Britain is getting more socially liberal

There is, goodness knows enough bad news at the moment so a study by Kings College London and IPSOS which shows Britain is becoming socially more liberal is very welcome. 

The study looks at the same questions asked in 1989 and 2019 which makes it much easier to track the differences – and what differences they are!

In 1989 40% of British adults thought that homosexuality was morally wrong – in 2019 that was down to 13% while  people thinking that homosexuals should be treated ‘just like other people’ has increased from 23% to 64% 

On drug use the % thinking soft drugs such as cannabis are morally wrong has gone from 60% to 29% – there has also been a drop in people thinking the same of hard drugs such as heroin – but  at 67% ( down from 89%) it is still high 

On abortion the % thinking it is immoral has halved from 35% to 18% – and interestingly there is little difference  in the views of men and women (nor was there is 1989) 

Some areas haven’t changed much – the % thinking that having a sexual relationship with someone who is married to someone else is morally wrong has actually increased from 55% to 62% – because  men are now more likely to think this is wrong – and are  now aligned with the views of women. 

People thinking euthanasia is morally wrong had decreased from 22% to 17% – I was surprised how low the figure  in 1989 was. 

A rather depressing area  where there has been a marked change is attitudes to politicians where the number people who think that politicians are in general, good people, has gone from 36% to 15%. The biggest drop has been among Conservative voters (45% -30%), Lib Dem voters have gone from 37% – 23%. 

The core of the study in 1989 and 2019 were a large number ( 1,458 and 1021) interviews conducted face to face in people own homes.

What I think is particularly encouraging is that many of these results show that people are buying into the classic liberal principle – that people should be allowed to live their lives how they want. Where someone else is affected – for example in cases of adultery, views haven’t changed. 

None of these liberal views will necessarily translate into voting for us, though they do show that we can espouse Liberal views  on cannabis and euthanasia and not risk much voter backlash. They are also  a reminder that while we  often  think we live in uniquely awful times, there are some areas where things are getting distinctly better 

* Simon McGrath is a Councillor in the London Borough of Merton.

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