Why it makes sense for Labour to fight the ‘class war’


9:05 am - December 17th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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Oh dear, John Rentoul feels slightly stung by Don Paskini’s criticisms that his ‘please don’t hurt the rich‘ narrative doesn’t seem to be supported by polls.

He’s not alone.

The last few weeks have seen a succession of newspapers from the Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph, The Times and even The Economist play the ‘class war’ card. Surprisingly, a bunch of highly paid editors declared that increasing taxes on highly paid people was a bad idea.

But there are good strategic reasons for Labour embracing this phony ‘class war’.

1. Helps them re-frame the debate. The ‘class war’ is narrowly defined as being about bankers’ bonuses and higher taxes. Labour needs to expand this to include: Tories increasing IHT, deploring fairer taxes on the super-rich, their privileged backgrounds, the £250,000 “chicken-feed”, MPs “forced to live on rations”, Cameron not knowing how many houses he owned. In fact top Tory gaffes reek of how out of touch they are.

Re-framing the debate would allow them to talk about wider issues than just bankers’ bonuses.

2. Puts clearer dividing lines between the two. As I’ve said repeatedly, despite the obsession of right-whingers with performances at PMQs, most of the country doesn’t give a crap about the details of budgets or announcements. Which means Labour is still struggling to clearly define the choices between them and the Tories.

If the narrative is to be “cuts vs investment” then it has to be hammered loudly and clearly, not by moving a percentage point here or there. A constant debate about a re-framed ‘class war’ creates clearer distinctions about the different approach by Labour and the Tories.

3. For aspiration and hard work but against shameless greed. A common complaint of John Rentoul, Tom Harris and others on the right who echo this narrative is that Labour is no longer seen as the party of aspiration.
Anthony Wells says:

Equally, penalising bankers is a route to easy popularity. The downside is that it risks making Labour look like a party that doesn’t like success or aspiration, an image that Tony Blair managed to shed.

Ahhh… but it again comes down to re-framing the issue. Labour should be fighting for small businesses and hard-working entrepreneurs across the country, not rich, fat bankers working in bankrupt and taxpayer-sustained corporations. It should cut red-tape on small businesses and point out that the banking crisis bankrupted thousands of small firms reliant on loans. They are the real losers of the financial crisis. And until the economy is reformed and bankers’ excesses reined in – small business will continue to suffer from a volatile financial industry.

4. It motivates the core vote Rentoul and others may be chasing the swing vote but Labour has a big problem in motivating its own base to turn out and vote. Should that be ignored completely?

5. Right-wing hypocrisy about populism They love citing public opinion when it comes to issues like immigration, but right-whingers don’t seem to be so enamoured by the unwashed masses when it comes to higher taxes or taking bankers. Hmmmm.. I wonder why?

6. No voter backlash Sure, the media may like to pretend it will cost them but is this true?
a) Since ‘class war’ erupted Tories have lost their electoral lead significantly.

b) According to this poll 52% of the public agree that: ‘The Conservatives are still the party of the rich‘. Only 37% disagreed. 47% also agreed that: ‘David Cameron is too wealthy and privileged to represent ordinary people’. So the message can still resonate.

c) Britons are more fairminded than they are tolerant of naked greed. They make a distinction between the deserving and undeserving rich.

You have to be really deluded (John Rentoul, Tom Harris et al fit that bill nicely) to then think that playing ‘class war’ is a vote loser.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Economy ,Labour party ,Media ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Yet according to populus both Tories and Labour are equal in the view of people as to their commitment to public services, 61% support public sector pay caps, 58% DON’T agree that because of Cameron’s upbringing that he is out only to help the rich, even 51% of the working classes and lower don’t agree.

Sorry Sunny, while I agree that beating the same old drum about Tory toffs might invigorate your core voters that intend to vote for you anyway, it is a negative narrative that will turn others off as it simply doesn’t chime with their world view. It’s a little confusing as to why you’re promoting a 50/50 narrative, especially given that it’s erring on the side of not agreeing with you.

Thankfully most people seem to be sensible enough to realise class has fuck all to do with how good a politician you are for them.

At this point in time, there certainly is clear tactical mileage to be made out of this “class war” strategy.

As Sunny says, the hysterical reaction of the Right to the higher taxes announced last week has brought the Tory IHT pledge into sharper focus. And it is that which has come off more unfavourably in comparisons between Labour and the Conservatives.

Moreover, the self-interested whine that taxing bankers’ bonuses punishes success can easily be brushed off by pointing to the £1.3 trillion cost of bailing out all of this “success”.

@Lee Griffin the problem is, like in the EU elections, core voters might not go out to vote at all. That’s why a bit of class war might be electorally favourable.

I don’t, and I doubt Sunny does, think its an election winner on its own, but without sending out the message that when the Tories say “in it together” they mean “far less careworkers for you, no new Aga in my second home this year for me” then the core voters and campaigners might not bother.

The problem with negative campaigning (and a ‘class war’ campaign would be an exclusively negative one) is that it defines you more than it does the opposition. When you talk about them, voters learn about you. When it is personally negative (‘look at that toff! Garn, heave half a brick at him’) that’s even more true.

So the question is, is the image of ‘Labour class warrior’ an attractive one? Should that be the image of itself that the Labour Party wants to portray?

The other problem, of course, is that voters don’t seem particularly to distinguish between Eton, St Pauls and Westminster.

Heaven knows I’m all in favour of class war – but the key problem for Labour is that the measures they are taking in furtherance of it are ineffective and tokenistic, as Darling himself has acknowledged. So Labour manages to alienate people by looking opportunistic (“Labour’s had twelve years to do this…”) and by exposing itself to a narrative where it is played as against people “succeeding”, alienating aspirational voters.

They love citing public opinion when it comes to issues like immigration, but right-whingers don’t seem to be so enamoured by the unwashed masses when it comes to higher taxes or taking bankers. Hmmmm.. I wonder why?

For the same reason that you (left-wankers? smug leftie tossers? needs more work I think) are delighted by polls showing how ‘liberal’ we’re all becoming, but don’t like public opinion on matters like immigration or the death penalty. People like things that confirm their prejudices more than they like things that disagree with them. Full report at eight.

So, if Labour does “re-frame the debate” and “talk about wider issues than just bankers’ bonuses” what does Class War consist of? What policies are you talking about? I can see IHT and higher taxes on high earners. Is that it?

[at times like these, I like to remind myself of the ‘class’ of the Guardian readership]

right-whingers don’t seem to be so enamoured by the unwashed masses when it comes to higher taxes or taking bankers. Hmmmm.. I wonder why?
Spot on, Sunny.

Those guys can ignore the plight of millions of ordinary workers on low pay, but at what price? The usual suspects, from new labourite chaps a la Rentoul all the way to the Tory right will shout “class war” whenever anything slightly redistributive or sympathetic towards the low pay, but what are the medium/long term consequences?

Can’t they see that the recession was kickstarted by the subprime scandal in the US, where hordes of desperados were fed the most toxic financial fodder? How much shit can you stuff in the mouth of the low paid before it starts coming out the other end, literally?

Wasn’t that symptomatic of the widespread economic management of the Western world, one based on a fast growing wealth gap on a scale not seen since Victorian times.

The only thing that trickled down from the top was a shower of credit cards, insane mortgages and ridiculously irresponsible loans dished up to the desperate. But it was only a matter of time before the policy of further ripping off the most financially vulnerable was going to end up bursting like a swollen, pus-filled spot.

I might be more convinced of the ‘Clas War’ if it wasn’t being fought between middle class New Labour politicians and Tory toffs.

When I was a student Class War was an anarchist fanzine featuring Page 3 Battered Coppers.

Good article.

In fact, it is the right who are the most enthusiastic class warriors. Their newspapers claim to speak for the “hard pressed middle class” or “the coping class”, and launch vicious attacks on a daily basis against the “undeserving poor”.

The political and media wings of the conservative movement are currently campaigning for middle class people to get a pay freeze, lose their jobs and/or pay higher taxes, while at the same time they call for rich people to get tax cuts on money they haven’t earned (and for the government to support their lifestyle choices such as hunting animals for entertainment).

The reason why they do this is because, although they claim to speak for the middle class, the Conservative Party and the Daily Mail alike are owned, led and answerable to millionaires. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and the class warriors are the ones who want to help the privileged few at the expense of the rest of us, not the people who point this out.

8. Claude Carpentieri. The Clinton regime supported “Ninja Loans ” in order to get poor people, especially those from the ethnic minorities onto the property ladder. Clinton supported class action suits against lenders who did not offer Ninja Loans” to the poor ; of which Acorn was highly vocal in their support. When Bush tried to reduce “Ninja Loans “by the lenders he was criticised by the Democrats for stopping poor people increase their capital . The investment banks then bundled all sorts of mortgages together to create CDOs and sell them on as Triple A investments.

On Class War, this headline from the Express is a perfect example. Its just the class war of the majority against a small wealthy minority that’s bad!

Benefits cost Families £20 a week

This is just investigative reporting of course, not evidence of an actual class war that is always around us, and which we – the working class – are losing.

@Charlie 2

And I don’t dispute any of what you say. The Clinton administration, like the Blair one here, are/were integral parts of said model. Don’t forget that Mr Rentoul is possibly even ahead of David Aaronovitch in his worshipping of Saint Tony and every single thing he ever did.

12 – Left Outside:

And worth remembering that 12 million poor people and another 17 million low earners receive on average more in benefits than they pay in tax, so the Daily Express is in this case launching a class warfare attack on 29 million people, including many of its readers.

http://don-paskini.blogspot.com/2009/11/divide-and-rule-with-resolution.html

15. Luis Enrique

don – if 29m people are net beneficiaries of the benefits system, how do you square that with the idea that the wealthy are winning the class war? One answer is that the advantaged classes are continuing to stretch their lead over the disadvantaged, even at the same time as they pay taxes that are spent on the disadvantaged. But doesn’t that tell us that further steepening of the tax/benefits gradient (i.e. higher taxes on the rich, lower taxes on the poor) isn’t likely to change much? Claude, for example, would probably still be writing about “an actual class war that is always around us, and which we – the working class – are losing” if the tax system took some more out of the (few) rich and gave more to the 29m. In which case, what does “Class War” consist of, other than fighting for more progressive taxes? What are the policies of Class War?

“don – if 29m people are net beneficiaries of the benefits system, how do you square that with the idea that the wealthy are winning the class war?”

Because wages for low earners aren’t enough for people to be able to live with dignity, pay the rent or mortgage and support their family. Hence the income of low earners has to be topped up with benefits, and people have got into increasing amounts of debt.

The class warriors of the right haven’t just been trying to rig the tax system in their favour, or to cut benefits, but to reduce the ability of workers to secure higher wages through trade unions.

More on this from across the pond – http://robertreich.blogspot.com/2009/12/worrisome-thoughts-on-way-to-jobs.html

“Many Americans won’t be rehired unless they’re willing to settle for much lower wages and benefits. Today’s official unemployment numbers hide the extent to which Americans are already on this path. Among those with jobs, a large and growing number have had to accept lower pay as a condition for keeping them. Or they’ve lost higher-paying jobs and are now in a new ones that pays less.

Yet reducing unemployment by cutting wages merely exchanges one problem for another. We’ll get jobs back but have more people working for pay they consider inadequate, more working families at or near poverty, and widening inequality. The nation will also have a harder time restarting the economy because so many more Americans lack the money they need to buy all the goods and services the economy can produce.”

17. Luis Enrique

don – you misunderstand me, I wasn’t questioning the need for the govt to help low earnings, more asking whether it is accurate to say the rich have rigged the tax system in their favour, given the extent to which the system is already redistributive. But my main question was about what are the policies of class war, other than taxation, and you have given me one answer – increasing real wages via unionisation.

I can’t pretend to understand what determined the absolutely and relative incomes of, say, the bottom 2/3rds of the income distribution. Perhaps increasing worker power is one answer, although personally I’m nervous about it, because I don’t think unions always work in their members’ best interests. I don’t know what other policy options there are, other than familiar ideas like investment in education and skills. Protectionism? Industrial policy? What other policies are there that would help wage Class War?

Actually, Sunny, I agree with much of what you say in this, but I think you need a new lexicon to describe what you want- class war doesn’t really do it.

The problem is that, over time, Blair appropriated the soul of the Labour Party and sold it to the corporations and it is the resultant corporate/political axis that needs to be smashed if we are to progress.

So who do I vote for?

If you start class war, you immediately alienate those you are warring against – so you lose the rather important floating middle class vote for example (and also the so-called ‘White van man’ – working class people with aspirations who voted for Thatcher and then for Blair). Remember that most of these people are not in the 29 million cited.

You do not gain all the votes of those you claim to be warring for however. Whilst core vote may be hardened by class war, core vote does not (despite the fantasies of some left-wing idealogues) mean all of a class. Wierdly you might end up with say Labour hardening the well-meaning liberal middle class socialist vote without affecting the leakage of supposed core voters to the BNP because they do not want class war but their own concerns addressed. Remember that people do not vote because of their class (my grandparents were working-class East End Conservatives, and were not unique in that).

Another effect is that by launching class war you harden other party’s core votes also, so Conservatives will think twice about voting UKIP because of the ‘seventies rhetoric’ and Liberal Democrats may decide in all conscience that they cannot tactically vote for a Labour party with such ‘illiberal insticts’ as to make an issue of people’s backgrounds. This means a tactical advantage to other parties as they can concentrate on attracting new voters.

All in all, I think class war is a bad move, by any party. But then no-one accussed the current government of good political instincts did they?

How many bankers work in bankrupt, tax-payer sustained corporations? Not very many in the grand scheme of things. It is a fallacy to suggest that the entire financial industry is full of greedy, tax-payer funded fat cats. Thousands of people in the financial sector lost their jobs in the last two years, and yet you continue to pour scorn on the entire industry. I haven’t seen one public sector redudancy yet, even though public spending is at least half the reason our economy is in such terrible shape. Labour have again managed to drag the country into a financial nightmare, and when asked what they intend to do about it, they propose to raise £500m (if that) from taxing bankers. Pointless, populist propaganda.

@20 Gosh, what a lot of stupid stuff from Jed S!

“It is a fallacy to suggest that the entire financial industry is full of greedy, tax-payer funded fat cats.” It is a fallacy to suggest that anyone suggested that. The entire senior management of the financial industry, now that’s a different matter.

“public spending is at least half the reason our economy is in such terrible shape”

No baby, it ain’t. The financial sector’s fuck up is 100% of the reason. Don’t rewrite history on us, you economic illiterate. Public spending is in fact the only thing that has kept the economy afloat in the past 18 months, at a time when private sector investment has declined something like 30%.

Like Dave Semple I’m in favour of actual class war – but the problem with all these attempts to re-frame the Labour Party’s image is that they are all basically about spin not substance.

We do have 12 years of Labour government to judge them by during which time Gordon Brown was either in command or second in command from day one.

I don’t want Labour re-elected because people *think* they’ll redistribute wealth and reduce social problems I want an election result that *actually* helps redistribute wealth and reduce social problems.

I just don’t think principled politics is about helping war criminals get their image right, and much of Labour’s problems to date stem from the way many people think the party is more interested in what the press think than promoting a fairer society.

No baby, it ain’t. The financial sector’s fuck up is 100% of the reason. Don’t rewrite history on us, you economic illiterate. Public spending is in fact the only thing that has kept the economy afloat in the past 18 months, at a time when private sector investment has declined something like 30%.

Have you seen the size of the structural deficit?

Oh Sunny, after having agreed with you elsewhere I’m afraid I must now disagree. The Labour Party deliberately moved towards middle-class voters as nuLabour. Why? Because that’s where all the votes are. To move back towards the real ‘working class’ means moving back to the position of the totally unelectable Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. You can’t be serious – Michael Foot?!!!

But if you mean a war against rich people, that might work because only a few per cent of the population earn over £60K per annum. So like Hitler the Labour Party could whip up popular disgust against a small minority and it might work.

Apart from the obviously immoral connotations of such a crusade, there’s another problem. I once worked fin a company employing 300 people. The owner and managing director proudly posted his wage slip every month to show he only earned £60K per annum – quite a lot in the early 90s. However no-one could earn more than he did. That meant I couldn’t earn my dues for working 70 hours per week and driving 50,000 miles per annum – and accounting for a quarter of the company’s turnover from the projects I ran. So I left and went to a company where my efforts were rewarded, and so did others. Needless to say the company suffered and the owner had to sell out.

My point is that everyone benefits when high-flyers earn their dues. I’m not saying rewards should be insane, but it’s only in utopia that everyone earns the same no matter what they do. If I worked in utopia, I wouldn’t bother. Why should my qualifications, experience, creativity, contribution to company revenue and sheer hard work only mean I get the same as everyone else?

Incidentally at 60 years old, and with no prospect of retiring (ever – thanks to Gordon Brown robbing my hard-earned pension accounts), I still work 70 hours per week and I still produce more revenue than anyone else. I’m also one of those rich people you seek to bring down to size because I earn slightly over £60K.

#24

Not sure about Labour losing in 1983 because it was too allied to the working class. There are a number of reasons for Labour’s loss in 1983, but none of them had anything to do with that. Foot himself was very much middle-class & so were his pre-occupations.

I don’t subscribe to the “longest suicide note in history” meme, thinking the state of the Party in 1979 (with no suitable leader, Foot being probably the only person who could hold the Labour Party together and keep it surviving), the formation of the SDP, and the Falklands War had more to do with the loss than the manifesto, or indeed even presentational difficulties (Labour did after all make up 6 points during the course of the camapaign – if we were to do that next year we could end up winning a small outright majority). Nonetheless, even if you think unilateral disarmament played a bigger role in the defeat than I do, that was surely more of a middle-class preoccupation than a working-class one?

Oh, and I like the idea that the 50p tax band is equivalent to Auschwitz.

@7 – that Guardian reader profile is briiliant, absolutely brilliant

Unspoofable…

@15 Luis Enrique

Claude, for example, would probably still be writing…
What sort of argument is that?
You’re even presuming to know what I would be writing?
That’s the equivalent of me saying that John Rentoul and Luis Enrique, for example, would probably still say that the wealthy are being squeezed to fuck even if the top rate of tax was lowered to 30%. But that would be hideous, wouldn;t it?

the system is already redistributive.
Evidently not enough or not in the right way, or both.

Just for clarity, I am against the term “class war” and certain extreme interpretations of it. But I agree with donpaskini @10 when he says that the case is actually that sections of the right and the right-wing press engage in “class war” every day.

So here it is:
-more protection and less casualisation at work. No, you can’t do that.
-slightly higher tax for the top earners. No you can’t do that.
-decrease the wage differentials so that low earners can earn a bit more and feel more motivated and also spend more. No, you can;t do that.
– increase minimunm wage. Evil.

We, the low earners, are fucked basically.
What alternatives do the Rentoulians suggest, given that the trickle-down economic theories proved undisputably to be bollocks?

There is a problem with greed and you don;t have to be left wing or right wing to clock it.

I don;t know how old people on LC are, but for what it’s worth (that is zero), I’ll tell you my story. I remember very well 1999 when the minimum wage was introduced.

I was working as a waiter for £2-50 an hour. A pittance. Proper miserable wage. And that was alright compared to what I had been offered elsewhere, which was £2 or £2-20 if my memory’s correct.

So £2-50 an hour which was obviously absolute bullshit. I was asked to look smart and clean, shave, smile, take abuse from pissed-up customers, clean if necessary, and do a bit of unpaid overtime. If you asked to be paid for overtime you’d be branded a “moaner”, with a smile. I never did. But others did and I saw it.

When the NMW was brought in, I remember William Hague on TV literally acting like Reagan the girl from the Exorcist, predicting an economic collapse, saying that £3-60 an hour would be unsustainable.

My then boss, a very very nice chap to talk to and have a chinwag with, but to the right of John Redwood politically, was convinced they were gonna go bust and kept reciting from the CBI book that “this bloody socialist government is going to get unemployment through the roof” .

That never happened. Firms never went bust because of the minimum wage. Unemployment never went up £3-60 an hour proved more than sustainable for them though still nowhere near enough for people to survive, and 6 months later my boss bought his 18 year old kid a brand new car on his birthday.

That is just to say that there is a huge element of greed out there and that if you don’t fight for a bit of redistribution (no-one’s calling for the USSR here), they won’t just give it to you for Crimbo.

29. Luis Enrique

Claude @27

I have given you the wrong impression. All I meant to be saying was that a steepening of the gradient of the tax/benefits distribution probably wouldn’t be enough for those concerned about inequality and class warfare etc. to say “OK, everything is alright now, we can declare victory in the class war”, and I merely used you as an example of such a person because you’d made a preceding comment along those lines. I was trying to argue that there has to be more to class warfare than just pushing at the progressiveness of tax and benefits system; an argument I’d have thought you’d sympathize with. I certainly didn’t mean anything like: “and idiots like Claude would still be saying … ” if that’s what you thought (which is what I gather from you Rentoul example). Perhaps if you re-read what I wrote inferring a different tone on my part, you’ll see what I mean. (and I am wrong? would merely taking a bit more tax from the rich and spreading it over the 29m satisfy you?)

The problem with negative campaigning (and a ‘class war’ campaign would be an exclusively negative one) is that it defines you more than it does the opposition.

Rubbish. Any pollster will tell you this is rubbish. It just depends on how you do it.

To move back towards the real ‘working class’ means moving back to the position of the totally unelectable Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. You can’t be serious – Michael Foot?!!!

I’m not pining for the working classes in favour of the middle class. You misunderstand my article completely because by re-framing the debate you also bring in a host of middle class people who are annoyed at the sheer greediness of the financial industry and want a better economy.

My point is that everyone benefits when high-flyers earn their dues. I’m not saying rewards should be insane, but it’s only in utopia that everyone earns the same no matter what they do

I don’t have a problem with people earning around 60k. The issue here is about people who earn 100k – 150k plus.

As I said above, the public see the difference between the deserving and undeserving rich.

31. Luis Enrique

“The issue here is about people who earn 100k – 150k plus.”

I’m looking at you Alan Rusbridger, Polly Toynbee etc. Honestly, where the rage against undeserving media luvvies doing jobs you could hire somebody on £50k to do just as well?

Rubbish. Any pollster will tell you this is rubbish. It just depends on how you do it.

So, how did the ‘Demon Eyes’ campaign go? People don’t look to Labour to form their views on the Tories; they’ll listen to the Tories. That’s why the effective negative campaigns are best done at arm’s length – swift boating for example.

This is one of the reasons that Brown has been less effective as an anti-Tory politician than he was as an anti-Labour rival politician. ‘Treasury loses confidence in Milburn!’ is a much better headline that ‘Labour thinks Tories are a bit posh’. If you’re going to go negative, do it on ‘real’ things – like the Tories ‘Tax bombshell’ line, rather than concentrating on this fat cat posh bankers routine.

I had this published in the Glasgow Herald two weeks ago.

“It doesn’t matter what school any particular person went to: even Eton will produce the occasional outstanding individual. But when half the Shadow cabinet went to the same school at the same time, and then went to the same university at the same time, and while at university they were all members of the same club at the same time, and now we are supposed to swallow the argument that these half-a-dozen blokes that went to the same school, university, club at the same time are, by some miracle, the half-a-dozen people in the country best qualified to form the next government, it does stretch credulity a teeny bit, does it not, whether they went to Eton School or Gasworks Comprehensive? ”

At bottom, it’s not about class, it’s about credibility. And it strains credibility to believe that all the best politicians in the country have known each other since boyhood and are all rich kids who went to the same school and university and joined the same club.

The criteria for supporting this appalling line of attack appears to be effectiveness rather than acceptability. We need a class war as much as we need a race war. (i.e. not at all).

33 – three of the Shadow Cabinet were at Eton, out of 27. Of these, Sir George Young was there 15 years before Oliver Letwin, who in turn was there 10 years before David Cameron. Editorial standards at the Herald are obviously slipping.

#34

Of course the argument is about whether it is an effective means of attack or not. There is a class war going on: that much is reality. Whether it is more useful electorally for Labour to draw attention to it or to pretend it ended in 1997, and if the former option in what terms the debate should be couched, is the argument we are having.

Sunny, and others, I’m fairly non-political in that I’m not a member of a party nor an activist in any way. In fact until the last ten years politics was far from my mind; earning aliving and raising four kids was the priority. Therefore I’m just an ordinary member of the great, unwashed Britsh public. As such my impression of Michael Foot was of a shambling and incoherent man situated well to the left who wanted to smash capitalism – an outright lefty. Obviously I stand to be corrected, I know I’m wrong, but PR and spin are powerful weapons whoever uses them and I’m sure there are plenty of people with the same impression of Michael Foot.

Therefore stirring up a class war would be a gift to the Tories. They’ll spin it and the Labour Party will regret it. But, hey, people are so disallusioned you might not have to worry. The BNP, UKIP and LibDems could well split the Tory vote and Gordon might get back with a minority government although it’s hard to see who will share with them to form a majority.

Tim J: So, how did the ‘Demon Eyes’ campaign go?

The negative campaign has to enforce a narrative that resonates. That one didn’t. It hasn’t stopped Tories /media framing Brown as ‘mentally unstable’ or a ditherer has it? That is negative campaigning that works.

If you’re going to go negative, do it on ‘real’ things – like the Tories ‘Tax bombshell’ line, rather than concentrating on this fat cat posh bankers routine.

Clearly you didn’t read points 1 & 2 properly.

We need a class war as much as we need a race war.

Then perhaps you’d like to tell the right-wing media to hysterically stop claiming its happening?

Obviously I stand to be corrected, I know I’m wrong, but PR and spin are powerful weapons whoever uses them and I’m sure there are plenty of people with the same impression of Michael Foot.

And you get the impression from the modern Labour Party or what I say above that we want to smash capitalism is it?

I refer you to point 3.

Besides, the modern generation of voters have long forgotten Michael Foot. Hell, most have even forgotten Thatcher!

In fact – it seems none of my critics have actually read the article and are punching their keyboards furiously based simply on the headline.

@29 Luis Enrique
I get your clarification.

I agree the problem is not just one of taxation (if only it was that simple) and in fact I also mentioned issues related to casualisation, rights in the workplace and wage differentials.

38 – well, as Lee Griffin says this attack doesn’t seem to be resonating either. Attacking the Tories’ ‘privileged backgrounds’ when the deputy leader of your party is the niece of the Countess of Longford, and your Chancellor went to public school just looks ridiculous. What next, posters of cute widdle foxes saying ‘vote Labour or the fox gets it’? Oh wait, that actually happened in Norwich N. Good result there too.

The fact that Balls/Brown seem to agree with you that the best strategy is ‘cuts vs investment’ and ‘Tories = toffs’ is probably the reason that even Mandelson appears to have given up in despair. Core vote strategies sacrifice the middle ground, without securing the core.

On which basis, best of luck with the plans. They sound great.

Lee Griffin says this attack doesn’t seem to be resonating either.

The polls don’t hold up that narrative do they? As I point out in point 6 – since the fight over the economy has gotten into class war territory the polls have moved against Conservatives.

when the deputy leader of your party is the niece of the Countess of Longford

We’re talking about parties and general perceptions here, not individuals.

Oh wait, that actually happened in Norwich N. Good result there too.

Again, correlation is not causality. Norwich N and Crewe were going to go down anyway, regardless of the campaign tactic (in the former they actually eschewed overtly class politics compared to the latter – to no effect).

All you’re doing is repeating Tory truisms. Which I expect you to do. They don’t refute my points above though.

Have you really just used

The polls don’t hold up that narrative do they? As I point out in point 6 – since the fight over the economy has gotten into class war territory the polls have moved against Conservatives.

In direct conjunction with

correlation is not causality.

Impressive. Especially given the fact that Labour backed away from the ‘class war’ rhetoric five days after first launching it.

And your point on Harman is pretty weak too. If the attack is ‘the Tories are toffs’ and the response is ‘your deputy leader is posher than any of them’ you really can’t get away with saying ‘we’re not talking about personalities’. That’s precisely what you’re talking about. Labour isn’t the party of horny handed sons of toil anymore – it hasn’t been for fifty years.

Jeds@20 – £550m was a very conservative estimate, in fact it looks like the bonus supertax is going to raise more since many banks seem to want to pay bonuses rather than hold back and bolster their capital.

As far as public sector redundancies go, I know Norwich city council has had to make quite a few cutbacks, I wouldn’t be surprised if other local authorities have the same problem. It’s not true to pretend the public sector is not feeling the pain.

Sunny – I think an awful lot of people are misunderstanding (or in some cases misrepresenting) what’s being referred to as class war. I don’t think there’s much milage in focusing on the fact that someone went to Eton (or some other posh school) and I don’t think (with the exception of the odd comment) that’s what Labour’s doing.

Class war works very well as a political tactic provided you can get a large number of people identifying themselves with the class you are representing. The tabloid campaign on inheritance tax was a good example because an awful lot of people did genuinely feel that they were part of the “hard working middle class” that might be affected (even though it’s unlikely they would).

With Labour’s current class war I think the message they’re trying to get across is:

We know a lot of people are struggling and worrying about their jobs, we think these are the people we should be helping at this time. We think that the money we have can be put to far better use than providing tax cuts for millionaires.

Similarly on the banking super tax:

A lot of people can’t understand why despite everything that’s happened the massive bonuses are back. If the banks are going to pay these bonues, we think it’s only fair they pay a tax to help pay for the damage they’ve done.

I think both arguments have a fairly universal appeal that an awful lot of people will identify with. If Labour can get that kind of tone to it’s arguments then it’ll be a successful class war.

Its a class war the rich have been winning for the past 30 years. Even Warren Buffet has mentioned this. The pendulum has swung far to much in the uppers direction, it needs to come back down to Earth a bit.

Is whipping up hatred against wealthy minorities a wise idea?

How well did Crewe and Nants Tory Toffs campaign work?

Didnt’ Labour activists even slag off Bentley drivers despite the Bentley factory being in Crewe?

I’m very much in favour of Labour fighting the class war. More than any other tactic in the coming general election, this will ensure their annihilation from mainstream politics for at least a generation. Bring it on.

And just in case you were ever in any doubt about what an utter twat Brown is, look at these:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/gordon-brown/6828017/Gordon-Browns-3-rent-cheque-bounced-at-university-halls-of-residence.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8417520.stm

By the way, what class are Tony Blair, Shaun Woodward, Tony Benn and Quentin Davies? And Does David Cameron own more houses than Tony Blair? I think not. And finally, if “Labour should be fighting for small businesses and hard-working entrepreneurs across the country” why is it that the private sector has shrunk over the last twelve years while the public sector has mushroomed? The answer is BECAUSE the public sector has mushroomed. Small business have been driven out of business by taxation and asphyxiating red tape, and the civil service has grown by about 800,000 employees, all of whom will now have to be made redundant (whoever wins the next election) because the private sector is no longer large enough to fund the public sector and the crippling debt built up by this profligate government. Sooner or later all Labour governments run out of our money.

I don’t think all this has much to do with what school Cameron went to. Two maintained boys’ grammar schools within walking distance of where I sit gain better average A-level results than Eton. But I do believe this factor would influence decisions by a Conservative government:

“There has been mounting speculation in recent months about the personal wealth of the leading figures in the Conservative Party. Interest has heightened after the Tories announced that they would implement an austerity budget, slashing public services, if elected to Government. Research carried out last year by the News of the World recorded 19 millionaires in the Shadow Cabinet, giving some indication of the level of wealth at the top of the Conservative Party.”
http://timesbusiness.typepad.com/money_weblog/2009/11/10-wealthiest-tories.html

Precious few among the middle classes in Britain are millionaires. According to the recent ONS survey:

“households were worth an average of £204,500 in 2006-08. But the least wealthy half of households accounted for only 9% of wealth, while the richest 20% owned 62%.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/dec/10/ons-report-uk-wealth

Anyone who thinks that a few populist policies lashing out at plutocrats qualifies as a ‘class war’ needs to get out into the real world, frankly. Labour has never stood for ‘class war’ and never will.

Now, as far as emphasising policies that aim at the targets of popular rage rather than emphasising policies designed with ‘aspirational voters’ (whatever the Hell that means) goes… well, that’s just common sense right now. The swing voters have swung and will not swing back until they find themselves on the wrong end of the Tory axe. This leaves Labour will an obvious electoral problem, the only solution to which is to try to encourage more of the party’s weak supporters to go to the polls.

51. Alisdair Cameron

Britons are more fairminded than they are tolerant of naked greed

Perhaps, and much of what Sunny says has some merit, or would do if the last 12 years hadn’t seen New Labour demolish any credentials of genuinely standing for the poor, vulnerable or dispossessed, as opposed to remembering them just months before an election.
It’s the phoniness and insincerity, the taking of the poor and vulnerable to be f***ing gullible and belief any old shite, despite the lived evidence and experience of the winner-take-all model of economy Brown promoted.
Yes, the Tories are vile toffs, but Labour can no longer be properly trusted to have principles, and certainly lack credibility as class warriors. They might be the nearest thing among the major parties, but that doesn’t make them the real thing. It might be hypocritical, but the UK public loathes phoniness.

Here’s a thought, Sunny… why doesn’t Labour fight the election on positive grounds rather than simply slagging off bankers and toffs?

I’m Mr. Swing Voter, the kind of person Labour probably ought to be targetting. Who do you think is going to attract my vote: the party that tells me why I should vote FOR them or the party that tells me why I shouldn’t vote for the others? Labour needs to tell me what it is that’s so great about them instead of just flinging poo at the opposition. Negative campaigning isn’t effective and tends to backfire.

In any case, New Labour isn’t in any position to fight on the basis of class – the likes of Harriet Harman, Quentin Davies, Lord Mandelson and Shaun Woodward are hardly working class heroes.

One more thing: bashing bankers may seem very populist, and no doubt you relish it (many on the Left cannot resist being catty towards those who are more well off than they are) but consider that it is the bankers, and only the bankers, who can make good on all that cash that Brown and Darling splurged to prevent them going bust. Unless we want to see those billions of pounds frittered away, we need the bankers to succeed and pay back the bail out money. Taxing the hell out of them and bashing them in your manifesto doesn’t generally give them a great incentive to do that, Sunny.

@51
“the UK public loathes phoniness”…
Yes, so much that we elected the phoniest politician in history, Tony Blair, 3 times in a row.

Chi@52 – In any case, New Labour isn’t in any position to fight on the basis of class – the likes of Harriet Harman, Quentin Davies, Lord Mandelson and Shaun Woodward are hardly working class heroes.

It’s not about where you came from it’s about whose side your on.

@54

In that case class war is a really silly idea, since everyone is on the side of the voter. After all, the point of class war is a dividing line, but if you can’t clearly distinguish between Mr Cameron as a toff and Mr Brown as a, well as a figure from the Scottish upper middle class establishment, because their backgrounds are irrelevant, all you’ve got to go on is there pronouncements.

Try selling people the line that the man saying he will tax everyone who does well is on their side. I doubt it will win many votes.

56. Alisdair Cameron

@ Claude: read the first part of my sentence: it might be be hypocritical, but the Uk public loathes phoniness…In other words, some phonies are tolerated for however long, but once phoniness is exposed or becomes an issue, then it’s game over. .

Andreas@54

That’s facile. Labour has been attacking Cameron et al for their Etonian credentials purely and simply because of WHO they are, it has had nothing to do with whose “side” they’re on.

And in any case, New Labour’s track record hasn’t exactly been on the side of the working classes. Brown has been cosying up to the City for years, and only now has his moral compass suddenly spun 180. Nothing at all to do with the fact that the working classes have been deserting Labour in droves, of course.

Danny Blanchflower has a rather good article on the Tories’ ongoing class warfare:

http://www.newstatesman.com/economy/2009/12/public-sector-spending

Don, DAVID Blanchflower. You a fellow Spurs fan?

You mean there are two people called Blanchflower? Who knew? 🙂

@58

How is that about class warfare; it is a link to an article praising the PBR, and commenting on the inadvisability of cutting the state as the Conservatives propose (interestingly not mentioning that Labour are also committed to doing this but not until after the election – not biased in any way?).

Class warfare does not equal supporting or opposing a large state. There are perfectly valid arguments for small state socialism or large state capitalism (if we accept either of those as proxies for class warfare, which is probably unfair).

@57 – In the past maybe, but it didn’t work. The only comment that I can come accross when considering Labour’s recent class war is to say that Cameron’s inheritance policy “was dreamed up on the playing fields at Eton”, one fairly throwaway comment does not equal a new round of pointless toff bashing.

And no, it has everything to do with whose side your on. The Labour party is (for the most part) on the side of working people the Tories are on the side of millionaires. If you think that Labour has done nothing for the working classes in the last 12 years your’re a blinkered moron. Who do you think benefited from the improvements to schools and the improvements to the NHS. Who do you think benefits from child tax credit? and who do you think benefitted from the minimum wage?

@62

What improvements to schools and hospitals? I concede Labour has SPENT a lot of money on education and the NHS, but what actual tangible results has it had?

@61 He explains how public spending cuts now are a declaration of class warfare in the article: “George Osborne, in an interview in the Times, said that if the Tories were elected, they would cut public spending dramatically and quickly. This amounts to a declaration of class war.

Such lessons from a bygone era show no understanding of basic economics, have little or no relevance in 2009 and are utterly irresponsible. Social unrest, here we come. Efficiency savings are one thing, but fiscal retrenchment now would be a disaster for ordinary people.”

The Tories are proposing to cut the wages and/or sack millions of working and middle class people – if that’s not an example of class warfare, what is?

As for “(interestingly not mentioning that Labour are also committed to doing this but not until after the election – not biased in any way?)”, Blanchflower and most economists would draw a distinction between cutting now and waiting until the economy is recovering.

Labour should be fighting for small businesses and hard-working entrepreneurs across the country

Speaking as a hard-working entrepreneur, I’d laugh fit to bust if Labour ever represented itself as on the side of people like me.

Best stick to appealing to the unions. No-one else will believe you.

66. Luis Enrique

Don,

have a read of this

especially this bit:

The second challenge is over the balance within the cuts. The government has decided to protect aid, health and “frontline” schools. Given the rise in debt interest and social security spending, this guarantees deep cuts in defence, transport, housing and higher education, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out. Yet this is irrational. It implies that spending on health and schools, at the margin, was much more valuable than in other areas, before the crisis. A better approach would be cuts across the board, but focused on the wage bill and poorly-targeted benefits.

there is probably scope to choose a higher level of taxes and a lower level of cuts (when they come) but I don’t think cuts can be escaped.

So, in the context of a discussion about class war, if the left wants to wage one, where do the cuts come? If Martin Wolf is right, protecting front line services and avoiding cuts in housing, transports etc. can only be done by cutting wages in the public sector. How nuanced can a class war message be? Could the left accept that need for wage cuts in the public sector and still fight the class war? How can the class war be adapted to suit the current circumstance of inevitable fiscal tightening?

Hi Luis,

“So, in the context of a discussion about class war, if the left wants to wage one, where do the cuts come? If Martin Wolf is right, protecting front line services and avoiding cuts in housing, transports etc. can only be done by cutting wages in the public sector. How nuanced can a class war message be? Could the left accept that need for wage cuts in the public sector and still fight the class war? How can the class war be adapted to suit the current circumstance of inevitable fiscal tightening?”

Firstly, I don’t think the left should aim to wage class war. It should seek to make people aware that the Right is waging (and is planning to intensify) a class war, and to stick up for the working and middle class people who the Right is planning to attack.

In terms of how to reduce the deficit, I’d suggest taking the “easy” cuts – pull out of Afghanistan, cancel Trident, scrap ID cards and other vanity projects. Some wage cuts in the public sector, targeted at higher earners more than those earning the average or below.

And I think that “corporate welfare” is an area which could do with greater examination, as so much public money these days is in fact given to the private sector.

For example, thanks exclusively to public money which is meant to help unemployed people get jobs, Emma Harrison of A4e lives in a mansion and is “worth” £35 million. In a time of austerity, can we afford this kind of largesse? Can we afford to pay buy-to-let landlords tens of thousands to house homeless families?

68. Luis Enrique

Don, thanks for response. I would also like more attention to be paid to corporate welfare. It’s a great area for investigative journalism.

@63

“What improvements to schools and hospitals? I concede Labour has SPENT a lot of money on education and the NHS, but what actual tangible results has it had?”

It has had many effects.

Bringing the hospitals and school buildings up to modern standards instead of leaving them run down and leaking and depressing to use and difficult to maintain.

More doctors, nurses, teachers and all better paid.

More ancilliary staff including classroom assistants.

More and better nursery provision for more children.

Specific improvements in waiting lists and waiting times in hospitals.

Improved survival rates for some cancers

Better equipped schools.

Improved exam results.

More youngsters in university education and tertiary education.

probably more that I can’t think of at the moment.

In short, a better society (remember, that of which “there is no such thing…”?).

Now repeat after me “What have the Romans ever done for us….”

“And I think that “corporate welfare” is an area which could do with greater examination, as so much public money these days is in fact given to the private sector.”

Agreed, this is something that libertarians and the Left can unite on.

Don@67

Agreed. Every word.

With regards to the comments made by 67 & the responses, let us bear in mind the unwieldy farm & fishing subsidies system to which a scalpel was taken by Graham “Killing Of The Countryside” Harvey & Charles “End Of The Line” Clover. These things often go overlooked, but certainly should be paid attention to when we discuss things that should be binned, as they in fact did in New Zealand.

It would of course deliver environmental benefits as industrial “farming” is to a large extent propped up by the taxpayer, given the huge costs it entails, which agribusiness generally can’t pay for.

You’re very right, donpaskini, to further say that the money spent on ill thought out welfare to work schemes is actually far more than the dole. It seems to appeal to people’s vindictive instincts against those who have the temerity to be out of work, rather than any desire to get people into sustainable jobs. But we find ourselves spending a fortune on little or nothing.

You actually could make a bonfire of right-wing government spending inspired by the tabloids rather than any kind of sensible policy-making. I am not one of the Chris Dillow fan club, but he is right to say that a smaller state can often be more progressive, not less. But this is all to be fleshed out some other time- as I usually work on the early shift this is exceptionally late at night for me & I’m not feeling it right now!

Let us continue talking along these lines.


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