The problem with asking people for their opinion is that frequently they give it to you. Just look at Keir Starmer. One minute he’s shaking his tail feather from the Commons despatch box giving Boris Johnson a torrid time over sleaze. The next, he’s fighting for his political life. And why? Depending on whose analysis you choose to believe it’s because there is a proportion of voters in the north of England who blame Labour for a generational lack of investment in them/Starmer has no plan/Sir Starmer is too metropolitan and understands nothing of the working man/Starmer shouldn’t wear a Harrington jacket at his age.
(Men over 40 normally struggle in Harringtons. Starmer, though, carries it off. That’s envy-inducing; I won’t mention it again).
The other side of this is that regardless of how things have been going, many people are getting their vaccines, they know this signals a hopeful future, and they thank Boris Johnson personally for sorting it. It’s understandable. Regardless of reality, it’s widely perceived. And when that perception takes hold, it has a potency way beyond prosaic realities.
Support The Big Issue and our vendors bysigning up for a subscription
Look, for instance, at how telling polls around immigration have been in recent years. An Ipsos Mori poll two years ago found that Britons believed the proportion of immigrants in the country was about a quarter of the population. It’s less than 13 per cent. Perhaps because of this, 37 per cent of Britons, in a separate poll, said they felt Britain didn’t feel like home any more. Perception had become a calcifying reality. You don’t have to work too hard to draw lines from this emerging perception to self-serving loudmouths who claimed that by curbing this influx, things would FEEL better, work would return, controls would be reset.
But what if perception is useful, and can lead to positive change?