A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Wrong Kind of Seats

My old comrade from the Labour Coordinating Committee Executive, Neal Lawson, reveals in today's Guardian that his disillusion with New Labour set in even earlier than I had realised:

"My first doubts crept in as early as election day in May 1997. I was crunching up long gravel drives in Enfield Southgate, where rumours abounded that no-hoper Stephen Twigg might oust Michael Portillo. After passing BMWs and Mercs I was met by enthusiastic upper-middle-class families who were "all for Tony Blair here". We were going to win, but what did we have to sacrifice to have these people in our tent?"

Of course, the kind of Guardianista chatterati demographic that backs Compass-style left politics are actually quite often "upper-middle-class" themselves. But they would never do anything as crass or nouveau riche as having crunchy "long gravel drives", driving BMWs or Mercs, or living in the kind of places like Enfield Southgate that only go Labour when we win elections.

No, no, no. "Good" upper-middle-class people whose votes Compass wants because Labour got them before 1997 have far too much taste for that. They live in town houses in Kentish Town, or Barnsbury, or Hampstead, or Highgate Village, or maybe if they are a bit younger and have only just sold their shares in LLM Communications, they might make do with somewhere a bit edgier in the inner city. They drive people carriers or Volvos and buy their foccacia at Fresh & Wild. Their drives are definitely not crunchy.

The funny thing is, the 1997 manifesto and campaign were never intended to appeal to Enfield Southgate. They weren't even targeted at Enfield North. They were very carefully calibrated to appeal to swing voters in the 70 key seats that Labour needed to form a majority - Edmonton, Mitcham & Morden, Hayes & Harlington, Brentford & Isleworth, those kind of places. Gritty places with lots of Sun readers concerned about tax, crime and defence - and not many crunchy long gravel drives. That that 1997 programme turned out to be wildly popular with all demographics, from the crunchy drive set to people in council flats, was accident, not fiendish Blairite design.

Where would Neal draw the line? He must be relieved we don't hold Putney, Wimbledon and Enfield Southgate now, but why stop there? Shall we get Compass to tell the voters in Dorset South, or Hastings & Rye, or Hove that Labour doesn't want their votes either? And as for Basildon, Harlow or Crawley ... I doubt they have branches of Fresh & Wild ... and I expect they do have a lot of people who aspire to own BMWs.

Can anyone imagine that a Tory - any Tory even the most Heathite Wet or most extreme rightwinger - writing the counterpoint to Lawson's words:

"But first a confession. I was a Thatcherite. Back in 1975, I believed she was serious about new politics, communities and Europe. More fool me. My first doubts crept in as early as election day in 1983. I was staggering up tower block staircases in Edmonton, where rumours abounded that no-hoper Ian Twinn might oust Ted Graham. After passing graffiti and piss on the staircase I was met by enthusiastic working class families who were "all for Maggie here", having done right-to-buy on their council flats. We were going to win, but what did we have to sacrifice to have these people in our tent?"

No they wouldn't. Because unlike Lawson and Compass the Tories at that time knew that if you don't seek to win the votes of every possible voter, sooner or later you are out of power and can do nothing for your core vote or anyone else. They forgot that lesson and are only just relearning it.

Lawson wants Labour to make the same mistake. But he won't get his way because Brown wants to win, not lose, the next election. Neal knows that, hence his squeals of betrayal before Brown has even got into No10. Game over, Neal.

44 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neal lawson is a waste of space.

I am surprised you could even be bothered to respond to his delusional warblings.

Plus he has no discipline. He was meant to be in Welyn Hatfield that day.

9:55 am, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous lefty said...

Responding to a load of lazy demographic stereotyping with another load of lazy demographic stereotyping.

Top stuff.

9:59 am, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

I think that there is a fundamental and long term excercise for the whole Labour movement to undertake an attempt to honestly analysis the issues and lessons around 'what we had to do with New Labour to recreate the slightest chance of ever being voted back into Government'.

The problem is that the need for this excercise is mired in tribal accusations that New Labour betraying the party/socialism, and in the more current traumas over the post-Iraq scenario (that people like me just cannot excuse or forgive Blair for). Many people seem to prefer the static comfort zone of accussions and division - as opposed to analysis, learning and application.

But I can recall the dark days of Callaghan onwards when we seriously reached a situation where the very survival of the Labour Party was a matter of debate. I can certainly remember going about leafy suburbs in North London where most middle class types really openly despised you if they thought you were somehow connected with Labour.

So there are a lot of people who are now malcontents over New Labour and who seem to have forgotten (or never experienced) the awful reality of the likes of dingy, cold and near-empty meeting rooms in Camden Town populated by what seemed to be an irrelevant and fast decling rump of Labour activists... and meetings and motions of utter irrelevance to the voting public.

Some time, the Labour movement has to square up in a mature way to the issues and challenges around what you have to do to get into power and at the same time retain some sort of ideological and political compass (mind you... are we still allowed ideology?)

10:19 am, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was going to make the same point as the first comment. What on earth was he doing in Enfield Southgate anyway? he should have been in a key seat. The tosser.

10:46 am, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger grimupnorth said...

I think Neal Lawson's piece is excellent and he is right.I am now going to lobby him to put pressure on the Compass MPs to nominate John McDonnell. If Compass don't do that, then yes they are a waste of space. Wringing of hands is not an option. NB: Diane Abbott is now on the list of endorsers for John.

11:39 am, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Chris Paul said...

Neal Lawson may or may not be a waste of space but the argumentative Luke is not telling the full story. The New-Labourification and the persistent and cunning triangulation has done and will do damage in safe Labour seats. It has and will help the Libs take seats from us. It has and will even help Tories get footholds back in no-go Town Halls. Help nationalists and even Tories do better in the home dominions. It is NOT sustainable. Bubbles of whatever surface tension tend eventually to burst. The bubble of triangulation is beginning to bulge and to sing that all is not right in the world of tribal Labour. Tribal Libs and Tribal Don't Votes are eating away at our very core.

PS There is a snatch of Neal in Blair's triumphant election day vid at BBC. He looks a worried man. In a "what have we done" kinda way.

12:05 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Sham said...

A fantastic analysis, Luke.

As always, the biggest carping comes from those smug, Metropolitan Liberals - like Mr Lawson - who can "afford" to live under a Tory government, people whose jobs wouldn't be under threat if Labour lost power, individuals who have the time and arrogance to talk ad nauseum about issues which have no relevance to the majority of Labour voters but make them feel good.

It is not just the upper-class, rich Enfield Southgate Labour voters that the Lawsonites have contempt for but the poor, Sun reading working-class Hackney Labour voters as well.

12:23 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"mind you... are we still allowed ideology?"

No.

12:37 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous go now blair said...

sham, that is the biggest load of crap I have ever read. Carping at metropolitan liberals just makes you sound like a Nick Ferrari wannabe. The chattering classes of large inner London Georgian terraces were the founding class of New Labour, not those struggling to roll it back.

I am a Hackney resident, not often a Sun reader I grant you, on a below average wage in an area of the public services which is suffering swingeing cuts under New Labour.

I and other working class people in Hackney do not want more Blairism. Many have stopped voting Labour (and now stay at home) and they want their Labour Party back.

12:57 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous broon said...

I'm with Chris Paul on this one. Lawson may come out with some daft things, but there's no point burying our heads in the sand and pretending that there's not a problem with current strategy.

1:00 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Dear "go now Blair" - your voting behaviour must be the exception rather than the rule in Hackney because 12 months ago Labour got one of its best council results in the country here. Even Diane Abbott has publicly stated her surprise at the extent to which working class voters - particularly council tenants and BME voters - remain enthusiastic about Labour and pleased by what the government has done for their community.

The hard work behind New Labour came out of working class communities in County Durham and Tyneside, Mitcham and Fife - the middle class Guardianistas were Bennites or SDP in the '80s, Blairite for 5 minutes in the '90s and are now scattered as Trots, Lib Dems and Cameroons. They are an unreliable class of political dilettantes who play games that other poorer people's jobs and services are the victims of.

1:11 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous go now blair said...

Luke, that is a funny way of interpreting the effort put in by everyone in Hackney North last year, including several councillors who would never regard themselves as New Labour. I'd suggest that the councils who most distance themselves from the leadership are often those most likely to be successful.

Look at the trends in votes at GEs for Hackney North and South for a more accurate picture.

3:05 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

The point I am making is that whilst there is evidence that middle class voters get excited by, for instance, Iraq, and stop voting Labour because of it, people whose lives are more immediately affected by the performance of the economy and public services vote on those, and are still voting Labour because there is nothing to complain about and a lot to celebrate about both. I'm not saying there aren't loads of working class voters who disagree with the war - they just can't afford to ditch Labour because of it because they have too much to lose financially and in terms of services if Labour gets kicked out.

Whilst I accept most of my council colleagues would not self define as "New Labour", the vast majority buy into a strategy for the council which is implicitly moderate and sensible and those that are on the GC tend to vote against the hard left on every issue except Iraq.

I don't use the phrase "New Labour" to mean ultras obsessed with marketisation of public services. I use it to mean pragmatic and interested in putting together an election winning coalition - and encompassing the 80% of the party who are not in the Bennite tradition.

3:27 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous go now blair said...

But council elections are fought on very different issues to general elections. Voting for Labour in a Hackney Council election won't affect the economy or the majority of public services.

In the elections which DO affect these things, and the majority of working class voters, Labour has been dropping in the polls since 1997.

3:30 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Sham said...

Believe me, I have no time for the Nick Ferrari / Richard Littlejohn school of thought!

"In the elections which DO affect these things, and the majority of working class voters, Labour has been dropping in the polls since 1997." - Ten years of failure at the polls!?! - No, I don't think so, and although one would concede that poll results have been flagging of late, they're only flagging with regard to the unprecedented heights to which the Prime Minister took us.

It's all relative ...

3:40 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

P.S. Surely the MP for Hackney North should take some personal responsibility for the performance of the Labour vote in the seat in General Elections (down 16.7% since 1997 compared to a national change of only -8.6%).

3:41 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Sham is correct. It wasn't core working class voters who stopped voting Labour in 2005. It was students, the middle class left and Muslims unhappy with the war.

3:44 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous go now blair said...

Sham, it was John Smith who took us to unprecedented heights in the polls and we've been on the slide ever since.

Luke - aren't Muslims core working class voters? I can see you've carried out a detailed analysis of everyone who voted in that election but if I had a pound for every working class voter (of any ethnic or religious group) I've met who has stopped voting Labour since 1997, I'd have enough for a peerage.

3:56 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Yes Muslims should be part of our core vote - but the issue they are unhappy about - foreign policy - is not indicative of a wider problem they have with New Labour.

You suggest we peaked under John Smith. This is incorrect. Looking at the ICM archive, the highest score Labour got under Smith was 44%. Under Blair we hit 53% in 1995, 62% after the 1997 election, were still on 47% in 2002. We dipped below 40% because of the Iraq War, climbed back to 40% in September 2005, dipped a bit when Cameron was elected, then rose again to 37% in March last year. The only (and not smooth) downward trend has been since Charles Clarke's sacking, the then poor local election results and subsequent leadership change calls last May.

I.e. there is no strategic problem with Blair and Brown's approach - just a tactical problem of how to deal with Cameron.

However, why let the facts get in the way of your totally subjective theory.

4:12 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ go now blair

You are wrong about John Smith. We reached 59% in one poll about a year after Tony Blair became leader. A ludicrous figure I know, but well above anything ever achieved under John Smith.

4:23 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous go now blair said...

If you really think you can credit Blair with opinion polls in 1995 then I don't know what to say. He inherited a fantastically popular opposition, made the most of it against a very unpopular government in 97, and has been losing seats (mainly in middle class areas) and votes (across the country) ever since. Surely you can't dispute that?

4:28 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger el Tom said...

"Shall we get Compass to tell the voters in Dorset South, or Hastings & Rye, or Hove that Labour doesn't want their votes either?"

What an utterly useless false dichotomy.

It's not a case of just not wanting their votes.

It's a case of whether or not the sacrifices made in being a democratic socialist party are worth gaining them.

Policy value for vote value, if you like.

Lawson says that we are giving away too much on Labour policy (by which I mean that which is recognisably social-democratic or democratic socialist in aims, rather than labour adopting it by... er, swapping the old policy for votes) for the votes we get.

I agree.

We're being conned. But the irony of it is that we're conning ourselves, we don't even need to trade off as much in terms of seats as both Blair by implication and Lawson by declaration seem to suggest!

4:31 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Sham said...

"Go now Blair" - you seem to be suggesting that the Prime Minister can take no credit for the high poll ratings, huge majorities and three full terms of Labour government yet must take all the flak for the relatively poor poll ratings of late. Nuts!

SWP, Lib Dem or Respect? Come on, confess! :)

4:54 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous angus said...

"It wasn't core working class voters who stopped voting Labour in 2005. It was students, the middle class left and Muslims unhappy with the war."

Certainly those three groups stopped voting Labour. But here is the overall ICM breakdown Liam Byrne (!) usefully mentions in his report on the 2005 general election:

% Votes cast for Labour by social class:

% 1997 2001 2005
AB 30 30 32
C1 37 38 35
C2 52 49 43
DE 58 55 45

Turnout: 1997 71%
Turnout: 2001 59%
Turnout: 2005 61%

Gap between the turnout of ABs and DEs: 1997 (13%) 2001 (15%) 2005
(16%)

Contrary to the popular mythology this appears to suggest it is only amongst middle class AB voters that Labour support held up in 2005!

In contrast, the proportion of lower working class DE voters supporting Labour (45%) was as low as in 1983-in fact much lower, as the turnout in 2005 was much lower and the class gap in turnout has been widening. Since 1983 was an exceptionally bad result, this must mean Labour support among DEs is lower than it has ever been since Labour emerged as one of the two main parties.

People can disagree about how to maintain Labour's core vote but it does at least need to be recognised as an issue.

4:59 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous go now blair said...

Labour, I'm afraid, Sham. Just not your sort of Labour.

Very interesting stats there, angus.

5:03 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous Kris Brown said...

'Piss and graffiti on a staircase in Edmonton', Neil's degrading my patch. There's no such thing as 'piss and graffiti' in Edmonton, don't know what he's talking about. ;-)

Sorry, can't seem to log into my normal blogger account :-(

5:16 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Luke

How about responding to pieces by Lawson/Compass with some actual rebuttal of their arguments, rather than this lazy personal abuse based on a caricature of how you imagine anyone who dares disagree with you thinks. If you want my vote in the Walthamstow selection, you'll have to do much much better than this

5:22 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger el Tom said...

I think John Denham sums up the reality of the situation excellently here.

5:24 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Dear E10 rifle,

as you pronounce yourself a John McDonnell supporter on your blog I really doubt that any argument I make will win me your vote.

I know how Neal thinks - I don't need to imagine it - I knew him well in Bristol when he was a TGWU rightwinger and spent many happy Saturday mornings with him in the basement of the Fabian Society at LCC Exec meetings.

I was unaware that either he or Compass were supposed to be taken seriously by anyone else in the Labour Party - in my CLP one of the few things that unites the right and the hard left is contempt and derision for Compass.

5:44 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger grimupnorth said...

Well, I am on the "hard left" and I do have time for COMPASS. I attended their opening conferences but found them too middle-of-the-road and wishy-washy. However, these are democratic socialists who THINK and don't nod like dogs at every New Labour gospel (heresy) .I find their website of interest,ofen contribute and have much time for Neal Lawson.But if they are serious about wanting change campaigning for Jon Cruddas is not enough.

6:17 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Go-now-Blair said about Blair:

"He inherited a fantastically popular opposition, made the most of it against a very unpopular government in 97, and has been losing seats (mainly in middle class areas) and votes (across the country) ever since."

A cogent and succinct summing up of the Blair mythology... I would add that he also was the great beneficiary of the John Smith credibility factor and that the one area that was truly Blair's own invention - foreign affairs - has been an unmitigated failure upon failure... remember how he was going to save Africa, 'deal' with Assad, mediate between Pakistan and India etc., etc.

And as for him losing 'middle class' seats; I'm really wondering about what is going to happen in a few weeks in many 'working class' seats in the Scottish elections because of the Blair factor.

7:57 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Mike Ion said...

Luke

I think your posting on this is very good - both funny and insightful. I do not personally dislike Neal Lawson, nor do I disagree with everything he says - far from it. But on this I think he is wrong. What Neal forgets is that in 1997 we inherited a public sector that had, in large parts, been abandoned by the Tories for some 18 years. A public sector that, both philosophically and pragmatically, the Tories did not believe in. The Tory ministers and MPs of the 1980s and 1990s did not use the NHS, they sent their children to private schools and the closest they came to public transport was when they got into a London taxi.

Neal appears to believe that Labour under Blair - or Gordon Brown - lacks a radical vision for the nation's future. He virtually accuses Blair of having achieved nothing because he hasn't tackled everything. Britain has got better since 1997, Blair and Brown have had their successes (and failures) - it is simply disingenuous of Neal not to admit as much.

The Guardian haa published a response to his article (written by me) - simply paste in the link below.

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/mike_ion/2007/04/neal_lawsons_piece_in_todays.html

8:16 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger E10 Rifle said...

"As you pronounce yourself a John McDonnell supporter on your blog I really doubt that any argument I make will win me your vote."

Well, you can have a try. Even if we don't agree, nowt wrong with an exchange of arguments. All I can surmise from what you've written so far is that you dislike Compass because you perceive them to be "chatterati guardianistas" who live in posh houses in Hampstead and Kentish Town. I don't know whether this is true, so I can only judge Lawson on his articles, which I largely agree with and whose subject matters you haven't really touched on.

9:20 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ ted harvey

You clearly know feck all about Scotland and less about John Smith.

10:23 pm, April 19, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

E10 - if you do a search through the archive you will find a lot of other stuff where I take on Compass on policies.

Mike - for the record, like you I do not personally dislike Neal Lawson - he's actually a nice man - and there are some issues like electoral reform where I agree with him. But I feel very betrayed by the personalised way he has turned on first Blair then Brown, and I find his strategic analysis nonsense.

7:46 am, April 20, 2007

 
Blogger Chris Paul said...

Angus: Brilliant analysis.

Luke: On Muslims - barmy. This is a maturing, very diverse, principled and hard-voting fraction of the population. Very interested in leverage. Currently united as an umah AGAINST New Labour. Being won back mostly by either left leaning authorities or their pursuit of leverage and disatisfaction with weak and maverick alternatives.

But thanks to the damned war and the damned belligerence and subservience of Blair to US this will never be an umah-for-Labour again.

And the demography is chronically misunderstood by some/many of your housemates in team-NL.

Had a couple telling me only recently that HALF the black people in a certain constituency were in fact Irish. This is not so! 20% BME (of which 10% muslim) by next election. And of the 80%, a goodly proportion with Irish claim.

Naturally this 10% which largely voted against in 05, dwarfs the current majority against us.

As Angus says working class voters in general the MOST converted to Don't Votes and Z.

In Manchester many of our "working class' wards have gone Tory - Labour - Lib Dem in that order over the last 24 years. Many have come back but not all. Taking their votes for granted and splitting have been the prime causes IMO.

So recipe is assume nothing, be united. Stop the lazy sectarian analysis.

10:10 am, April 20, 2007

 
Blogger Sham said...

"But thanks to the damned war and the damned belligerence and subservience of Blair to US this will never be an umah-for-Labour again."

Chris Paul, it is the duty of the British Prime Minister to do what is in the best interests of Britain, not the best interests of British Muslim extremists or their apologists on the Left.

It would be the ultimate betrayal were the British Government to surrender to Islamic terrorism merely to gain the votes of a few madmen who in no way represent the Muslim majority.

10:33 am, April 20, 2007

 
Anonymous go now blair said...

I like the way that Sham refers to the vast majority of Muslims who opposed the war in Iraq as "a few madmen".

10:50 am, April 20, 2007

 
Anonymous Steve Horgan said...

'I'm not saying there aren't loads of working class voters who disagree with the war - they just can't afford to ditch Labour because of it because they have too much to lose financially and in terms of services if Labour gets kicked out.'

I'm a Tory Councillor from Basildon. You might be interested to know that Labour support in its traditional areas here is running at its lowest level that we can remember.

7:32 pm, April 20, 2007

 
Blogger E10 Rifle said...

By the way, Luke, are you aware of just how cyncical this sounds:

"I'm not saying there aren't loads of working class voters who disagree with the war - they just can't afford to ditch Labour because of it because they have too much to lose financially and in terms of services if Labour gets kicked out."

In other words, we can take the piss out of these people a bit, because they've got nowhere else to turn. So anything they care about beyond getting a meal on the table doesn't really matter. Horrible cynicism, and very, very telling.

12:13 am, April 21, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

E10

what is cynical about saying that

a) the primary determinant of political behaviour is economic self-interest (which is basic Marxist theory)

and

b) the Labour Party in Government acts to the economic benefit of the less well-off - who would be poorer under the Tories - therefore they vote Labour?

That's not being cynical or taking the piss - it's our job as a party to make life so much better for people that they don't want to vote for anyone else.

6:00 pm, April 21, 2007

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Steve

presumably the people switching to you Tories in Basildon think Labour is too leftwing, not too rightwing.

6:01 pm, April 21, 2007

 
Blogger Benjamin said...

Congratulations to Angus for actually posting some facts and figures about class voting trends, destroying the lazy arguments about "middle class dilettantes" spewed here. It obvious that its the working class who are walking away from Labour in the largest numbers - not Luke's hated Guardian reading middle class liberals.

Poor old Luke says he feels "betrayed" by Neal Lawson's criticism of the Great Leader. Blimey, what sycophancy. No wonder he responds in such personal terms about Neal. But at least Neal's arguments - take them or leave them - are intellectually informed, not based on the personal invective that Luke is now engaging in.

9:15 am, April 24, 2007

 
Blogger Hector Superb said...

"Compass-style left politics"

Now we have the politics of 'The Suit'.

'The Suit' is that faceless monster that knows no politics nor culture. 'He' is governed by the spreadsheet and the free market. The "efficiency zombie".

Welcome the age of mediocrity, welcome to mediocre politics, welcome to mediocre flatpack culture. Enjoy them, if you can. Better still, carry on the pretence.

9:56 pm, May 21, 2007

 

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