Labour’s fight for the South should start with women and lower-income voters


12:30 pm - November 10th 2010

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contribution by Tom Gann

The recent pamphlet by think-tank Policy Network, ‘Southern Discomfort Again‘, repeats the orthodoxy that left us with just 10 seats in the South by emphasising the anxieties and aspirations of “Middle Britain”.

But it misses the possibility of Labour organising an election winning force in the South by mobilising two groups we have failed with: women and DE non-voters, especially against the Coalition’s cuts.

This requires the leadership to be braver than they have been.

Based on the opinion polls and Radice and Diamond’s definition of what it is to be Southern (anxious about your and your family’s future, suspicious of political parties), women are more “Southern” than men in the South.

The leadership’s cowardice is most harmful in not linking Tory attacks on child benefit to their attacks on the benefits the poorest (often women) rely on. Campaigns to protect Sure Start’s universality would be one priority.

We need to expose what is unsaid when we are attacked for defending child benefit, that is, the presumption that we must chose which group of women (comfortably off or poor) pay for the crisis.

It may seem utopian to argue that we can build women’s solidarity across class but there is already evidence that women in general oppose the coalition’s cuts much more than men.

Ed Miliband has also been able to grasp the importance of re-engaging DE voters. He has written about the widening gap between AB and DE turnout from 13% in 1997 to 19% in 2010, noting that had we performed as well among DE voters as in 1997 we would have held at least 40 more seats, including Stroud and Hastings.

In the South, due to high average wages, people lose entitlement to means-tested benefits while feeling poor in relation to their neighbours, making it a prime example of Tony Judt’s diagnosis of how the lack of a comprehensive welfare state undermines solidarity between the middle and working classes and respect for the state.

This is why we need to defend the universality of benefits and local services. Labour have been cowardly in their defence of universal welfare, enabling the Tories to present us as defending unnecessary payments to the already comfortable.

Furthermore, the possibility of immigrant and non-immigrant workers campaigning together for better wages (a living wage) could undermine anti-immigrant feeling in the South, stemming from the belief held by 61% of voters (and 68% of lost Labour voters) that immigrants undercut wages.

The aim of a living wage campaign is to shift the antagonism from one between non-immigrant worker and immigrant worker to one between labour and capital.

Labour must understand how working class depoliticisation, low levels of union membership and, in most of the South, very few councillors means we have little organic connection with those we seek to represent.

In order to gain the right to speak to and for the Southern working classes our campaigns have to start there first.

—-
Tom Gann was Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Salisbury. He blogs as part of The Partisan collective

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Reader comments


“In the South, due to high average wages, people lose entitlement to means-tested benefits while feeling poor in relation to their neighbours”

which benefits do you have in mind? if you are talking about things like tax credits, they cannot be made “universal” by definition.

I was going to suggest starting with men and millionaires.

@Luis Enrique When campaigning in Salisbury, the biggest resentment was over care for the elderly, but there was also quite a lot of anger about means-testing of housing and council tax benefits for the disabled.

Tax Credits, as you say can’t be made universal, but they’re part of picture that, as Radice and Diamond say, leads to people feeling they work hard but get nothing from government. They, it seems, want a more punitive welfare system, I would argue a living wage, defence of universal benefits that still exist and rolling out a national care service would be superior.

If it’s not vulgar to use this to plug other stuff, I’ve written in more detail on this at http://labourpartisan.blogspot.com/2010/06/labours-southern-question.html and http://labourpartisan.blogspot.com/2010/11/labours-southern-question-again-reply.html

@cjcjc I presume you haven’t read Radice and Diamond, that seems to be what they’re arguing.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  2. The Partisan

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  8. Naadir Jeewa

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  9. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @libcon: Labour’s fight for the South should start with women and lower-income voters http://bit.ly/br3AMO

  10. Wendy Maddox

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