Tom Harris is a loser…..
Ok, so this headline is a little harsh; I am sure Tom is a throughly decent guy but he is also totally wrong in his latest post ‘Class war is for losers’. He argues that John Rentoul is right to warn Labour off of choosing class as a political battleground. Harris starts his arguments thus;
Inevitably, there are those who relish the idea, who don’t need much encouragement to embrace class politics as they would an old, beloved yet recently ignored comfort blanket.
These would-be class warriors cite recent polling evidence that attacks on bankers and student politics-type proposals for a High Pay Commission are popular with the electorate.
So, the first line of attack is obvious; class is ‘old-hat’ and not relevant which it might not be to an elected representative of the people but the actual experiences of the people would tend to suggest different. Major structural inequality still exists in our society and it is something that New Labour has been unable to ‘triangulate’ out of existence; much though it has tried. This is a typical example of asserting what people say doesn’t matter when it doesn’t suit your own agenda.
Similarly, Harris invokes the results of past elections which is such an a-historical approach that it beggars belief. It also fails to grasp the change in attitudes that we are seeing culturally as a result of the last economic crisis; these will take time to filter through I believe but I think in time we will see a widespread rejection of the notion that bankers are ‘wealth creators’ mainly because it is common knowledge that it took the intervention of the taxpayer to save their institutions. One of the long-term consequences of this crisis will that people will shift back to seeing themselves as the ‘wealth creators’ and will have less time for the argument that this tax is a tax on the creation of wealth when it patently is not.
It is Harris, not the originators of this strategy, that have missed this critical point;
No party that is seen to sneer at wealth, or which is suspected, because of its language, of treating the wealthy and the wealth creators as the enemy, can hope to win the confidence of the electorate.
Another point is missed and this is one that directly influenced by the recent crisis over expenses; namely that there is a genuine, cross-class, feeling that Parliament is unrepresentative of the people who elect it. This crisis is acute for the working class but also affects the middle class so it is unsurprising to me that people rightly question Cameron’s ability to represent them, ‘ordinary people’, properly. Labour would be mad politically to ignore that and not take advantage of that as a Party.
As the head of Ipsos-Mori put it;
There are lots of people who don’t like Old Etonians, though a lot of them are concentrated in Labour seats. And there’s maybe a nagging anxiety about public services. None of those things are killer factors, but there’s a slight queasiness about the fact that ‘These posh people don’t really understand real lives, and they’re coming in to run to the country.
Tom’s blog obviously represents a public airing of the private unease that has been reported in the press. Obviously, a purely negative ‘class war’ message is not enough but Labour are right to raise the issue of representation (though they should do more to actually address it themselves) and they would be very unwise indeed to listen to the doubting Tom’s in the Party.