Only hours after watching Ed Miliband on Channel 4 News say the Occupy camp at St Pauls ‘reflected the concerns of millions’, I was amazed to read Progress turn its fire on the same movement, condemning it as an ‘unpalatable smorgasbord’ and ‘mishmash of unfocused causes’. While they say ‘a campaign from outside the mainstream can shape the debate’, they think the message from the camp at St Paul’s can teach Labour ‘nothing at all’ and that we should ‘stay well away’. I’m not sure who cleared the piece, but it came across as a frothing rant, and much of it incorrect. Not only has the Occupy movement been singularly successful in reframing the political and economic debate, it’s target is explicitly the bankruptcy of our economic system, rather than the Labour Party as Progress claims.
Occupy’s attempt to reframe the debate as the 99% vs the top 1% has explicitly sought to expose the Tories links to the financial elite and drawn a host of unwanted media attention to Downing St and the City, it was Andrew Rawnsley who reflected that ‘with a few nylon tents they have rattled the establishment.’ Progress’s assertion that, ‘The only political viewpoint – the only one – which is shared by every one of the protestors is their loathing of the Labour party’ and that they would have our party leaders ‘up against the wall’ is nothing more than a cheap smear, made all the more puzzling by Occupy activists eager attendance as guest speakers at a number of CLP meetings.
Whether it is targeting Cameron’s Mansion House speech, or Boris Johnson’s cosy relationship with the City, the debate has been reframed in a way that the Labour Party (and – need it be said – Progress) has so far failed to, but which actually gives us new space from which to attack the Tories, and which Ed Miliband is doing.
The Progress piece was at pains to assert the camp does not reflect any wider public mood and asserted ‘We know that is not what Ed Miliband meant with his piece in The Observer.’ But it’s not just the Observer piece. Only hours before Progress published, Ed told Jon Snow, ‘the feelings that people in the tents have been expressing are reflected by millions of people.’
And at PMQs on 2nd November, Ed said of Cameron, ‘he says we are all in it together but he lets the top 1% get away with it while the other 99% see their living standards squeezed and lose their jobs,’. Clearly the ‘bottom 99%’ idea is something we have learnt from the Occupy movement and is worth using. We have not previously seized on the fact that our economic system has mainly benefited the top 1% over the past thirty years – now many are doing so, and until Labour understands this basic point and challenges the economics that leads to it, we will fail to reach out to the wider support base we need to build a strong majority.
The Harlow message exposes Progress’s continued politics of triangulation in the ’50-odd key seats’ and takes us further down the road that lost 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010. The figures are clear, Labour lost its core voters in those years but the Tories didn’t gain them – their vote only increased by 1 million in the same period. It is not votes from the Tories we are chasing, but those across the country, including in Labour seats that we allowed to become marginal, where millions have abandoned voting altogether. These people had enough of rising VAT whilst their pay is freezed, and are fed up with bankers bonuses whilst they lose their jobs.
Ed doesn’t need to camp out to realise the Occupy movement allows him to attack the Tories on issues that matter to ordinary people, with a new vigour.