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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On "Class War"

There's a rather false debate going on in the media and parts of the blogosphere about whether Labour is or should be adopting a "Class War" strategy. My take is:

  • The main proponents of class warfare in British politics are actually the Tories. They are suggesting a Thatcherite response to the recession which is a direct attack on the social and economic interests of working class and middle class people because it would involve higher unemployment and cuts to public services which are both used by and provided by ordinary people, not people from David Cameron and George Osborne's background. If they are so disinterested in class why don't they propose putting some of the burden of cutting the deficit on the best off through taxation? Er... because that's the class their party exists to represent.
  • It isn't Cameron and Osborne's background per se that is being attacked - it's their lack of empathy for or political prioritisation of the interests of people who aren't as privileged as them. Clement Attlee went to Haileybury, Hugh Dalton went to Eton and was the son of Queen Victoria's Chaplain, Hugh Gaitskell went to Winchester. But they dedicated their lives to trying to create a more equal society and to combating both poverty and the entrenched privilege that they themselves had benefited from. You have to ask why Hugh Dalton was able to emerge from Eton and become a redistributionist Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the impact of the same high quality education on Cameron has been to produce an man so unimaginative he defaults to being a Tory and protecting the economic interests of people like himself.
  • If Labour chose to set up a "Class War" electoral strategy that put our core vote (assuming this consists of blue collar and public sector workers, people on welfare and BME communities) on one side and "Middle England" on the other side we would be pretty suicidal. We couldn't win elections just on our core vote fifty years ago - even less so now after decades of declining class identification, de-industrialisation and embourgeoisement (i.e. working class people starting to have middle class lifestyles with home-ownership and overseas holidays) which have reduced our core vote to about 25% of the electorate, and population movement from urban to suburban areas means that 25% of the vote will deliver far fewer seats than it used to in, say, 1983.
  • However, if the strategy is to fire up our core vote and increase its turnout without alienating Middle England that's a good plan. A winning coalition for Labour has to include both the core vote and what Australians call the "Battlers" and the Americans described as "Reagan Democrats" - people whose parents identified as working class but who themselves are homeowners with white collar or skilled blue collar jobs, people who have comfortable lifestyles when the economy is going well but have to work really hard to get and sustain those lifestyles and struggle or feel threatened when things are bad. These people will be alienated by any perceived attack on aspiration but my hunch is they are just as likely to be resentful of the kind of privilege represented by Eton, the Bullingdon Club, inheritance tax cuts and support for fox hunting as Labour's core vote is.
  • We may be able to drive a wedge between the Tories and one of the key segments of voters that provide them with winning coalitions by exposing how privileged their leadership are - the kind of Sun-reading blue collar sometimes-Tory voters who liked right-to-buy and respected self-made Tories like Tebbit or Thatcher are unlikely to feel much in common culturally with Cameron or Osborne.
  • We need to be a bit careful because from where the vast majority of the population are sat economically and socially it isn't just Old Etonians who are privileged and "different" - our own frontbench with its sons of the Manse (Brown) and sons of academics (Balls and both Milibands) and profusion of Oxford PPE graduates looks pretty posh and privileged to most voters. We need to remember that in most communities MPs, GPs, Teachers, Vicars and indeed anyone who reads a non-tabloid newspaper are a tiny elite, not the "middle" class. Basically Alan Johnson and Derek Simpson can get away with battering the Tories on class privilege, most of the rest of our people need to be a bit more circumspect.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your analysis is good but really represents a sophisticated apology for a crass and ill thought out approach by Brown. The blanket attack on 'privilege' is as repugnant as saying 'as you are black/muslim/gay/ [delete as applicable], you can't possibly represent anyone else. In this instance it's privilege and the repeated lie - and it is a lie - that the Conservatives would 'prioritise' a reduction in IHT. You and I both know they have repeatedly said it is something they would like to do when economic conditions allow.

So, your analysis is very well argued, but it is seeking to defend a fundamentally disgraceful approach by Labour.

5:15 pm, December 30, 2009

Blogger Man in a Shed said...

The problem is Luke - tax the rich more and the rich leave or get tax accountants. This was all tried in the 70's and failed then also. Taxes will have to rise for everyone - There Is No Alternative in the short term.

The problem is the way money has been wasted by Labour and raised in an asset bubble fuelled by personal debt to fund unreformed public services, some of whom like Education actually perform worse as a result, whose main role is to provide a base vote for your party.

No clear thinking person could approve of such a hateful approach to running the country and enslaving its future generations in debt.

The truth is those at the top of Labour hate this country and have set out to destroy it. Only one more general election stands in their way.

They are without shame or honour and will use anything and everything to cling to power (crass class hate is easy for these people). Any formula of words will do. They are war criminals and economic incompetents who have destroyed the forth biggest economy in the world and left in with record personal debt, national debt and a spectacular structural deficit.

7:08 pm, December 30, 2009

Anonymous RicH said...

Whether or not you use class as a means to fight the conservatives all depends on what you plan on doing about the class divide.

Class is still a huge issue in Britain. Those from lower class backgrounds are finding it harder to climb the social ladder. Access to good education is still dependent on where you live. Life expectancy is considerably higher in the middle and upper classes.

Labour are guilty of concentrating too much on ethnic origin rather than the biggest cause of inequilty which has always been class. In areas such as Bristol studies have shown that jobs are often not given to people living on council estates.

So if you are poor you will die younger, have less money, less rewarding job, less well educated and have a higer risk of being a victim of crime.

9:35 pm, December 30, 2009

Blogger Mark Still News said...


In Glasgow East the life expectancy is 62 years of age and the Rich are telling us we are all living to long and there is nor enough to pay our pensions so we have to retire even later and probably after death!

Yes Labour have gone on to long on ethnic origin rather than the biggest cause of inequality which has always been class! why not do away with all this ethnic condescending crap imposed on us by over educated pampered middle class sociologists, and what ever race, creed or colour, if you are working class then you are in that category,it does not need all this patronising crap, which is causing a divide in the working class!

10:03 pm, December 30, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A mate of mine who is an African black, told me racialism is a terrible thing, but class prejudice is far worse and should be the priority to combat, as in the UK he reckoned class prejudice is actually worse in the here than it is in his country of Ghana!

I was very surprised when he said this, but it made me think how bad our class system is in the UK!

11:40 pm, December 30, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Brown & New Labour are intent on stirring up class hatred how can they condem the BNP for race hatred?

Pots & kettles anyone?

angry voter

12:59 am, December 31, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Class is still a huge issue in Britain.'


If that statement is true why does it never, repeat never, register on any pollsters list of voter concerns?

Some in New Labour,Brown & public school educated Balls in particular, are trying to make it an issue,what else can they talk about,the economy,unemployment, two wars?
Crewe & Nantwich by-election ring any bells?

angry voter

1:11 am, December 31, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Class is not an issue per se, but underlies a lot of other issues. If Labour were saying 'it's a disgrace if you go to a public school you have better life chances', I would agree. They can't say that because after 12 years a) they've done jack shit to remedy the situation and b) so many in their ranks send their own kids to the schools they condemn the tories for attending/supporting.

Last chance saloon stuff to shore up a core vote. The equivalent of Hague's 'Save the Pound' or Howard on immigration. Those were also none issues to those who couldn't hear/didn't care about the dog whistle.

Attack the Tories for the wrong priorities - that's fine. But equating it to class is like saying 'Brown is the worst PM in a generation (he is) because he's blind in one eye'. There is no causal link and to suggest it would be repulsive. Indeed, even his detractors admire him for overcoming difficulties. Attack the policy, attack the priority of any politician, it's fair game, but not to then personalise it in such negative ways.

12:35 pm, December 31, 2009

Blogger John said...

People in glass houses should not throw stones. I would far rather see an ex public school boy in government than an ex stalinist! See The roots of New Labour

3:58 pm, December 31, 2009

Blogger Steve Horgan said...

'why don't they propose putting some of the burden of cutting the deficit on the best off through taxation?'

As anyone who has looked at this issue for more than five minutes knows, there are not enough of very rich people to soak, that's even if they would stick around in the UK to be soaked. The idea that we can get out of Labour's financial mess by taxing a few very rich people is simply a fiction that Labour is putting about as a pre-election reassurance. The plan appears to be to fool enough people to stay in government and then worry about the deficit later. Never mind the national interest. Never mind the longest recession, ever. Never mind the highest rate of youth unemployment, ever. Never mind, just vote Labour and everything will be all right, somehow.

As for 'that's the class their party exists to represent', that is the best illustration of the nasty class prejudice in the Labour party. God help you if you manage to accumulate a little bit of wealth because then in Labour's eyes you become the enemy. Instead we should reject aspiration and keep our heads down while being pathetically grateful for an scraps thrown to us by the saintly people in the Labour party. No thanks, mate.

I am a Conservative from Basildon in Essex, which is a very mixed community and where we have run the Council since 2002. So, for me and my colleagues, who include Council tenants by the way, the idea that the Conservative party is just about the rich is both pathetic and absurd. However, it such an unproductive delusion for the Labour party that I am actually quite happy for you to go on believing it. I am not sure how you square that with Labour losing every seat in Basildon in the 2009 County Council elections to 'the party of the rich' though.

1:20 pm, January 01, 2010

Anonymous Dirty Euro said...

Labour is a party of the working class and lower middle class that is the point them. It had always been the purpose. It is a noble purpose. The tories are the party of rich elites, who think redistribution of wealth is evil and that poor should be left to the "free" market.
There is no shame in admitting that is the difference between the parties.
It is surely far more vulgar to pretends politics is just about who has the prettiest hair cut, and who has sexiest smile, or meaningless platitudes about time for a change, a breath of fresh air.

The big mistakes labour make on class are,

1) To think labour is just a party of the working class when its core is also the lower middle class. The Petite bourgeoisie is our core vote as much as the working class are.
2) The second mistake is those who think middle england refers to millionaires who go to the exclusive golf or private yacht club, and own a rolls royce. Remember Tony Blair went after Ford Mondeo man not Bentely man. He went after the lower middle class. Middle England does not go to an exclusive golf club, or an expensive private school and or drive a rolls royce. It is the lower working class.

We should not hate the upper classes. But we should remember who we are there to represent.

9:23 pm, January 01, 2010

Anonymous Rich said...

The problem for Labour is that working class people have actually come out badly under Labour. From my perspective Labour have been great for the legal profession, GPs, Head Teachers, Senior Police officers, Civil Servants etc etc....the problem now is that these professions are now paid too much in comparison to those paying their wages. A junior teacher on say 20,000 pa yet the head on over 100,000 pa and the pupils parents being paid less than 10,000 pa..the gap is growing out of control.

Class will always exist regardless of which political party is in power. The challenge is to make sure class isn't a barrier to health, a decent standard of living and a good life. Someone has to clean our toilets, pick and pack our veg....so why not pay them a decent wage for doing it.

10:38 pm, January 01, 2010

Blogger southhackneypunter said...


10:39 am, January 02, 2010

Anonymous Rich said...

The problem is how you share wealth. I constantly hear from our politicians and middle classes that workers must be more flexible but in most cases this means working harder for less or the same money.

The strive to bring services and products to our homes cheaper and more competitively hurts working people. The Royal Mail and British airways being classic examples. Flight attendants for BA earn considerably more than say vigin airline staff and I'm sure Royal Mail staff have better conditions than some of the franchised operations that they compete with.

The lack of unions, workers rights and comparative pay means that introducing competition always hurts workers. Companies look at the workforce as the first place to cut costs.

Unless we protect our working classes the growth of an underclass will continue.

3:18 pm, January 02, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess we come full circle to agreeing with Luke that it's a false argument.

To suggest that the Conservative Party is 'only' for rich elites is demonstrably absurd. You can't win a parliamentary majority by pandering to any minority and historically they remain a very successful political fighting force. If they fail next time (again), they've pitched it wrong. But the wrong headedness of Brown's strategy is pointed up by the contrast to Blair, who saw you couldn't alienate 'the rich' or 'business' and expect to govern.

And who was it who said it's not a sin to be rich? Osborne? Cameron? No! Nor Shaun Woodward or Quentin Davis. Mandelson. Another successful political strategist.

To win and win big New Labour was a big tent. Brown is turning it into a wigwam. At least Cameron is trying to make the Tory tent bigger - who knows if he'll be successful, but it's a strategy - as for Labour in 97 - born of confidence, not an act of political desperation

7:53 pm, January 03, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The class issue is being over looked. For the last 20 years the Tories have always denied there is actually a working class and Tony Blair said it himself on numerous occasions that there is no working class! On the equal opportunities it mentions Race, Creed, Sexual orientation and Religion a lot more, but nothing about class discrimination and rights!

You could be a genius and worthy of a top place, but if you come from a working class background, very rarely would you be able to take advantage of your talents, those less educated than yourself because they may be of a higher class will always get on in life much easier.

8:15 pm, January 03, 2010

Anonymous Rich said...

Very true, those that succeed from working backgrounds tend to be very ruthless. I can name numerous soft in the head lords or sons of billionaires who would not have a penny to their name without their class.

Working people have to work ten times harder....

12:21 am, January 04, 2010


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