I was having a discussion on Facebook last night, sparked by my previous post, about why it is that there is so much more passion among parts of the left for marriage equality than more bread-and-butter issues such as, say, a living wage (as evidenced by the gallery people-flows last week).
Allow me to suggest a reason why.
Think about civil rights.
For the past thirty years, decisions by our Parliament have been central to expanding the realm of human rights and freedoms. Homosexual law reform, the Human Rights Act, prostitution law reform, Civil Unions and now marriage equality (as a non-exhaustive list) drew direct connections between the political process and real changes in people's lives.
The public discourse on these issues was about the centrality of Parliament and the decisions that politicians would make on these issues. Politics was central. Debates were substantive. Change could result.
So now, think about economic issues.
For the past thirty years, decisions by our Parliament have been marginal to the economic progress of the nation - and deliberately so. Government has withdrawn itself in so many ways from economic life. In pursuit of an ideology now proved false in the only testing ground that counts (the real world), the state got out of the way.
The public ideology of and debates around economic policy have been about the primacy of the market, and subordination of politics. The market, a cold abstraction nobody could see or argue with, would make the calls. It was our job as people to do what its highly paid messengers and managers would say.
Think about that.
Is it any wonder that most people don't think political action can make a difference on so-called "bread and butter" issues - when for so many years they've been told just that?
Is it any wonder that most people think political action can make a difference in civil rights, when they evidence that it can is before their eyes every time such an issue comes up?
This isn't to discount different explanations such as the changing class composition of Labour and left activists more broadly. Just to suggest a different way to think about the problem.
The implications of this are, I think, quite wide-ranging. I personally have never made this connection before. If most people don't think politicians can help when it comes to economic concerns, the political left is in a tricky spot given its entire programme of reform is based on changing the economy.
Perhaps our campaigns need to focus on repoliticising economic questions. Perhaps they already do and I'm just not conscious of it. Perhaps we need more even-handed media institutions that don't privilege the depoliticising agenda of the right when it comes to economic issues.
Food for thought!