Saturday, 30 June 2012

Two Great Barriers To A Labour Victory

Labour is ahead in the polls, but don’t go counting any chickens yet, Ed Miliband; you still have a long way to go before people will trust you to run the country.

Yesterday, I went to a meeting about housing benefits, organised by a local residents’ group.  If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that I think we are heading for a housing crisis, and that housing – as much as anything else – is going to be a key issue in the next election, so I was very interested.  The meeting started with a speech by my MP Phil Wilson, who placed the changes in their political and ideological framework.  He was followed by two County Council officers; every word they said backed up what Phil Wilson had told us.

So far so good, therefore, and thus finished the first session.  The chairman thanked the contributors, and reflected the general mood of the meeting that it was all very alarming … and then he said this:

“Isn’t it a pity that our MPs in Westminster care for their ‘Party’, when perhaps they should be caring for the people”.
And my heart sank.

He had not realised we are in a war

It was not just that it is a trite and naïve remark. 

But I was also distressed because, despite everything he had heard, this man obviously still had not appreciated that the problem is this Tory government. 
He was a decent, working-class chap, smart and pleasant.  He clearly cared about the residents he had helped gather together.  He had just heard a list of ideologically-inspired measures specifically designed to damage them.
And yet still he had not realised that we are in a war.   
Still he did not see that the solution is Labour Party.
Instead he saw the very concept of ‘Party’ as a BAD thing.

I was left depressed.  If we cannot convince this man that Labour is the Party of the people, then we are lost.

Labour always used to be ‘the Party of the people’

It never used to be so.
Right through into the 1980s, Labour always used to be ‘the Party of the people’, as much as the Tories were the Party of business.

Not that it did Labour much good.
I was brought up in a true-blue Tory home.  For my parents, a Labour victory was akin to a national disaster – Labour would lose control of the economy; Labour would give the unions the whip hand.
Labour were accepted as ‘the Party of the people’, but even many working class people still voted Tory.  We all knew that the Tories were the Party of the bosses, and that they would screw the working man down ... but at least you could rely on them to govern competently.

It is worth reflecting that Cameron’s popularity survived both austerity laws and an economic recession, and only began to dip when his government began to look flustered, seemed corrupt, and started making u-turns.  You see, we expect, even forgive the Tories for ‘bashing the poor’ – “it’s what the Tories do”.  What we cannot forgive in a Tory administration is incompetence.

Conversely, nobody used to doubt that, when Labour got in, they would take measures to try to improve life for ‘the people’.  But there was always this underlying suspicion that they were not fit to govern.  Thus Callaghan, and the winter of discontent, and the great inflation of 1979, seemed to prove everything people always believed – and ushered in Thatcher and 18 years of Tory rule.

Then along came Tony Blair

Under Tony Blair, Labour lost that ‘not-fit-to-govern’ image.
Whether you loved him or hated him, one thing you could not level at Tony Blair was incompetence.  If anything, the charge against Blair was that he was TOO competent in government – too smooth, too addicted to spin, too presidential.

Blair captured that middle-class yearning for a leader of stature.  He looked the part – smart, almost Kennedyesque.  He acted the part – rarely ruffled, assured and reassuring.  Meanwhile, he had behind him a New Labour team which also defied dismissal.  Campbell, Mandelson, Reid… these people were hated, and feared, but nobody could suggest they were incompetent.

The problem was that, as time went on, New Labour ALSO lost its image as the Party of ‘the people’.  Even at the start, Blair surrounded himself with the rich and famous – Ecclestone, Oasis and the like. And,
through ten years and three elections, a string of events ground down the ‘popularity’ of the Labour administration – the Iraq War, identity cards, cash-for-honours, academies, neoliberal economics, a widening wealth gap, Milburn’s NHS reforms etc.

And thus it was that, by 2007, nobody could pretend that New Labour was any longer a working class movement, whereupon a world financial crisis, and three years of Gordon Brown, restored Labour’s reputation as the Party which ruins the country.

And thus we find ourselves in a church hall in 2012, with an audience of people genuinely terrified at what Tory legislation will mean for them, yet who STILL blame Labour for causing the mess … and yet STILL do not see Labour as ‘the Party of the people’ which they need to support to fight their cause.

Before Blair, we were the Party of the people but were thought unfit to rule.
Under Blair, we were felt fit to rule, but lost our image as the Party of the people.
Under Gordon Brown we lost our reputation of being fit to rule without regaining our image as the Party of the people … and as yet we have regained neither in the minds of many, many people.

We still have a long way to go before we can hope to win in 2015.

1 comment:

  1. One reason why we need to be alarmed about housing: