity.

The only way I can resolve these contradictions and build a plausible explanatory framework is to revert to the Jungian (perhaps I should say ‘neo-Jungian’) ideas of previous posts. The election was set up as a straight head-to-head between two classic archetypes: the Court Jester and the Bogeyman.

Johnson the joker took full advantage of one of the Court Jester’s primary functions – the ability to say things that many might be thinking but dare not articulate: ‘letter-boxes’ and ‘picaninnies’ come most readily to mind. This trait gave him enormous popularity amongst party members, people who are unapologetic about harbouring such views, but only really give voice to them when talking to each other. A calculation that this popularity might reach beyond Conservative party members and far into Labour’s working-class heartlands proved to be correct. Those who found it impossible to take Johnson seriously and concluded from this that his ambitions were unrealistic missed the point completely. It is precisely because the Court Jester isn’t taken too seriously that he can get away with saying things that strike a deep chord with significant sections of the electorate. Unapologetically bumbling media appearances took the appeal of the Court Jester to a wider audience.

Meanwhile Corbyn gradually settled into the archetype of the Bogeyman. The 2017 election had come too early for the right wing media to embed a negative template into the national psyche – it takes time to build that vague impression of untrustworthiness that cannot be adequately articulated. The Bogeyman’s purpose is darkly nefarious, but the greater part of its threat arises from our our inability to identify it – a far more powerful force for its dependence on an ill-defined sense of the unknown. Once the Bogeyman idea had taken hold, Labour’s task became impossible: manifesto promises were dismissed as fantasy by those who would benefit most from them, even though the manifesto was fully costed. At the same time Johnson’s suspect (and frequently incoherent) promises on hospitals, nurses and other good things were given a free pass, the kind of thing that happens when you are the Court Jester.

Viewed as an exercise in rational decision-making, the Ge 2019 result makes little sense. Viewed through the lens of Jungian archetypes its explanation is clear.

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