Can “One Nation” inspire voters to vote Labour?

February 19, 2013 3:52 pm

Things are going well for Ed Miliband – in particular with last week’s announcement of Labour’s Mansion Tax to pay for the re-introduction of the popular 10p income tax. In the run up to the Eastleigh by-election the Tories are behind in the polls and voters are angry with the Government’s cuts agenda 80% of which is yet to arrive. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are struggling as voters are questioning whether to trust them again after both revelations about Chris Hulme and broken promises on VAT, tuition fees and deep and early cuts.

So, whatever the result in Eastleigh, many people think that, if Ed continues to highlight unpopular decisions and the ConDem delivery omnishambles, Labour should easily win the race to the 2015 finishing line in its new One Nation strip. After all, unchanged boundaries, UKIP votes and poor support from minority communities for the Tories taken on top of economic hardship. And the old adage that Governments lose elections Oppositions don’t win them, seems to suggest that Labour’s chances are almost too good to be true.

But hold on. Pollsters tell us that the public believes Labour caused much of the mess and the Tories are “clearing up”. Cameron’s fancy footwork on an in-out referendum on Europe has thrown red meat to the Eurosceptics and will deflate UKIP. Meanwhile, individual voter registration will deflate Labour’s heartland votes and the Tories will gain lots of seats from the Liberal Democrat collapse. So it’s all to play for, in particular if those in insecure jobs are persuaded to think Labour is too risky due to past mistakes.

Strangely enough, contrary to the Tory Story repeated through the media, Labour’s economic record is strong. Despite the Tories’ success in delivering the Laurel and Hardy mantra “this is another fine mess you’ve left us in” Labour delivered unprecedented UK growth between 1997 and 2008. Despite Brown dropping a clanger in 2007 by abolishing the 10p tax rate, following the 2008 financial tsunami that hit our shores due to the earthquake of US sub-prime debt, it was Brown and Obama who engineered the Fiscal Stimulus. This transformed an imminent world depression into a mild recession with Britain even enjoying fragile growth by the 2010 election. Yes we had a deficit, two thirds caused by the bankers and one third from the Government pump priming growth, but that was the price of avoiding a depression.

But the Conservatives won’t let the facts obscure the Tory fictional bestseller that has given them an historic opportunity to reduce the state on the pretext of “clearing up Labour’s mess”. Their first move – to announce half a million public sector job cuts in the 2010 Buget – backfired with millions of public sector workers spending less and saving more hitting consumer demand, tax revenues and deficit levels. As workers lose full time jobs and take on part-time work the number of jobs goes up but economic output hasn’t.

However, with Labour distracted by its leadership election, the Tories continued to popularise the myth that “it’s all Labour’s fault” and Labour’s hard fought reputation for economic competence became a faded memory. Now, the public draw their own mixed conclusions from the political Punch and Judy exchange of “Labour messed up” versus “the Tories are messing it up” which does little to instil faith in either party.

The problem for Labour is the danger of reverting to the 1992 Labour brand (i.e. all heart and no mind versus and the Tory brand all mind with no heart). “Labour means well and has lots of good ideas for spending  money but it’s the Tories who can run a business and look after the economy” said the focus groups. Floating voters voted Labour with their hearts in the opinion polls then voted Tory with  their wallets in the election proper. Neil Kinnock’s pre-election Victory Conference in Sheffield helped floating voters fear the Sun’s spoof headline “Labour win General Election – will the last one out of Britain switch the lights out”. As YouGov’s Peter Kellner has just commented “Mean but smart Tories usually beat nice but dim Labour… but if Labour can morph into nice but smart?”.

John Major proved that the “Nasty” Tory Party can win, despite economic gloom, if the public don’t have confidence in Labour’s economic competence. The Tories’ lack of competence and compassion is a necessary but not sufficient condition for Labour to win. And in 1997 it took Tony Blair with Labour’s six modest, costed, tangible and achievable pledges to make the public think New Labour was at last a safe bet.

15 years on, despite Labour’s record of job growth, we again face a sceptical public and a difficult climb to the summit. And if the One Nation banner is to be planted at its peak then it must capture both the hearts and minds of the public. To do this One Nation needs to embrace a readily understood proposition that voters will recall and repeat on the doorstep and sum up, rationally and emotionally, why Labour can be trusted again to deliver a stronger fairer future for Britain.

“One Nation : A Future that Works and A Future that Cares” does just that. Labour’s historic mission has been to enable people to work to pay towards a caring society for all. That is the enduring essence of the Labour brand. The opposite – a future that doesn’t work and doesn’t care – is, and always has been, the TorIes. “One Nation – A Future that Works and A Future that Cares” is an individual expression of the strong economy and fair society that Labour aims to deliver and provides a crisp summary of why people should vote Labour.

More than that, the proposition acts as a compass for Labour policy proposals i.e. “How does a particular policy contribute towards work, public income and a caring society?”  For example, to pay for long term care, instead of the Tory regressive £75,000 flat charge, could we have a progressive charge at 20% of the first £200,000 of property wealth and 40% thereafter. That way a person with a £200,000 house would pay £40,000 and pass on £160,000 to their family and a person with a £400,000 house would pay a fairer share? Or how about recovering the costs of expensive medical training courtesy of the taxpayer, with a 5% charge on the value of private work doctors sell outside the NHS? These would pass the One Nation policy test. So might encouraging neighbouring councils, universities and industries to work together on a city region basis as we are in Swansea. This week’s proposal that a Mansion Tax funds a new 10p tax rate would mean thousands of millionaires paying to help millions of taxpayers make ends meet and work pay is a totemic One Nation policy. It stands in sharp contrast to the Conservatives attempt to divide Britain between workers and shirkers in their bid to make the poorest pay for the bankers mistakes.

So the proposition “For a Future that Works and a Future that Cares” must be seen and believed to be more than Labour’s brand positioning. It must drive coherent and costed policy proposals, deliver on the ground and provide the blue print for a strong and united Britain instead of a weak and divided Tory future. That is the One Nation British voters want to see and will vote for. There’s just two years to go. Britain may be unhappy with the Tory and LibDems but Labour needs a simple and compelling proposition to shine light on a better future – One Nation united behind a future that works and a future that cares does just that and a Mansion tax to pay for a new 10p rate is a bold step along the journey to victory .

 Geraint Davies is MP for Swansea West

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    So what about debt, in particular household debt?

    Yes Labour did deliver a strong economy but that a key pillar of that strength was built on consumption by a household sector funding spending by taking on huge amounts of secured and unsecured debt to finance it. It left households and the economy vulnerable to anything which interrupted the continual growth in lending, it was a bubble in search of a pin.

    Granted, Labour and the UK were not alone in this as we saw it in the US and plenty of other countries but that doesn’t mean that it was not in part responsible. Other countries avoided a debt boom at the cost of lower but arguably more durable economic growth.

    I’d hope that future Labour economic policy took a far more sceptical approach to household debt and was quicker to take action when it was growing strongly even if it did slow economic growth in the short run.

    • Redshift1

      I think there is a lot to be said about that in both the whole predistribution and producers vs predators concepts of Miliband. I think he’s arguing for a high-wage, high-value production economy, which is obviously more akin to traditional social democracy than New Labour ever was.

      • Quiet_Sceptic

        I’m not sure there was.

        Most of the debt was mortgage lending on the back of soaring house prices, we’ve seen some commitment to build more houses but nothing explicit about working to stabilise prices and hence debt.

        Pre-distribution might help on the unsecured lending side for those borrowing to supplement their income but again there was little explicit mention of household debts.

        • Redshift1

          I do take your point about mortgages but I think the personal debt problem went very much beyond mortgage lending. The more simple fact is that wages never rose at a rate that was going to generate sustainable consumer demand, so people turned increasingly to more and more risky kinds of lending.

          I think the mortgage point is very relevant because it’s a debt that so many people have, but ultimately, that tended to only become an unserviceable debt when people started losing their jobs and things as a result of the recession, and leads to repossessions,etc. BUT you only have to look at the proliferation of pay day lenders, ridiculous access to credit cards, totally impossible to pay back loans to know that the the personal debt problem isn’t just a housing problem.

    • MrSauce

      The ‘economic boom’ of the previous decade was a combinatin of credit bubble and cheap goods from China.
      One of the most striking features of the episode is that only the LibD.s (FFS!) questioned the sustainability of this situation.

      • Redshift1

        The Labour Left and some of the non-Labour left did actually.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    To do this One Nation needs to embrace a readily understood proposition
    that voters will recall and repeat on the doorstep and sum up,
    rationally and emotionally, why Labour can be trusted again to deliver a
    stronger fairer future for Britain.

    “One Nation : A Future that Works and A Future that Cares” does just that.

    It doesn’t, it really doesn’t – and I’m speaking as one of those floating voters that you’re supposedly targetting. You might as well make your slogan, “One Nation: We like kittens!”

    Churning out this kind of marketing piffle is one of the reasons people don’t listen to politicians of any party. We see marketing all day everyday and we know how to tune it out.

    • AlanGiles

      I agree entirely. It’s a point I have tried to make. “Future that works and future that cares” sounds as nebulous as “A future fair for all” (what if you are content with having dark hair?). These sort of unattainable fluffy annoucements – which sounds like the way you would advertise a bedtime drink or lavatory paper), a nice soothing dream sequence in the middle of a turgid episode of the latest ITV blood and guts drama, sound what they are – a come-on, something to make you feel good, when, in reality, all that will happen is that things will carry on in much the way they have in the past. There will NEVER be “one nation” because there always has, and always will be the reality of us and them.
      Sorry to mention the man again but let’s take James Purnell – the “Labour” man who gave the ill and disabled Freud and ATOS. In his pomp he saw himself as something “important” in a David Miliband led government, so in his ambition he disloyaly resigned on the evening of the 2009 EU elections, (thoughfully letting News International know before everybody else) remaining an MP. The £165,000 ministers salary wasn’t big enough for him, so he claimed maximum expenses for food, and invented “cleaning” bills for extra money to put in the till. When he got found out, he quit politics and from March 20th will be “earning” £279,000 at the BBC. I am sure he will go far – “Yes, DG, whatever you say DG, three bags full DG”. may I lick your boots, sir?”). he will probably be Director General himself one day.
      The thing is the odious Purnell isn’t a one-off, there are others like him, in both the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet, who would do (and have done) exactly the same things. How can people like (for example) Byrne, the Balls et al really spout this rubbish about “one nation” when they have as much real understanding of the single mum on a housing estate or a sick or disabled single person living on a housing estate, as Prince Philip does?.

  • Daniel Speight

    I get the feeling that Geraint is one of those ‘same-same, but a little bit different’ folks. If you really want to have something to say on the doorstep how about ‘we will mutualize the railways’, or ‘we will limit media ownership so nobody gets as powerful as Murdoch again’, or ‘we will guarantee to make Britain more equal in income and opportunities’.

    Se how I did that without saying ‘One Nation’ even once;-)

    • Redshift1

      What’s with all this mutualising when it comes to the railways? It’s a natural monopoly. It should be run by the state.

      Mutualise the banks by all means!

      • Daniel Speight

        No I think you are wrong. One of the 1945 government’s mistakes was in how they nationalized the industries they did. We need to have ownership include both the staff and the users, not just the state. If we had done that with coal I suspect there would have been a far different outcome for that industry.

        • Redshift1

          I’m not applying hard and fast rules here. Your point about energy is irrelevant to the railways. They are very different industries. The energy market is incredibly complex, involving massive global trade. If breaking up the Big 6 is best done by mutualisation, I’m happy to accept that.

          The railways are a different kettle of fish. It is far more straight forward and coherence is more important than flexibility.

          • Daniel Speight

            State ownership of course isn’t to say that there can’t be more input from staff and rail users than under British Rail.

            So bite the bullet and bring both groups into the equation in the structure of what is set up. At the moment it seems that rail users are one of the most exploited groups in the country. Tactically it would be a gigantic step forwards for Labour to have them on board.

          • Redshift1

            You can integrate a far bigger voice for staff and rail users into a state-run system but the government should be ultimately responsible and accountable for them.

            I think most rail users would be on board with that. Stonking majorities are in favour in every poll of nationalisation of the railways.

  • Dave Postles

    Coalition of Resistance newsletter | 21 February

    Support pours in for the People’s Assembly In just two weeks, support for
    the People’s Assembly has been overwhelming. Sam Fairbairn reports on the
    most recent developments.

    *By Sam Fairbairn* Secretary, Coalition of Resistance

    On Wednesday 6 February a list of trade union general secretaries, MPs,
    campaigners, and cultural figures put out a call for a People’s Assembly
    Against Austerity with a letter to the
    Guardian.

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