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Where’s Labour’s strategy for working class voters?

Ed Miliband with Durham Miners Gala in backgroundAs Labour’s lead in the polls narrows to 1-2%, we need to keep our nerve, and get our priorities right. The previous Blairite electoral rule was to focus exclusively on middle class marginal seats with a narrow majority. This was on the grounds that working class constituencies were bound to vote Labour anyway – if for no other reason than to keep the Tories out. That attitude is entirely wrong. Working class voters do have an option, in fact two of them: they can simply not vote, which is precisely what millions of them did in 2005 and 2010. But this time many voters of all classes may register their disillusionment through a vote for UKIP.

For too many working class voters, Labour doesn’t feel like the party which once represented them,  fought for them and with which they strongly identified. Ed Miliband has certainly come up with some resonant themes on energy, the living wage, and the banks. But there is a desperate need to join up the threads and pull them together within a strategic framework which makes it indelibly clear what a Labour Government will do – and above all why that will strongly benefit the working class, not just middle Britain which is often a misnomer for the upper middle class.

There are several strong reasons for pursuing this strategy. One is that working class influence in deciding elections is hugely under-estimated. They are the largest class in the country, representing nearly half the electorate, and the most cohesive since the middle class under market pressures has become more fragmented. Second, they have been under continuous attack and feel deeply let down by the Labour party in failing to defend them. They could have expected this, given the scale of Osborne’s austerity, soaring rents, the suppression of trade unions and workplace rights, job-cutting privatisations and outsourcings, the squeezing of the wage share, out-of-control inequality and rampaging capital. Third, the depredations of this government, arguably even harsher than Thatcher, have produced an enormous groundswell of anger seething just below the surface, but what it lacks is the lead from Labour to transform it into a decisive political force.

Five strategic themes could turn around the slide in the polls. These could be: Labour will reverse austerity by public investment to kickstart the economy and reduce the dole queues by a million or more within two years. Labour will bring in rent controls to stop rapidly rising, unaffordable rents and by the end of a five-year term will be building 250,000 houses a year, a third of them social housing. Labour will re-nationalise rail and at least some of the energy companies because of their crucial importance to national security. Labour will ensure workers get a proper say in the company for which they work through enterprise councils and through encouraging the spread of collective bargaining. And Labour will reverse privatisations in the central areas of human welfare, in particular in health, education, housing and pensions.


  1. Robert says:

    Not a lot we can say really I agree with you hence I intend to vote for Plaid in Wales.

    The fact is today labour with a leader who has never had a job tells others labour is the party of the hard working, laugh I would if I could.

  2. Dave Roberts says:

    What you should have said was “white working class” voters because it is those people, like my family in East London, who have abandoned the party and the electoral system generally.

    Electoral participation has been dropping generally but amongst the white working class more so than anywhere else. I agree that the middle class is fractured but a huge voting sector, and you are correct the WWC can influence the election, has just turned itself off from politics.

    They see local councillors, most of whom are arrivists from a PPE dgree somewhere who are just pepping up the CV while working as an intern to an MP or a consult/researcher to a trade union or Labour MEP, as not being either of or for them.

    Increasingly MPs are part of political dynasties and anyone from as working class background whatever graft they do in the local party has no chance of getting on even the long list to make things look good.

    Add to this the demonisation of the class as racists who should now be apologising for slavery and paying reparations and you have a significant sector of the population who ancestors defeated Adolph Hitler to make the work safe for democracy who now thing what was it all for.

    We need positive discrimination for people like my mothers generation who spent their youth in and out of air raid shelters and in the forces, who then turned out massively in 1945 to vote for change and who have been increasingly ignored and marginalised ever since.

    We need short lists of local people who come from and speak for their communities, their colour and ethnic origins should be of no concern but, although in retreat with the demise of the Commission for Racial Equality and the end of the racial antics of Ken Livingstone, we still see demands for discrimination against white people.

    You have started a discussion which I hope will be developed here with some sensible contributions.

  3. David Ellis says:

    Labour needs to take the Tory pledge for full-employment and run with it. However hypocritical it is in the hands of Cameron and Osborne there will be youngsters and parents of youngsters who are sitting at home rotting who will have pricked up their ears when this policy was announced yesterday. Of course the Tories mean to achieve it by making welfare pointless, zero-hour, part-time low wage jobs, forcing women back to the hearth and off the books and generally turning UK plc into a third world nightmare for working people. But they know what buttons to press and they know that New Labour would never talk of full employment because basically that would entail some kind of social revolution. But socialists need to champion full employment. No longer can capitalism be allowed to maintain a reserve army of unemployed in utter penury and ignorance but we don’t want full employment as an aspiration to be abandoned at will or reversed, nor do we want expensive work for your dole job creation scams, but as a regime. Every single school and college leaver and unemployed worker who cannot find their own job must be bought into the local workforce to share in the available productive work. Each must be paid the minimum of a trade union living wage however short the week they work and eventually part-time will be the new full-time with everybody sharing equally in the world of work and domesticity. Labour ignores this at its peril a) because no working class person under thirty will even look at a party that does not promise full employment and b) the Tories will gain from promoting such a policy however hypocritical it is if Labour don’t come up with their own version.

  4. Dave Roberts says:

    Dave Ellis. Just ow are you going to achieve all of this?

  5. Peter Rowlands says:

    Michael is quite right, as usual. However, there is an additional point to be made, namely that pro working class left wing policies will not only win back working class votes but ensure the support of those leftish middle class voters who switched from Lib-Dem to Labour after 2010 and whose continued support is likely to be conditional, for many at least, on Labour offering left wing policies.

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