Giving up on the “white working class” is a 20% strategy

10th June, 2014 7:58 am

John McTernan’s recent analysis of Labour and British politics has been rather good. I was therefore rather surprised to see the absurd conclusion he arrived at in his FT article yesterday(£).

He started out well enough by correctly saying  there is little prospect of or appetite for a split in Labour’s ranks over Europe or immigration as we work out how to respond to UKIP.

But he then concludes that this is because the “white working class” don’t matter to Labour any more and is no longer part of our base.

This isn’t the basis of either the much discussed 40% strategy or even of a 35% strategy, but of a 20% strategy.

poverty_uk.jpg

Labour’s strength and resilience has been because of the distinctive nature of the party as a party rooted in a class, the working class, and organisationally linked to it via the trade union link, and then adding in other ideological allies to build a broad coalition that can win elections. This differentiates it from non class based attempts at radical parties, like the SDP, the story of which has ended in the tragicomedy of ex-SDP figures like Vince Cable propping up a Tory government. It also differentiates it from socialist sister parties founded on purely ideological lines without a union link or clear class basis of support, such as the PS in France. If you want to see what a centre left party without working class support looks like, look across the channel at the PS – lucky to get 20% of the vote and with the working class now backing the far right Front National.

Unlike John I am not ready to give up the working class as the core pillar of Labour’s support and let them fall into the clutches of UKIP, a party that on any objective analysis would act in ways wholly damaging to their interests.

Unlike John I think Labour has to have policies that appeal to all groups in society, but particularly the working people our party was created to give a voice to in Parliament and even named after. If we aren’t going to be the party of Labour why did we bother setting up as a separate party to the Liberals in 1900?

Unlike John I am not dismissive of the concerns about migration that are fuelling UKIP’s rise. They need to be addressed and our job is to find ways of addressing them that are not the divisive xenophobic path being offered by UKIP.

Unlike John I wouldn’t snobbishly dismiss the importance of voters who are “older, unskilled workers who left formal education at 15”. That’s basically my dad he is talking about. I happen to respect my dad and the people like him who left school at 15 to do tough manual jobs. I want them to have a Labour Party they can vote for and that stands up for them.  John says “This group has been rapidly shrinking.” But they vote. Older people turn out in far higher numbers.

John claims that “It is the professional middle classes, together with the young, and black and minority ethnic voters, who are Labour’s base now”. That’s a great coalition if you want to win in Hackney, and believe me as a Hackney campaign manager in four borough elections I know how to mobilise that coalition. It’s a great coalition to win a handful of marginal seats like Hampstead and Kilburn or Hornsey and Wood Green. With a good turnout it might even win you Mayor of London.

But it is an insufficient coalition to deliver a General Election victory. Look at a list of Labour’s key target seats that includes holding Great Grimsby and taking Great Yarmouth, Dover, Thurrock and Harlow. If you are telling me you can do that without the white working class then you are a Grade 1 idiot. As John is not an idiot, I can only assume he is trolling us or trying to be provocative in order to get published by the national press.

John talks about “an electoral coalition of liberal-leaning city-dwellers at ease with the modern world”. But we don’t live in a country comprising only cities. If you want to see the electoral success that coalition delivers look at the handful of inner London boroughs and university cities that were the only places that voted Yes in the AV referendum (I’ve lived and been a party activist in several of them).

We still live in a country where the circulation of the Sun and Mirror is over twelve times higher than that of the Guardian and Independent. I would have thought this obvious fact of electoral maths would have been apparent to a self-proclaimed “political strategist”, particularly one who worked for Tony Blair when Blair painstakingly won back the blue-collar voters we had lost to Thatcherism.

Let’s remember what and who the Labour Party is for. Then we might build a coalition broad enough to be back in power this time next year.

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  • Monkey_Bach

    McTernan illustrates the Labour Party’s problem. Instead of trying to represent the interests of ALL citizens Labour concentrates on pleasing and currying favour with whichever and whatever demographic seems most likely to advantage the party politically: instead of trying to win power in order to help others and transform society for the good of all Labour seems to cynically and deliberately seek to favour certain sections of society most likely to get them into power and leave the disadvantaged rest to swing in the wind.

    Once upon a time pre-Blair Labour sought to serve the interests of others.

    Now Labour only seems keen to serve the interests of its own careerist politicians.

    So much for One Nationism, eh?

    Eeek.

  • Rex Hale

    “Labour’s strength and resilience has been because of the distinctive nature of the party as a party rooted in a class, the working class, and organisationally linked to it via the trade union link, and then adding in other ideological allies to build a broad coalition that can win elections.”

    Perfectly put, Luke. My view of the ‘broad coalition’ that’s necessary to win elections doesn’t exactly win over everyone on Labour List, but the point stands. Start with ordinary working people and build out from there. But don’t, ever, lose the connection with ordinary people. Until ordinary workers see people like themselves in the cabinet – representing Labour in the papers and on the tv – Labour will keep losing its core vote. And I agree with Luke completely on this – if Labour’s core isn’t the workers then what on earth is the point of the party?

    We have all-women shortlists. Is it time to create some sort of structured approach to getting working class people selected, elected, and into positions of power in the party ?Perhaps something exists already and I don’t know about it? Right now, Andy Burnham is doing all the heavy lifting…

    • Doug Smith

      “if Labour’s core isn’t the workers then what on earth is the point of the party?”

      But the Labour Party has opted to dump the unions and is therefore likely to become more isolated and less relevant.

      Though for Labour’s elite, one must suppose, trade union members are the unwanted. It is the young, inexperienced, recent Oxbridge graduates who are the new ‘ordinary people’.

      • BillFrancisOConnor

        A vote for UKIP is a vote against the EU.
        It’s also a vote against Oxbridge graduates.
        It’s a vote for retired multi-millionaire commodity brokers like Nigel Farage instead.

        Protect our retired multi-millionaire commodity brokers!

        • Some of us are against the EU though and for that there is only Ukip

        • MonkeyBot5000

          A vote for UKIP is a vote for millionaires.
          A vote for Conservatives is a vote for millionaires.
          A vote for Labour is a vote for millionaires.

          I’m not a millionaire.

    • BillFrancisOConnor

      I entirely agree with this comment. There’s a rarity Rex. I’m not entirely sure though that Andy is the full working class ticket so to speak – Cambridge University and all that. Besides which his parents weren’t exactly on the breadline.

      PS Check out Lisa Forbes, ( Peterborough) Lee Sherriff ( Carlisle) and Lara Norris (Great Yarmouth) for genuinely 100% working class Labour candidates in 2015.

      • Rex Hale

        Thanks for your comment, Bill. And for the tips about interesting working class candidates – I’ll have a google today and explore.

        • ColinAdkins

          Maybe start with Oxbridge (currently accounting for 25% of MPs) free shortlists.

      • Dave Roberts

        I am sure they are, but a tiny minority among the PPE/researcher to somebody or other brigade.

      • MonkeyBot5000

        “PS Check out Lisa Forbes, ( Peterborough)”

        I got a leaflet from her asking us to do a questionaire.

        Her website has no information about her political opinions. The “Find out about Lisa” section is a statement about how she’s from Peterborough and doesn’t like “Millionaire Tories in their ivory towers”.

        You’re going to have to do better than that to get my vote.

        • BillFrancisOConnor

          There is going to be a straight choice at the next election. On the one hand there is Lisa Forbes who grew up on a council estate in Peterborough and works for Thomas Cook – a major employer in the city. She took time out to bring up her children. She has lived all her life in the City and still gets up in the morning to go to an ordinary job.

          On the other hand there is Stewart Jackson a multi millionaire ex banker at Lloyds and a London ‘import’ into Peterborough. He claimed more than £66,000 in three financial years for housing costs in his constituency including £11,000 in professional, legal and mortgage fees on buying a new constituency home. In other words you paid for his estate agent and solicitor’s fees. Jackson was subsequently quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying that any ban on the second home allowance would be “draconian and unfair”.

          In May 2013, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority issued a High Court action in an attempt to recover £54,000 in alleged Capital Gains arising from Jackson’s Peterborough home.

          The contrast between the two candidates is pretty stark.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            None of that constitutes a policy. It’s all just “I’m like you, vote for me.”

            The problem is that she’s not like me. I don’t have kids, I’ll never be able to live in council housing and I run a small business rather than having a nice stable job at Thomas Cook.

            I’m no fan of Stewart Jackson – I know first hand how tight he is and he won’t even reply to my emails any more since I gave him a bollocking for the paucity of the replies he did write.

      • Jack Dees

        Working class does not mean having to struggle or not being educated. I don’t want to get into what it is (far too long winded) but I would have loved the opportunity to go to Cambridge.
        I still FEEL working class despite having achieved a senior management role in my first career and now being an academic.

    • Danny

      I completely agree with using similar tactics to the all-women shortlists to increase the level of representation within the Labour Party.

      Treat applications for PPCs in safe-seats and hyper-marginals as you would a job. Don’t be so brazen as to say “working-class shortlists only”. Just insist on x number of years experience in industry/call-centre/caring etc, experience of life on benefits/breadline an advantage. I don’t think you necessarily need to have been brought up on Moss Side eating stale bread and oats for your childhood, we just need a majority of MPs who have shared experiences with the electorate. At the moment, they are a rarity.

      How many MPs have experienced the pressure of putting food on their families table on an insecure or zero-hour contract? How many MPs have endured the stress of redundancy? How many MPs have had to spend an evening looking at what “luxuries” they can cut from their monthly expenditure to make their salary go a bit further (and I don’t mean luxury as in a second car or a holiday in a four star hotel, I mean luxury as in pudding after dinner or taking your daughter to a dancing lesson)? How many MPs have ever lined up outside their jobcentre being eyeballed suspiciously by a pr*ck in a G4S uniform?

      I don’t care if they went to Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin or if they dropped out of school at 15. They just need real-world and real-life experiences. I find it interesting that you Rex, from the Blair end of the Labour Party spectrum, are advocating such a policy, considering it was good old Tone who orchestrated a party that is now bereft of life experience. It shows little sign of changing, with the Labour leadership and a portion of the membership scoffing and trembling when the Unions attempt to do something about the appalling makeup of the PLP.

      • Rex Hale

        Yes, I agree, Blair and New Labour is largely to blame for starting this problem. Being on the right flank of the Labour party doesn’t mean I support everything New Labour did; my preferred approach is to take the best of those years in government and build on them, and acknowledge the worst and move on from it.

        • MikeHomfray

          The real problem is the selection process which benefits those with jobs which enable them to build networks and have time off in order to get selected. Someone working in a normal job just can’t do that
          But also there is the question if how many people really want to spend most of their life away from friends and family working bizarre hours. Our politicians are not normal because the job itself is so odd

          • Rex Hale

            I agree. I would go further than the women-only shortlist approach, as that wouldn’t mitigate the ways in which ordinary people are disadvantaged in getting selected and achieving power in the party. We should go further; a substantial programme of mentoring and support that recognises political talent and fosters it. Mentoring could overcome the networking issue – but it would require commitment from current holders of power in the party. As for the weirdness of the job, well, yes – you have to be a bit unusual to want to be a politician. (Wild horses couldn’t make me.) I don’t have an answer to that one…

      • PoundInYourPocket

        Labour needs to decide what it’s purpose is.
        If it is just to hold power then it makes sense to have SPADs that live in a political bubble and manage the electorate via media messages.
        But if it’s to have a purpose, then what is that purpose ? If it’s purpose is, as it was, to protect the interessts of the low paid / disadvantaged and create a “fairer” society, then it needs people with some spirit. And that spirit only comes from hard experience. But why would a political elite open the gates of power to those with a different agenda ? It won’t, unless it’s desperate for sponsorship. If it can get enough cash from Lord Sainsbury, it’s game over. But for as long as it has to rely on union money it’s still possible to get candidates with life experience and a desire to change the system. Of course there were exceptions in the past such as Benn, who was hardly working class, but that was a different generation of politician that had convictions.

      • Dave Roberts

        Agree, what life experience does someone who has a PPE and who’s work experience is as a researcher for a trades union?

        • ColinAdkins

          Dave, That is part of the problem. There was an entry route for tu researchers which is now largely closed. The last being Hilary Benn and one of the female twins whose names temproarily escapes me who worked for COHSE. Entry appears to be confined to PPE/policy wonks. When I was a researcher for MSF (now subsumed into Unite) I covered manufacturing and science policy. Blair probably discounted the Union’s views as representing vested interests. Instead he listened to ex-journos like Leadbetter who famously wrote of Living on Air. Manufacturing declined under Labour at a faster rate than under the Tories. Now we have a gross imbalance in our economy.Colin

          • J.Smiley

            One of “those female twins whose name escapes” is Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Chair of the Policy Forum, Chair of the Party and she’s been my MP for 21 years.
            That’s ANGELA EAGLE.

            Who was saying we don’t need all women shortlists because a woman can get known on merit?

          • ColinAdkins

            Only a temporary aberration on my part. I only remember Hilary because I worked with him and I am sure I have forgotten the names of many men.

          • PoundInYourPocket

            Charlie Leadbetter: “Our aim should not be a Third Way to balance the demands of the market
            against those of the community. Our aim should be to harness the power of markets and community to the more fundamental goal of creating and spreading knowledge.”
            I don’t know how that was supposed to benefit unemployed miners and I expect it didn’t , but when it comes to “gurus” the less coherent they are the more plaudits they receive, and Blair loved them all.

          • Rex Hale

            Charlie Leadbeater is a charlatan and a showman, nothing more. I’ve read three of his books and they are all, without exception, complete b*llocks.

          • PoundInYourPocket

            Well done for reading those books. I find with all these “guru” books you go through the three stages of:
            1) I’d better read this as everyone’s talking about it.
            2) oh dear .. I don’t get it.. he must be really smart.
            3) it’s complete bollocks!

          • Alexwilliamz

            Yes but that used to be for people coming through the union, often from the shop floor, not straight from oxford into a researchers role.

          • ColinAdkins

            In MSF no one in the research department was from Oxford. Most were from the shop floor and then via Uni via places like Ruskin College (yes Oxford but not the Uni). For myself I worked for 5 years before going to Essex University at 22 before then working again for 6 years (the Anti-Apartheid Movement) and then joining the MSF Research department.

    • George McCarthy

      I’m all for women in positions of authority, but I believe they should be there on merit, not to make the numbers up? This is where they have fallen down in the past! Just look at those the Tories placed in authority and where are they now? STOP using parachute candidates and go back to local representation!

    • Alexwilliamz

      How working class. Do we have to have worked down mines as children and lived of crusts of bread. the problem might be less whether we have more working class people in the party, as to who the working class even are these days.

      • MonkeyBot5000

        How working class.

        Get fucked.

        Sorry mods, instinctive class response.

      • Rex Hale

        This isn’t an academic issue – I think common sense can steer us through it. We all know the difference between people who work in ordinary jobs on ordinary salaries, and those who have bigger-than-average incomes and more flexibility in the way they’re able to run their lives. That might sound pretty vague, but – come on – it’s not that complicated. If not using the term ‘working class’ helps, then let’s put it aside for now. More people who have ordinary jobs and average (and below average) salaries selected for MPs and in positions of power in the Labour Party. Is that better?

  • Jimmy

    We certainly shouldn’t give up on the working class, but – apart from anything else – there aren’t enough of them to win an election. McTernan is right that we have to look to others (the educated middle class, minorities, the young) to build a coalition that truly will make Labour the natural party of government.

    • George McCarthy

      The working class of the Tory 80’s are now the ‘scroungers’ of the 2010’s.
      Nobody is looking out for these? They didn’t ask to become unemployed, the ‘market’ dictates it? Poor standard education has left a lot of these people unqualified for today’s job market, which is getting narrower, no matter what they tell you! Which is why they are hiding the figures and making up new rules to cut benefits. Welfare, Education and NHS, are all being ‘reformed’ to make them work in the USA system, which we default to, when the TTIP comes in?

  • MikeHomfray

    Just because some white working class voters in some seats in one election didn’t vote for us is no reason to make statements which are clearly not true. In towns and cities across the north Labour is still the party that many white working class voters choose

  • swatnan

    The older white working class are deserting Labour, because they are the ‘great left behinders’ by rapid change and haven’t been able to keep up or adapt very easily, or not at all. But a One Nation Party should have all social groups in its ambit, and be inclusive of all sections of society.

    • George McCarthy

      One Nation is the battle cry of the Agenda 21?

      One Nation Government? Is this really what we want?

  • markmyword49

    “organisationally linked to it via the trade union ”
    The problem for Labour is that they accept the funding from the trade unions but don’t listen to or put in place policies that affect their members and ex members.
    The Labour party is a broad church, as all political parties need to be to get elected into government in a FPTP system. What’s happened since 1994 is they’ve concentrated on the poorest in society (good in my estimation), those enriched by Thatcherism through buying shares in privatised industries and purchasing their council houses (necessary to get a majority) but what they forgot were the section of society that suffered because the industries they were employed in disappeared under Thatcherism to be replaced by low wage, insecure employment. I suspect that the leadership took for granted this group would always back Labour regardless given the Conservative party ideology and that they could see in those at the bottom the future if they didn’t. The result of that is the rise in the number who no longer vote or put their cross against the UKIP candidate.
    Looking at the policies coming out at the moment they still don’t get it.

  • driver56

    Sorry to say Mark, John has hit a hard home truth. Labour is not and has not been the party of the working class. Tony Blair won 3 elections so to me that says Labour has to move on. we don ‘t have the same vision of working class any more. Anybody who gets out of bed to go to work is working class, yes some get paid more than others and good luck to them. We need to drag ourselves up to their level and not try to bring them down. The NHS should unite people of all political persuasions as the nations greatest asset. yes it does cost a lot of money but it treats a lot of people. As a nation we want the NHS and there is no doubt about that. The parties ideology needs to be looked at again. If the Tories win the next election Labour as we know it will be finished. We will need a party to represent the underclass.

    • George McCarthy

      “If the Tories win the next election Labour as we know it will be finished.”

      Funny you should say that, because they say the same of the Tories?

      The big prize here is the NHS, the corporate state will be with us very soon (TTIP) and with it, all our public service rights will be sold off. A quick look at the vested interest list, should show whose side our Labour party is on!

      We have been drawn into a United States of Europe, by the time Camerons 2017 promise comes, we wont be able to hold a referendum as we will be truly ensconced in the mire! 3 million plus on the dole as the corporates vye for entrepreneurs, to run their ‘ex-public services’! QMV will be needed to have any say on any decision involving the EU.
      You just don’t know what you have let yourselves in for!

      • driver56

        People are realising but it is a bit too late.

  • PoundInYourPocket

    There’s a danger in lumping a mass of people together and labelling them “working class” especially when those people no longer identify themselves in this way. It shows Labours backward looking stance and reliance on tribal loyalty. Labour could return to the days of fighting for the disadvantaged and low paid, as it used to. However many of these are either illiberal or anti-left by nature and tend to vote Tory/UKIP so you won’t get that whole demographic. There’s also the issue of trust and connection that you need to overcome to recapture the interest of the “disadvantaged” and the stigma that goes with associating yourself with those that are now vilified as “scroungers”. So for 2015 you may need to stick with your present demographic as identified by McTernan. In the long run though Labour needs to decide what it’s purpose is and who’s side it’s on. I expect it will stay on the side of corporate interests and the middle/professional classes as that’s where the money is. However if Labour experience an epiphany and rediscover a cause it will have to convince the disabled, the unemployed and the low-paid that it is genuinely on their side. Which won’t be possible before next May. Although with the FPTP system and general ignorance of the electorate it can still rely on much of the “working-class” vote by default.

    • jaydeepee

      You are wrong on one point: in the British Social Attitudes survey of 2013 ‘six in ten (60%) of British people call themselves working class.’

      On your other point of party loyalty you may have a point as: ‘in 1987 nearly half (48 %) said they were not a strong supporter of a party, or did not support any party at all, now over two-thirds (69%) fall into this category.’

      Labour, if it wishes to be elected with a good majority, needs to be the party that will repair this unequal society and once more be the party of jobs and redistribution in favour of anyone on less than £40 000 per annum.

      • PoundInYourPocket

        That BSA survey is a bit deceptive as it initially asks people:
        “Do you ever think of yourself as belonging to any particular class?”
        To which only 29% say working class.
        To those that say they don’t know, they ask a second question:
        “If you had to make a choice, would you call yourself middle class or working class?” To which 32% say Working Class.
        So I think to most people “class” has less meaning, which is why you only get that 60% figure by adding in those that need prompting.
        Although perhaps they should re-discover what “class” means as they are on the losing side. As Warren Buffet said when asked about so called “class war”:
        “Yes there is a class war, and we’ve won”

  • John Farrar

    Labour has to remain true to its roots and also attract people from any class that agree with its values and principles , I think there are enough people in Britain who fall into that category to enable it to win an election , The party lost its way in terms during the New Labour Years by giving in to some of the excesses of business . Milliband I think sees the problem but I’m not sure the Blairites do and that may cost the party next May , The Tories remain deeply unpopular with the majority of the population but Labour needs to take them on and not try to win by being some kind of Tory lite party which sadly it seems to have become

  • Daniel Speight

    The fact that someone like John McTernan can talk of dumping Labour’s working class core pretty well sums up the Blairites.

  • Charlie_Mansell

    Luke is absolutely right that we cannot ignore those rich social networks and bonded social capital of people motivated by close family and safety and security concerns, who are often concentrated outside the south east and often in towns. We cannot just focus us on those of us rich in bridging social capital living in the big urban centres. This is not just about winning, but also about the times when we inevitably lose. We need a strong base to start from so we can rebuild in one term rather than three. The McTernan strategy would have got us 20% and third place in 1983 with a ‘double whammy suicide note’. The demographics may be slightly more benign 30 years later, but it seems like a Jesse Jackson 1984 strategy rather than an Obama in Ohio in 2008 strategy. These traditional white working class networks may be too culturally authoritarian for some cosmopolitan Londoners like myself, but they are consistent in their own way. They may want to nationalise the railways, but they also want to ‘nationalise’ immigration policy too. Those of us who see immigration in individualistic terms, yet are much more top- down when it comes to railways may actually find we are the less consistent ones in terms of values nowadays?:)

    In order to reach out Labour can respond by matching a ‘firm and fair on immigration’ message with a ‘firm on discrimination’ message too. Nowadays it is not just Lee Jasper who is fiery about discrimination, but the whole language of ‘victims of discrimination’ is often appropriated by UKIP spokespersons too and whether this is just about perception rather than reality, the perceptions are ‘real’ to those who now ‘culturally identify as English rather than British’ who are most vulnerable to the UKIP message. Labour needs to seize back the agenda of being angry about all forms of discrimination. Just as we strongly opposed the ‘no-Irish’ signs in windows in the 60’s, we need to be standing up for those who have lived here for many generations who now feel discriminated by perceptions of ‘no-English’ policies of modern employment agencies. We need the anger about this to be strong and consistent on all these areas, backed by tangible and visible policies for it to be effective.

    • Dave Roberts

      Sorry Charlie. How did Lee Jasper get in here?

      • Charlie_Mansell

        Maybe not the best example, but I was making a point that ‘the language of discrimination’ can be appropriated by the right and Labour should not concede space by seeing the discrimination debate in narrow 1980’s terms when we are now in a more globalised UK where identity for a third generation migrant (eg ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ issues) can be as complex as for a 10th generation Londoner

  • Dave Roberts

    A good article but the real issue that should be under discussion is why the WWC were ignored for so long, it was almost as if we didn’t exist or that political correctness had deemed us irreversibly racist and fit only for membership of or support for the BNP.

    What is needed is to ditch all of the “vision” baggage and get down to some policies that people can really identify with. The bedroom tax, a living minimum wage and of course, immigration, immigration, immigration. What is most important is to look at how far the discussion as moved in the last few years away from regarding us as knuckle dragging racists to people who not only have a point of view but also a vote which is being used more and pore tactically.

    When MacTernan says ” It is the professional middle-classes together with the young, the black and ethnic minority voters, who are Labour’s base now” he sums up in one sentence why Ken Livingstone lost London twice and if that coalition can lose London what chance the rest of the country?

    It is necessary to look at Livingstone’s career as a London politician to see why unless Labour changes they are the party of opposition. Through the 80s he was cheeky Londoner standing up to the Tories and Thatcher. He then became the firebrand MP for a north London constituency but was all the while becoming the public face of a particular brand of minority/opportunist politics.

    His political fixers became Socialist Action a small Trotskyist group that had given up on the White Working Class and were now promoting women, ethnic minorities, gays etc as the new base of revolutionary politics.

    Over his second term as mayor these tendencies became more exaggerated, as did his general behaviour, and as Londoners faced the usual problems of putting food on the table and paying the rent Livingstone was apologising for slavery, setting up London embassies around the world, doing oil deals with Chavez in Venezuela, paying for anti racism festivals and generally wasting millions of Londoners money on various projects designed to only benefit ethnic minorities.

    He squandered the goodwill of the people who had supported him during his days in the GLC, as MP and in his early days as mayor. He developed a reliance on exactly the sections of society described by MacTernan and had to, as his arrogance was increasingly alienating his traditional core voter base.

    After his first defeat he and his supporters blamed the whole thing on the doughnut theory, this holds that the inner city is left wing, multi cultural, vibrant and cutting edge and all of the other nonsense while the outer part of the doughnut was white van man territory, racist, beer swilling and more concerned with buying a villa in Spain than tackling any one of a number of “institutionalised” isms. The problem was that white van man had the vote and was sick of Livingstone and his posturing.

    The other failure with the MacTernan analysis is that it assumes that there is such a thing as a BME or BAME community and that it as leaders, always self appointed, have a clear set of unified objectives. In truth the BME or BAME community doesn’t exist and never has outside of the wishes of the Labour left any more than there is a gay community that is political in a unified way.

    It was this reliance on supposed communities that acted in accordance with the plans of Livingstone’s political courtiers that has cost Labour the governance of London twice and, unless there is a major shift permanently in Labour strategy, will keep it out of Westminster. I think that if MacTernan was serious then it was the last gasp of a totally discredited doctrine.

    • MikeHomfray

      All very well but social class is no more important and or meaningful than any other social division. And it certainly doesn’t indicate political unity. A third of the working classes has always been Conservative.
      Ethnicity is a far more reliable indicator of voting than social class. So is geographical location. Middle class voters in Merseyside are more likely to vote Labour than working class voters in Bucks.

      • BillFrancisOConnor

        Evidence Mike?

      • AT42

        Social class is fundamental! The real fault line in society is the division between those who have to work and those who do not need to work because they own property. (The fact that many of the latter do work as well just confuses the issue.

        Blacks Asians Women GLBT all have property owners and workers in their ranks. The proportions of property owners may be higher or lower than in the population as a whole but it’s nonsense to say that a person who is in one or more of those groups is automatically a Labour supporting working class person.

        Of course we can all cite a person who is wealthy and a Labour supporter (and there are poor Tories) but class and class interests are important if we are to understand how this society works.

        Labour needs to speak to the working class in all its variability let the Tories speak for the haves the whole reason for the existence of the Labour party is to speak up for have nots.

        It is time to stop being afraid of doing so.

  • Colin McCulloch

    What’s working class? I think the people we are losing support from are better termed “ordinary people”, that is households with income of between £0 – £40k-ish. Labour has to come up with a better offer than merely tinkering with the free market economy and must resurrect the policies of full employment, strong contributory-based social welfare, affordable housing, the NHS, a sensible immigration policy and access to free education that our parents and grandparents once enjoyed.

    Policies like scrapping the bedroom tax, freezing energy bills, capping rail fare increases, ending the external market in the NHS and so on are popular enough but they are stop gap measures – where is our vision? Where do we see Britain in ten, twenty, thirty years from now? It says we are democratic socialists on the back of our membership cards – it’s time that we started acting the part.

    • George McCarthy

      Far to many people think because they earn a certain amount, they are middle class. As long as you need to work to live you are working class!
      The single market isn’t working, look around, all across Europe there are millions unemployed? Freezing energy bills? Anyone can do that now, simply pick the phone up and set a rate for what ever number of years you want. It’s the whole system that is wrong! Greece has cheaper electric than us? Fuel across the continent was cheaper, till they all started joining, can’t even get duty free now?
      We need to get out of the EU, sign a trade deal on the way out and get away from their dictatorship! As for unions, they have just sacked them!

  • David Callam

    If you want to bring the working class back to the Labour fold you need to do two things:
    1. Elect a leader who is as personable as Nigel Farage; and
    2. Advocate policies that appeal to working people and differentiate you clearly from the coalition.
    At the moment, Labour is so frightened of alienating anyone that it makes bland statements that are largely incomprehensible to everyone outside party HQ.
    As for policies, how about adopting a transaction tax and promising to spend the additional revenue raised on the NHS, education and a nationwide social housing programme.
    Of course the bankers and the Tories will object; isn’t that a bonus?

    • George McCarthy

      Their policies are EU policies, which is why they all seem similar. Corporates make the rules, which is why the poor were made to pay for the bankers tax rebates? It will now cost a £10,000 fine, for speeding on the Motorway, yet we can’t get a banker in court for stealing billions?

      • David Callam

        Its easy to blame the EU. Successive British governments have been doing so for the past 40 years. It was Labour, at the behest of Gordon Brown,, that failed to regulate the banks properly and when the crash came it was the same Mr Brown who went in to bat for the banks advocating a bailout to all his international political chums.
        The root of the Labour Party’s electoral problems is home grown and it will require a little honesty, a little humility and a little bravery to make the party more acceptable to people who have deserted it in droves to support Ukip

  • Dan

    I wholeheartedly agree with the article.

    However, I disagree with the frequent assumption that the way of winning over the white working-class is by talking “tough” on immigration or welfare. I think Labour should instead tell them the reality that their problems are actually caused by the systemic inequality and economic neo-liberalism, and come up with some solutions to tackle that. You obviously have to reach beyond your “base” to win an election, but the New Labour way of thinking you do that by agreeing with those voters’ existing viewpoints is wrong…..no, you do it by trying to change their minds and persuade them of your own viewpoints.

    • George McCarthy

      “.no, you do it by trying to change their minds and persuade them of your own viewpoints.”

      Which is exactly why they are were they are! Taking the public for mugs, is never going to win any votes! People know that immigration is the problem, or should we say ‘uncontrolled’ immigration. The Open Door policy, free movement can’t carry on, we need to be able to manage our services, but perhaps that wont be necessary soon. All public service rights are to be sold off, so all services will be supplied by people on minimum wage? The TTIP is all about the Corporate State, big business running all aspects of our lives.

      We need to come out of the EU and just trade with them, we can then agree trade deals with those countries that have money and are growing. The Euro-zone is struggling and will for the next ten years and these are our biggest customers, yet they have no money? Allowing thousands of unskilled labour in, only drives down the wages for everyone else!

    • MonkeyBot5000

      “I think Labour should instead tell them the reality that their problems
      are actually caused by the systemic inequality and economic
      neo-liberalism…”

      Great idea, just make sure you’re ready for the inevitable follow-up question; Why do we still have such systemic inequality after 13 years of Labour government?

      I grew up under Thatcher and my first chance to vote was 1997. I voted for Labour because I thought they would fix things and, to be honest, I’m disappointed. I see no real difference from where we were in ’97.

    • MrJones

      ” that their problems are actually caused by … economic neo-liberalism”

      yeah, economic neo-liberalism like using open borders to massively increase the supply of labour thus driving down the price

      (on top of the living standards aspect a labour surplus drives down the incentives to innovate and improve productivity which is the only real form of economic growth)

      don’t you peeps ever wonder why so many ex Blairite ministers are now working for banksters?

      they always were.

  • George McCarthy

    People like you keep using terms such as ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’ to describe UKIP?
    They don’t fear other countries, in fact they want to stay and trade, they just don’t want to be dictated to, but you fail to address this problem? As for racist, they have proven on more than one occasion, they are not racist, as their list of councillors shows.
    As for Labour, they have continually let the working class down since 1983 with Kinnock. Thatcher needed to commit murder (Belgrano) to win the people over and Labour couldn’t even make any noise on the issue? Since they gained office in 1997, what have they done to help the working man? Did they repeal any of those nasty Tory policies, especially the anti-union ones? No! Did they improve education? No! They signed us up to Agenda 21 though? We were sold out in 1973 to the EEC (EU) and every opportunity since, to give the people a say has been thwarted!

    What is the real issue? Why did Blair sign Agenda 21? Why are all three so strictly aligned to TTIP? What is it that we, the people, can’t be told?

    The Corporate State is upon us and the NHS is to be sold, just as Labour and Tories intended, in fact ALL public services, will become ‘private’ after the TTIP is signed, placing millions more on the dole! These are the ‘entrepreneurs’ Cameron is looking for, to take-over public sector works at lower rates?

  • ColinAdkins

    I went to Essex University. I was taught by Ivor Crewe and Tony King then ‘ideologs’ for the SDP. They were excellent academics. However, they promoted psephology which simply measured opinions. I had great fun in always posing the question in relation to one finding in respect of the opinions of the British public of ‘why’ which they both had great difficulty answering. Of course the answer to this question is informed by ideology. Blair like an intellectual philistine attacked ideology preferring managerialism or ‘what works’ which should be better known as marketisation.
    New Labour took psephology to its logical conclusion through Gould’s polling and informing party policy. Combined with triangulation it proved remarkably effective electorally. However its limitations were cruelly exposed over time.
    McTernan as an insider does not appear to have learnt the lessons well. Any party seriously intent on radically reforming society needs as a bedrock the support of the working class or ends up making the messy compromises of the last Labour Government. However I do agree that a period in office will allow those same insiders to trade on their connection for their own personal benefit without any ‘incumberances’ of changing the country in a social democratic direction.

  • A bizarre argument from McTernan as in large parts of the country the people he dismisses as ‘irrelevant’ are *basically* the only people who vote for the Labour Party; and that’s actually only a slight exaggeration. Even in most large cities these people are the Labour Party’s electoral base. In fact even in large parts of London, working class people who are white are still a very important part of the Labour vote. And the idea that the professional middle classes are part of the Labour base is an absolutely *hilarious* suggestion in most of the country. McTernan has clearly been in Australia for too long (though his analysis isn’t even true of that country).

  • Incidentally, giving up on ‘the white working class’ (a term that is only ever used by middle class people, I note) would also ultimately end up giving up on the parts of the working class who are not white. Much of Labour’s minority vote is also a class vote, you know.

  • robertcp

    Luke is right of course. Labour voters in the middle of the twentieth century were predominantly from the manual working class. Changes in society mean that the manual working class are now about half of the Labour vote. This probably means that Labour needs to be MORE liberal than forty years ago but it cannot ignore the concerns of working class voters.

    • robertcp

      Luke’s sensible argument does not mean that Labour should move to ‘socialism’ nor does it mean that Labour should be authoritarian or xenophobic. It does mean that Labour should follow policies that favour people on about £40,000 or less. Many of these people are not poor but private health and education is not an option. They also need the welfare state in case they lose their job, when they get old or they are too ill to work.

      • Rex Hale

        Agree. Though I’d add that there is a world of difference between earning £15-£20k and £40k and we shouldn’t forget that. But I agree with your point.

    • Robin Thorpe

      Just because the number of manual and industrial jobs has decreased does not mean that the “working class” has reduced in size. Employment status is about autonomy and there are far more people working in jobs who do not have control over their working lives then there were in the 1950s. The rise of indebtedness means that even more people have a total and immediate reliance on wage income for their survival.
      The Oxford Dictionary defines the working class as “The social group consisting of people who are employed for wages”. In this context we can see that this group of people is as large a voting bloc as it ever was. All it needs is for the Parliamentary Labour Party to produce a set of policy proposals that will engage the voters interest (easier said then done admittedly).

      • robertcp

        I tend to agree but Labour voters are a very different group now compared to the 1950s and 1960s. The “vote Labour if a donkey stood” group is probably a lot smaller!

  • Pingback: How Labour can woo back working class voters | Left Foot Forward()

  • Jack Dees

    Great analysis Luke, really enjoyed it. To the point rather than the navel gazing we’re being subjected to too often.

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