Why Labour is right to put pressure on Hunt and ignore the economy (for now)


by Sunny Hundal    
4:44 pm - April 30th 2012

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The Prime Minister has finished trying to explain himself to MPs and answer questions (I say that very loosely) on the Jeremy Hunt affair. Labour aren’t letting go and are positive that Ministerial rules have been broken.

But shouldn’t Labour focus on the economy with local elections coming up? For example, Mark Ferguson says: ‘Hunt is good political theatre, but outside Westminster – who cares?.

I disagree because this issue captures Labour’s case against this government.

The heart of Labour’s attack on the Conservatives is that they are “out of touch”. Read any press release from last year and you’ll be guaranteed to see that phrase in 9 out of 10 Labour statements. If you want to frame your opponents you have to keep repeating the accusation.

Rather usefully, the Conservatives have fallen straight into that narrative and instead of detoxifying their brand in power now look even more out of touch.

The Labour argument works on two levels: one the surface it says Tories are ignoring the concerns of the ‘squeezed middle’ and focus instead on appeasing City hedge-fund managers.

But the argument also works on a more subtle, sub-concious level. It signals that the Conservatives are so used to only being concerned with the interests of the upper-classes, that they cannot even possibly fathom how most of the country lives.

Whether you agree with the merits of that attack, it only works if people believe it. Thanks to Tory incompetence on the economy, and their blind belief in supply-side economics that hasn’t worked, people now believe it.

During his questions to the PM today, Ed Miliband said the Prime Minister should, “stand up for families, not the rich and powerful”.

And this goes to the heart of why Labour is pursuing attacks on Jeremy Hunt and why they will continue. The Jeremy Hunt affair is another example of senior ministers working in collusion with their rich friends to approve deals, while letting the economy going to pot.

It relates to the economy because it falls into the same pattern: of a government more interested in helping their rich friends than doing the right thing and being fair.

The Labour charge isn’t just about basic competence and fairness as ministers, it is also about bias towards the rich and powerful.

For Labour it applies to the economy as well as other areas. And that’s why they’ll continue pursuing this affair.

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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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Reader comments


Also, concentrating on Hunt and the Murdoch connection allows the impression of sleaze to settle on the Government. Nothing was more corrosive to John Major’s administration than the accusation of sleaze, because once made and then reinforced by a few examples, it stayed there.

And Cameron is starting to get flaky under questioning. Last Wednesday at PMQs he was angry and ineffective, and trying to bat everything at Leveson won’t work. As I already posted:

http://zelo.tv/IZEBgk

Leveson has already told him that Hunt is not his problem. The only reason he is pushing this onto Leveson is to buy time and hope that it all goes away.

This comment from LabourList sums it up for me.

‘The public don’t trust any of the politicians. They are all in it for themselves. As an ordinary person, I can tell you I could not care less about all this pantomime. Hunt should resign, but he will do what they all seem to do when they are caught out, they cling on to the death and that includes Labour. Lib/Dem politicians as well.

People are worried about their jobs, about paying their mortgage, about feeding their families and the state of the economy..

We don’t want politicians wasting time debating this, or House of Lords reforms or gay marriage either. These are not urgent priorities for most people. We would like to see them all working together for the good of the country and getting us out of the mess we are in. We would like them really working to get the economy growing, not just scoring political points but that will never happen sadly.

Is it any wonder we are all disillusioned with the lot of them.! They behave like silly, squabbling children and should be ashamed of themselves.’

The Westminster Village (particularly the press pack who are obsessed with themselves) are the people out of touch.

3. Albert Spangler

@2

All these things are issues because our system is not representative and people are misled, particularly by the media.

This is what baffles me. People get annoyed with politicians because they don’t listen. Yet when systems are on the table to force them to listen, they’re derided as ‘not important’ because people have ‘bigger concerns’. Those bigger concerns are the whole reason why the system needs change, so those concerns can be addressed!

What on earth do you expect them to do? Is your local MP supposed to go get your shopping? Your Councillor supposed to pick your kids up from school? The whole system stinks because it’s easier to not care and say ‘they’re all the same’, rather than actually try to think and engage. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

@3 Albert

Quite so. Much of the public cynicism can be attributed to the way politics is covered in the press, and ironically Murdoch is largely responsible for this too!

Isn’t Labour made up of a great many individuals? You would think that ‘Labour’ could put pressure on Hunt AND tackle other issues like the economy. Has Ed Balls dropped the economy in favour of Hunt too?
Or am I making that mistake of thinking that the labour party works together toward a common purpose rather than haring off after whatever bandwagon passes again?

6. douglas clark

I have become interested in the idea of an electorate being able to recall their representative. It appears to me to be a yawning gap in the democratic process. Hunt should be subject to a, say, 20%, re-election plebicite. Much the same applies to Eric Joyce MP and headbanger. It would be reasonable, that that challenge should only be available once in a parliamentary session? But turkeys won’t vote for Christmas, so what’s to be done?

If he is as guilty as is claimed, then he is unfit to continue in office, and that office is fundamentally as an elected representative. I also think that the bar for continuing to sit in parliament after criminal proceedings have shown guilt is set at a ridiculously high level. The aforesaid Mr Joyce has disgraced both himself and the party he represents. He should be subject to an automatic recall. However, that is not the case. Why not?

7. Albert Spangler

@4

It annoys me because it means I end up coming to the defense of politicians, and I really hate doing that. I quite agree that our politicians are an increasingly stagnant, elitist and vague incestuous group of people who are too far removed from day to day life to fully understand the importance of what they do and how it affects people.

That doesn’t mean that those who campaign and work tirelessly to defend what they care about or stand up for what they believe is right and are trying to do their best by others should be lumped in with those who have some kind of power trip or want access to a career or money.

And Murdoch et al are the worst for propagating this type of view as you say… Maybe that’s why they do it? Make it seem like any attempt at changing any kind of political system is futile and self serving so it’s easier to disregard change, and so they get to hang around for longer?

It’s also probably why we go a no vote on AV, and why we’ll probably get a no vote on Mayors. I half suspect people are so automatically “no” they don’t even care about the question.

8. douglas clark

Albert Spangler,

As a member of the SNP, I hope this is wrong:

I half suspect people are so automatically “no” they don’t even care about the question.

9. margin4error

The Murdoch story works well for labour on so many levels. It is of course wonderfully easy to pretend this is tittle tattle that the public don’t care about – but that in itself is such an out-of-touch view of the world we live in it’s unreal.

To kid themselves that the great British public don’t care about a political scandal that takes in the Sun and their Sky boxes is incredible of those claiming it.

And to kid themselves that the great British public are not interested in the social lives and relationships of their aristocratic betters is even more absurd – given the increasing number of pages in most newspapers and their inserted magazines that are dedicated to the lives of the elite (all be it – generally a prettier elite than Mssrs Cameron and Osborne)

To have all that against a backdrop of the Tories wrecking our economic recovery – and framed by the notion of favours and dodgy deals – is why Labour now have a double digit lead in the polls going into important local elections.

10. Barrie J

Albert

I appreciate entirely what you are saying and it would be very difficult to disagree with any of it.

Prior to the ‘Expenses Scandal’ I wrote to my MP enquiring about the ever increasing cost of running Parliament and specifically the cost of MPs.

In reply; apart from grudgingly informing me that an MP earned £45k in 1997 (allowing me to work out they have enjoyed a salary increase of 68%) he told me that: “he was not my unpaid researcher and what I needed to know I could find out for myself”.
Further, HMRC regarded him as self employed, not an employee of the tax payer.
The ensuing ‘scandal’ revealed the reasons for his reluctance to furnish me with any extra detail.

Despite that, he was pivotal in ensuring that there was no further action taken against ‘house swappers’ (he was one) and he continues to enjoy the trappings of high office.
I feel now there is little or no point in writing to him over any issue, I won’t be voting for him but in one of the country’s safest seat, what does he care?
He’s won.

As an ex member of the Labour party and an ex Labour voter I have personally known two Labour MPs, they both hated their constituents, thinking them moronic and tedious.

Where do we go from here?

How many times have you heard a newscaster say “we approached the Minister/Ministry of Greed and Self Interest for a comment but no one was available”, it’s almost daily.
They only appear when it’s in their interest or when they can be guaranteed a soft interview by the utterly vacous Andrew Marr – how many times did he interview Blair?

I don’t trust politicians, I don’t trust the ballot box, I don’t trust the police, judiciary or any office of state and I have every reason not to..
My adult children know my views as will my grandchildren, lest they be taken in by lies and weasel words.
I didn’t need Murdoch or any of our media/right wing press to help me form an opinion, daily life did that.
Similarly, I don’t need the government spinning crime/waiting lists/
inflation/unemployment/etc.,etc., I can see their failure for myself.
If I thought marching on Westminster with a banner would bring any change other than a thorough ‘lathering’ by our boys and girls in blue I would.

Sorry to appear so negative.

Ok, so maybe Labour get a few points in the polls from repeating this “out of touch” mantra over and over again. But how long does this tactic prove fruitful? There is more to come out of the Leveson enquiry; much of it could backfire on Labour. Furthermore, does everyone remember Millibots “These strikes are wrong” phrase, which he repeated over and over until everyone wanted to punch him? Labour’s obsession with simply repeating a line over and over again is embarrassingly shallow, and would benefit hugely from some kind of general political alternative.

12. Albert Spangler

@10

Dear god, please don’t apologise. If anything, travesties of democracy like the ones you have highlighted are the reason why we need greater engagement. I have found myself recently actually for some reason *wanting* to vote for Labour, yet couldn’t because the local candidate and party were so corrupt that I felt ashamed even having to read his name on the voting list.

What I have opted to do instead is try to help candidates I actually think are relatively decent in areas that need them. I try to do it on a candidate by candidate basis, looking at voting records if they are MP’s, and if they are Councillors trying to find out more about what goes on with them. I have the odd and seemingly self defeating habit of voting green in my own area and campaigning for Labour in another, again because I know the green candidate is a decent person (and won’t split the vote since it’s a Labour safe seat), and the Labour candidate will help kick out an utterly useless Tory in another area.

I didn’t mean to imply that all negative views were down to the media, just that they exacerbate the feeling of futility in dealing with the political system. One thing I refuse to do, for as long as I have the ability, is to let these people get off easily. The moment I give up is the moment they win. Even if all I do is mildly irritate some pompous self serving careerist, that will give my rather petty political activism a glimmer of satisfaction.

If you have any reason to care about what some anonymous commentator on the internet has to say about anything, I would say that it’s worth finding people who share your values within the party, somewhere. The problem is, you can leave the party, but the party will stay and won’t even have the benefit of your principles. This is what I believe happened to New Labour, so much of those who had principles and beliefs were forced out that there was a kind of brain drain resulting in the continual political uniform blandness we have now. What’s worse is we don’t have a choice, now the Lib Dems have shown what kind of political alternative they are.

@8

To be honest, I hope Scotland doesn’t vote yes for very selfish reasons. Having said that, if I had a referendum on getting Cameron’s vapid, fat, plasticine face off the television screen, I know which way I’d be voting. It will be very interesting to see which way it goes.

13. margin4error

Sam

Labour’s communication has been pathetically shoddy over the last couple of years – and as I post repeatedly – this is largely because Labour is staffed by a bunch of incompetent idiots hired because they are good Labour people (ie they were born to, have previously worked for, or have slept with, leading labour figures and their pals) rather than because they have even the remotest experience of the kind of work they are employed to do.

However – don’t imagine that a narrative is not an aim in itself. The narrative establishing itself at the moment isn’t just ‘out of touch’ but is that our country is being run by a bunch of mates for a bunch of mates. If Labour gets this right over the next couple of months – then every time something goes wrong for government – be it their horrendous handling of our economy, or some ridiculous scandal or another, or whatever – that narrative serves as a potent explanation of what is wrong with this government and why the public should change them.

This is a crucial few months for Labour and the Tories – and mere mid-term poll ratings are nothing to do with it.

14. douglas clark

Albert Spangler @ 12,

Thanks for the reply.

This will go down like a ton of bricks here, but Hollyrood is a microcosm of all that is wrong with Labour. The Labour folk that are elected there are not of the first order, these folk tend to occupy Westminster seats. But they do show the lack of depth available to the Labour movement. We have a shadow First Minister, Johann Lamont, that is so often just wrong that it is embarrasing. So too, with many other Labour MSPs.

For example, it would appear reasonable to argue that the new Forth crossing should be built with Scottish steel. And so Johann Lamont argues. Unfortunately, no Scottish company actually bid for the contract. Possibly because they were incapable of doing so. Because we have no manufacturing capability for that sort of steel.

Or, whenever the First Minister announces some growth in jobs, the entire Labour opposition appears to think he has announced that the black death is about to wipe us all out. It is as if any good news about Scotlands prospects are an evil conspiracy against Labour.

There is a visceral hatred of independence amongst many elected and Lordly Labour politicians. I can only assume that that is down to self interest. I do not believe, for one minute, that it is a considered position based on a balanced judgement of the facts.

15. Chaise Guevara

Albert Spangler @3 FTW

Hmm…go after Hunt? Why not stand up and say that welfare/NHS cuts are wrong, wrong, wrong (when people are starting to suffer)? That’s what I want to see, even if Condem cosiness with rich elites chimes.

17. margin4error

rentergirl

Thing is – what you really want is, presumably, a different government that doesn’t slash welfare and cut the NHS. What Labour says is thus about getting to be that different government. And while we all suffer from a rather myopic desire to believe that what we like is what everyone likes (just look at Redwood, who thinks the public are crying out for massive tax cuts for business and bigger cuts to the state) – sometimes we should consider that what is said is less important than what is achieved.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Charlotte Henry

    To be fair to @sunny_hundal this is the best explanation yet of why Labour have gone Hunting: http://t.co/Jh3cRUqj

  2. sunny hundal

    To be fair to @sunny_hundal this is the best explanation yet of why Labour have gone Hunting: http://t.co/Jh3cRUqj

  3. Terri Bennett

    To be fair to @sunny_hundal this is the best explanation yet of why Labour have gone Hunting: http://t.co/Jh3cRUqj

  4. Liza Harding

    To be fair to @sunny_hundal this is the best explanation yet of why Labour have gone Hunting: http://t.co/Jh3cRUqj

  5. Foxy52

    To be fair to @sunny_hundal this is the best explanation yet of why Labour have gone Hunting: http://t.co/Jh3cRUqj

  6. eileen

    To be fair to @sunny_hundal this is the best explanation yet of why Labour have gone Hunting: http://t.co/Jh3cRUqj

  7. Foxy52

    Why I think Labour is right to put pressure on Hunt and ignore the economy (for now) http://t.co/cQTup6jf

  8. Aidan Smith

    "@sunny_hundal: Why I think Labour is right to put pressure on Hunt and ignore the economy (for now) http://t.co/aYbkDAVa" Good assessment.

  9. BevR

    Why Labour is right to put pressure on Hunt and ignore the economy (for now) | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/iVDzow5b via @libcon

  10. BevR

    Why Labour is right to put pressure on Hunt and ignore the economy (for now) http://t.co/iVDzow5b via @libcon

  11. sunny hundal

    ICYMI last night – Why I think Labour is right to keep up pressure on Jeremy Hunt affair, rather than the economy http://t.co/QAw5NCVX

  12. Natacha Kennedy

    ICYMI last night – Why I think Labour is right to keep up pressure on Jeremy Hunt affair, rather than the economy http://t.co/QAw5NCVX

  13. spartacus303

    ICYMI last night – Why I think Labour is right to keep up pressure on Jeremy Hunt affair, rather than the economy http://t.co/QAw5NCVX

  14. Pete Bowyer

    http://t.co/Pl6pTpCA < D'oh! @libcon's new election mantra, "It's the Westminster Village, Stupid!"

  15. It’s the economy stupid….. «

    [...] Sunny Hundal and Mark Ferguson have both come up with different answers to this question. Personally, I was a bit aghast that, at the last Prime Ministers Questions before a crucial set of elections, Ed Miliband split his questions 4/3 in favour of Jeremy Hunt on the day it was officially confirmed Britain was back in recession. I agree more with Mark than Sunny. Sunny’s basic premise is that Labour is right to focus on Hunt because; this issue captures Labour’s case against this government. [...]





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