New town called malice

Labour will never win a general election if we only appeal to our core vote. The electoral figures don’t add up – and the political rationale doesn’t work either. This is why this leadership election is such a crossroads. Our new leader needs to reclaim the centre ground and win a majority in 2015.
Way back in 1983, we saw how socioeconomic changes had eroded our core vote. Labour’s most radical election manifesto made sectional offers to lots of interest groups, but the big picture was not one that the British public recognised, much less liked. Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley, the left-right ‘dream team’ who began the long march to electability, had to start by getting the party to face the reality of change.

Some of us had to face it again, uncomfortably, this May. Yes, the Labour government had done more than most people will ever recognise. In Northampton we’ve had every secondary school completely rebuilt, a slew of surestart centres, tax credits for pensioners and families, and a new university. There was lots of feel-good on the doorstep, and our core offer – fighting public sector cuts, investment in jobs, defending the NHS – chimed with our traditional supporters. But there weren’t enough of them. And there were problems with our big picture.

It’s notable how many seats we lost in new towns: Basildon; Corby; Crawley; Harlow; Milton Keynes; Northampton; Redditch; and Stevenage. These are towns that attracted people, often core Labour voters from traditional Labour areas, with the offer of a job, a home, and the chance for their family to get on in life. Our commitment to them was put in doubt by a perception that we were more interested in people as clients of the state than as independent citizens. And our dividing lines were exclusive. It was a core vote campaign.

The Labour leadership candidates who have failed to champion change are lagging in support. Yes, they have all to an extent distanced themselves from the mistakes of Labour in government. But ‘not me guv’ is the easy bit. Andy Burnham has made his pitch most clearly for traditional Labour support in traditional Labour areas. Attacks on metropolitan elites define the territory. Diane Abbott has been consistent in her approach as the candidate of the left.

Ed Balls has been the most radical. His intervention on the economy has challenged the current orthodoxies of deficit reduction. However, opinion polls show that, at least until the autumn spending statement, the public prefer the coalition strategy of a five-year deficit reduction to our 10-year strategy. And he has not been able to shake off his closeness to Gordon Brown.

Ed Miliband’s campaign sets New Labour as his reference point for change. The three key touchstones he sets are the Iraq war, tuition fees and ID cards, the big battles that divided New Labour. But they’re yesterday’s battles, not the battles of 2015.

Ed Miliband says, ‘We cannot fight the Tories by clinging to old ideas that produced low-wage, low-skill jobs.’ This is a faux battle, as it was Labour, call it new or old, which brought in the minimum wage, tax credits, the 50 per cent target for school leavers into university and new apprenticeships.

Our reference point for change has to be where the voters are, and where they will be in 2015 – and that is why David Miliband is the one who can win over the voters I lost in Northampton. David Miliband identifies the ideological battle as being with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, and the goal being to make a universal appeal that can win people over from all parts of the political spectrum. He has already started reappropriating the language of the centre.

Middle England shouldn’t be lost to us. People share our values – work, family, community, national pride. And people here did well out of Labour in government. But the electorate doesn’t do gratitude. We need a Labour leader who can win in the new politics.

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

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If Labour wants to win again, we need to reclaim the centre ground.

New town called malice

Labour will never win a general election if we only appeal to our core vote. The electoral figures don’t add up – and the political rationale doesn’t work either. This is why this leadership election is such a crossroads. Our new leader needs to reclaim the centre ground and win a majority in 2015.

Way back in 1983, we saw how socioeconomic changes had eroded our core vote. Labour’s most radical election manifesto made sectional offers to lots of interest groups, but the big picture was not one that the British public recognised, much less liked. Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley, the left-right ‘dream team’ who began the long march to electability, had to start by getting the party to face the reality of change.

Some of us had to face it again, uncomfortably, this May. Yes, the Labour government had done more than most people will ever recognise. In Northampton we’ve had every secondary school completely rebuilt, a slew of surestart centres, tax credits for pensioners and families, and a new university. There was lots of feel-good on the doorstep, and our core offer – fighting public sector cuts, investment in jobs, defending the NHS – chimed with our traditional supporters. But there weren’t enough of them. And there were problems with our big picture.

It’s notable how many seats we lost in new towns: Basildon; Corby; Crawley; Harlow; Milton Keynes; Northampton; Redditch; and Stevenage. These are towns that attracted people, often core Labour voters from traditional Labour areas, with the offer of a job, a home, and the chance for their family to get on in life. Our commitment to them was put in doubt by a perception that we were more interested in people as clients of the state than as independent citizens. And our dividing lines were exclusive. It was a core vote campaign.

The Labour leadership candidates who have failed to champion change are lagging in support. Yes, they have all to an extent distanced themselves from the mistakes of Labour in government. But ‘not me guv’ is the easy bit. Andy Burnham has made his pitch most clearly for traditional Labour support in traditional Labour areas. Attacks on metropolitan elites define the territory. Diane Abbott has been consistent in her approach as the candidate of the left.

Ed Balls has been the most radical. His intervention on the economy has challenged the current orthodoxies of deficit reduction. However, opinion polls show that, at least until the autumn spending statement, the public prefer the coalition strategy of a five-year deficit reduction to our 10-year strategy. And he has not been able to shake off his closeness to Gordon Brown.

Ed Miliband’s campaign sets New Labour as his reference point for change. The three key touchstones he sets are the Iraq war, tuition fees and ID cards, the big battles that divided New Labour. But they’re yesterday’s battles, not the battles of 2015.

Ed Miliband says, ‘We cannot fight the Tories by clinging to old ideas that produced low-wage, low-skill jobs.’ This is a faux battle, as it was Labour, call it new or old, which brought in the minimum wage, tax credits, the 50 per cent target for school leavers into university and new apprenticeships.

Our reference point for change has to be where the voters are, and where they will be in 2015 – and that is why David Miliband is the one who can win over the voters I lost in Northampton. David Miliband identifies the ideological battle as being with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, and the goal being to make a universal appeal that can win people over from all parts of the political spectrum. He has already started reappropriating the language of the centre.

Middle England shouldn’t be lost to us. People share our values – work, family, community, national pride. And people here did well out of Labour in government. But the electorate doesn’t do gratitude. We need a Labour leader who can win in the new politics.

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly

Comments: 3...

  1. On October 21, 2010 at 10:22 pm Robert responded with... #

    But what happen as it did at the last election when your core vote does not bother voting. I’ve voted labour since 1966 but I did not vote for you at the last election and I doubt I will vote for you again. Claiming the middle ground is fine if the middle ground will get you elected, but just keeping the swing voters and a few Tories and losing your core vote is just as bad, can you win without Five million of your so called core vote I very much doubt it. And not forgetting if the Tories end up removing the boundaries in Wales you could end up losing another twelve seats. I’d be worried about the idea of making labour middle of the round or new labour and forgetting the people at the bottom, yes I know the working class are a pain in the ass uneducated unwashed and heathens, but we were the back bone of labour for years.

  2. On October 22, 2010 at 11:04 am Tracey Cheetham responded with... #

    Am I missing the point here? Lamenting over David Miliband missing out on winning the leadership for months on end will only delay starting the fight against the Coalition. We have a Leader, we must work together to ensure he has all of us working towards the same goal. The centre ground is important but our core voters are important too. We cannot win any election without both of these groups. I think we need to examine exactly where the centre ground is, because it isn’t in the same place it was in 1997.

  3. On October 22, 2010 at 11:12 am d.mcardle responded with... #

    wellllllll um ,I dunno,I’m not so sure about this middle ground business.When you look at that great swathe of blue over the counties,and the red city blobs which the Tories (+ those tied to their apron strings who carried a lot of those middleearthers in their pockets) say are created by the ‘POOR’ (not the poor POOR but the bad POOR,cos they don’t mind helping the pP [I think that means disabled people ,not those who never had a chance] ) and say they are going to clear out so the cities will be blue too , one thinks gosh ,there ‘s a lot of this middle ground isn’t there.But that can’t be right can it,doesn’t make sense,a lot of people must just be invisible ,like a black hole. People certainly have been affected by the recent shock and awe. In fear everyone will surely cling to their ‘side’ .I would like to see that swathe of blue open up in a great divide like the Red Sea in the bible,I think maybe there is no middle ground ,sadly, not yet ,its us and them left or right. The voice of the people ‘crying in the wilderness ‘ hear them roar ?

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