Has the politics of aspiration fallen at the first hurdle?

26th May, 2015 4:06 pm

In the fortnight after May 8 the word aspiration quickly became Labour Party shorthand for tapping into voters personal ambition. As quickly as the idea of aspiration politics took root in Labour policy circles – it has been discredited. Described as the rationale for the party to shift to the right, the vehicle to rebadge tax cuts, support free schools or public sector reform.  A TUC poll found that aspiration as a concept is an irrelevance to voters.

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But let’s not get the chisels out and carve the headstone of aspiration as a political idea too soon.

Voters, families and communities are complex systems with layers and layers of competing interests and ideals.

Take for example Mereham in Cambridgeshire – two generations of local people needed affordable homes in the area. Without affordable homes growth and industry would stagnate. A community campaign of thousands sprang up opposing house building of over 5000 new homes – the same people vocalising the need in the pub opposing the build through petition. A community’s aspiration at odds with the views of the individuals that make up the same community.

Of course throughout a lifetime personal aspiration changes. It is natural for individual voters to turn, in a relative short period of time, into families.

Take Free schools – the party is still confused about schools run by amateurs that can be staffed by your mate down the pub. Let’s reframe the debate and not allow the opposition to dictate our values.

Aspirational politics would harness the power of middle class aspiration as a force for the common good. Our offer to the middle class is critical – channelling the energy of those who would opt for a Steiner school or expend all that energy setting up a free school.

Ask a Labour politician about aspiration and you will probably get an answer on education, but our debate will need to encompass a wider sphere.

We have witnessed the death of the final salary schemes, jobs for life, full time employment and all that once indicated security in the workplace and within later retirement.

The aspiration for security in the face of uncertain financial products like personal pensions and low interest savings – has driven a housing market based on building a pension pot not a home. We need to find answers that provide a retirement income to meet the aspirations of current and future pensioners before we can criticise second homeownership as a means of retirement security.

Aspiration changes through life as does employment status. Small and medium enterprise growth is part of our common wealth creation aspiration. On the doorstep when we were putting forth the case for Regional Investment Banks to lend to business, we were saying to the 12.1 million people employed in SME’s – we are protecting your job.

Being business friendly only works if our offer is in the language of the local entrepreneur, or the local person with only a few minutes to grab a coffee and a sound bite on their way to work.

So we may not use the word “aspiration” but we should know what it means.

Annie Keys is a former Online organiser for the Labour Party and creator of the Labour Supporter Network.

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