By Gus Baker
Yesterday, Gordon Brown made his appeal to middle class voters. He claimed that Labour’s focus was to create “more middle class jobs than ever before” and represent the “mainstream majority”. To me, this is worrying and upsetting. By talking only about the middle classes, we risk leaving behind the people who need Labour most. They must not be taken for granted.
The problem with trying to drive down the middle of the road is you get hit from both sides. According to a December report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the amount of people living in poverty has increased substantially in the last 5 years. About 1.5 million more people live in relative poverty than in 2004. Child poverty has increased, despite ambitious targets. As has been written before, one in fifty children in the UK are not able to afford a winter coat. These horrific statistics show that Labour is currently failing to properly address the issue. We must do better.
Poverty does not just affect the poor. Higher crime rates negatively impact on us all, higher healthcare costs put a drain on services and education is disrupted by pupils who are unprepared for school due to poor home environments. That the gender pay gap has got bigger should worry all women, regardless of class. In The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett explain how inequalities in society harm us all. For the sake of the whole of the UK, including middle England, lifting people out of poverty must be the focus of our party.
In 1945 Labour ran unashamedly to slay Beveridge’s 5 giant evils of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. We talked of full employment, houses for all and good health and education irrespective of family income. We did not talk then, as Gordon Brown did this weekend, of simply being the party of the “mainstream majority”. Labour people, then and now, understand deep down it is the people who are excluded from this majority that we must care for the most.
I know many comrades will respond that such a negative post is unhelpful in a general election year. Helping those in need is why I am a member of the Labour party. Unless we start to talk about the 13.1 million people living in low income households as our priority, instead of the mythical monolith of “middle England”, we can be quite sure that our core vote will be nowhere to be seen come election day.