If only the people practised what they preach

It is a comfort to learn ("We're all liberals now", 20 November) that our petrol-protesting, Tory-preferring fellow citizens are so progressive on asylum-seekers, freedom of information and union rights. But why, then, do these paragons of liberalism tell opinion pollsters and focus-group organisers such fibs? Indeed, why do they continue, without seeing any apparent contradiction, to buy right-wing newspapers in such large numbers? Stuart Weir, Patrick Dunleavy and colleagues need to explain why there is such a disjunction between people's apparent beliefs and their willingness to do anything about them. Their survey quotes high approval for Ken Livingstone's policies, but neglects to remind us that only 15 per cent of Londoners gave him their first-preference vote.

It has suited the left since the days of Ramsay MacDonald to believe that the people are forward-thinking and their leaders (especially Labour) conservative. A truism of the 20th century, RIP, was that the reverse was more generally true.

David Walker
London SW4

This article first appeared in the 27 November 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of stealthy wealth