Class warfare never helped anyone
John McDonnell’s suggestion that those earning £70,000 per year are ‘rich’ is the kind of policy that alienates voters from all economic backgrounds, argues Dom Anderson
Back in January I wrote this piece setting out why Labour could not risk turning itself into a party that punishes success and penalises aspiration. Everything I wrote then the still stands and sadly has become even more pertinent as we head into a snap general election.
With the Tories firmly entrenching themselves in traditional working class communities it has become even more urgent that Labour is a party for all people. it is no coincidence that Theresa May decided to launch her party’s general election campaign in Bolton in the heart of Lancashire. The Conservatives will be marketing themselves as the party of aspiration – wanting to form a government for those that dream of success against an opposition hell-bent on ideological class war.
John McDonnell suggesting that someone earning £70,000 a year is rich and as such should be taxed accordingly is exactly the kind of policy that alienates voters from all economic backgrounds. When I look at my own friendship group, I have mates who are plumbers and tradespeople who work every hour that God sends. If the right jobs come in and they graft hard enough they might earn around the figure that McDonnell has suggested would make them rich. What message are we sending to them about their hard work? Why would they vote for a party that sees their hard work as a chance to penalise? Equally it is worth noting that some people also work extremely hard and struggle to make ends meet, this is not because of their slightly better paid neighbours or friends, this is because we have a government that will not tackle the cost of living and its implications.
The McDonnell narrative is especially dangerous because of the impact it has on the very people we in Labour have always considered our core vote. Modern Britain is different from that of our grandparents. Working people are better informed, they do not see class as a barrier any more. The majority of parents in C2 and DE households – among which the Tories have an 18 point lead – want their children to grow up in a society where social mobility is high. People who work extremely hard in low paid work do so often to provide for families in the hope of them going on to achieve a better employment outcome than they did. As the first man in my direct family to go to university, I know I go to work because I want a home environment for my daughter where she can flourish and achieve her goals.
Then we come to home ownership. My grandparents bought the home they lived in until they died from our local council, it was not a right to buy property but instead was built by the council for council tenants wanting to own their own home. My parents’ generation benefited from much cheaper mortgages and could own their own homes on most working incomes. My generation however are stuck at the mercy of the rented sector. Obviously, there is a need for the private rental sector but I can tell you as a renter myself that many my age would love to be out of it. My generation have dreams and aspirations and we want a government that understands them.
Making announcements about ‘taxing the rich’ and then defining rich as anyone over £70,000 may feel comfortable in small branch meetings and some factional groupings within the party but they do very serious damage to our party in the eyes and hearts of the very people we need to vote for us. John Smith said in his last speech in 1994 ‘A chance to serve, that is all we ask’. We ask the British public for that same honour today, but no party can represent only the interests of those it is most comfortable with and expect to be handed power.
Dom Anderson is a Labour councillor. He tweets at @
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2017 general election, aspiration, class, John McDonnell, middle class, working class