Thursday, December 03, 2009

Money, not class

Gordon Brown seemed, for once, to have a good PMQs yesterday. And Labour does seem a bit more self-confident lately, even though there’s still no expectation of a win next year. Some sort of coherence does seem finally to be forming in the party’s positioning.

Ann Treneman, parliamentary sketchwriter for the Times, offers her take on this:

So it’s going to be class war. Now we know. Forget the Duke of Wellington and what he said about Waterloo. At PMQs Gordon Brown made it clear that he wants the next election to be won not on the playing fields of Eton but by attacking them.

But Simon Carr, her counterpart at the Independent, sees the strategy differently:

It's not majoring on Tory toffs, Tory do-nothing, or even Tory cuts. The lead proposition is rich vs poor. They are the party of the many not the few, remember. And he's going to "grow the economy out of recession". There – they are the party of growth and everyone who's not rich. And whatever the electorate think of it, Labour loves it. It feels optimistic, it gives courage.

I think – or, more accurately, I hope – that Carr is right and Treneman wrong. For Labour to rant about class is feeble and off-putting. True, plenty of people are suspicious of toffs and old Etonians, but if this is going to put them off the Tories then it will anyway: Labour needs to do no work. However, fulminating against a certain type of person based on their background is more likely to make you look nasty yourself. As the Crewe and Nantwich byelection showed, a ‘Tory toffs’ campaign just doesn’t work.

What has much more mileage, though, is the line that the Tories are the party of the super-rich and would govern for the super-rich (I say “super-rich” rather than “rich” because it distances these people from the rest of us more effectively).

The risk of being seen as anti-aspirational is now much reduced thanks to the antics of the bankers over the last couple of years. The trick will be for Labour to position itself as standing up for everyone else, not just for the poor: if you lose the middle, you lose.

With a Shadow Cabinet in which millionaires outnumber women by three to one, and an inheritance tax cut whose popularity belongs to a different age, there’s fertile ground there. Although it’s important to focus the attack on policies that favour the super-rich rather than just on the super-rich themselves for who they are.

This is almost certainly not enough for Labour to win the election, but if it’s pursued effectively it could get us back in the game. But please, let’s not use the C-word.

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