Thinking in Straight Lines

This paper sets out to help answer the question that many in Labour and on the left in general have been asking in recent years. With people’s attitudes swinging in our favour on a range of social issues and even, post-pandemic, on economic intervention, why do we keep failing to win a general election?

The analysis suggests that while most people share common values there is a distinction in how we express and conceptualise them.

Direct reasoning: Favours common senses, agency based explanations rooted in how the situation looks from one perspective and what that viewer can do about it.

Systemic reasoning: Looks for connections and complexities, is more concerned with root causes, and often suggests one must solve one problem before one can solve another.

Most people use of a mix of both, and various factors will explain why we lean towards one or the other, with those who have gone through higher education (for example) favouring systemic reasoning.

But Labour and the left have become totally dominated by systemic reasoning. We struggle to communicate in any other terms. This has pushed large swathes of the electorate who are more direct, into the arms of Boris Johnson and the conservatives.

But this can can change and the report sets out how we can adjust our policy and messaging to appeal to the people in England in particular who have left the party – without compromising our values or vision.


Also available on as an ebook.


Author of this report

Chris Clarke

Chris Clarke is the author of The Dark Knight and the Puppet Master, a critique of left populism.

He has worked in local government and the third sector, across themes relating to social cohesion and community engagement. He has been employed as a community organiser and social researcher, and as press officer for several Labour candidates and politicians.