During the 2001 election, which Tony Blair went on to win securing a second term, pollsters from ICM came up with the phrase “Pebbledash people” as the group the Tories had to woo in order for them to have a fighting chance of winning. They were married couples aged 35 to 50, white-collar workers and professionals, who lived in semi-detached, often pebble dashed, homes in the suburb.
The group is just one example of cohorts, conveniently congealed together, that political parties feel they need to fight for in order to win an election. With Thatcher, the “Basildon Man” or “Essex Man” explained her electoral success, while with Tony Blair he fondly remembers “Mondeo Man” who went on to be the face of New Labour’s new constituency.
With the Tories, who they designate as must-grab voters is always very interesting. The very wealthy are usually sold come what (M)ay, whereas the working class Tory vote may be harder to pin down – particularly in times when they are feeling the pinch as much as anyone.
In a recent YouGov poll, their volunteers decided which political parties their favourite soap stars would vote for. Surprisingly (or stupidly) the majority of those who took part in the survey decided Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses would vote Labour, despite clearly being a typical working class Conservative. We know this because he tries, by all means, to be someone who he is not i.e. one who throws French words, erroneously, into casual speech, pretense he lives the life of the rich and famed, appeals to a millionaire’s lifestyle, fancy cocktails in working men’s clubs, and the constant, failing, hope for aspiration “this time next year we’ll be millionaires”.
Seemingly, Del Boy is the perfect “Basildon Man” – despite not being from Basildon. But “Basildon Man” is not only about appeals to false aspiration. The advertising magazine Campaign tried to describe them via reference to a current politician at the time, a fellow Basildonian, on 26 January 1990: “Representative [David Amess, a] new Essex man, working-class, father electrician, right-wing, keen hanger, noisily rambunctious, no subtlety”. If it sounds like someone you know, I wonder if they’re thinking of changing their vote this coming election?
Tim Montgomerie’s column in today’s Times (£) reveals a rumour that two Conservative MPs are “seriously considering” defecting to UKIP. They would not be the first – there is Alexandra Swann, Bob Spink and Roger Helmer, too. The type of voter being lost here looks and sounds a lot like how Campaign describe David Amess. UKIP are stealing “Basildon Man” from the Tories.
The question is can Cameron’s Tories afford to lose him? They could not get a majority last time, and since the departure of Steve Hilton, the chirpy chirpy compassionate conservative narrative has been silent. But it has not been replaced with a politics that can usefully take on UKIP for the Tory right vote. Has it got the bottle to fight for the political centre, or will it give in to the right closer to the election? Cameron has a pig of a job in the next few months!
Possibly the same armchair pundit has leaned over to one side and whispered the following into the ear of Republican candidate Herman Cain – appear more stupid!
Cain, only too happy to oblige, recently said the following in an interview (seemingly as an homage to former President Bush):
I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come. And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, you know, I don’t know. Do you know?
Yes. He actually said that. The problem, of course, is that it might work – but it is certainly not Obama’s style, which may be why the Obama camp are worried.
But when the target audience has been situated so adequately, one which responds positively to their candidate appearing stupid on television, the worst thing to do is say something eminently sensible.
Or at least seemingly so.
David Frum, the very interesting right of centre North American commentator, recently put in an article for New York Magazine “Over the past two decades, conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment.” He notes that as a business model this “evolution” is wonderful, it consists in fear (“death panels” etc) and breeds distrust in other media outlets (the all too familiar confirmation bias) – but as journalism it is a disaster, and this is the stuff that pumps out of the TV sets of American households.
So, this being the case, either Newt Gingrich is very brave or very stupid for taking an unorthodox line on immigration recently, saying:
“If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out”
Already the other Republican candidates are saying the buzzword they know will not sit very well with right wing voters: amnesty! And already this is doing the rounds on debates – Gingrich wants an amnesty, and therefore is a soft touch on immigration, how un-American, how very Obama-esque you may hear them say.
As someone like Frum is all too ready to admit of the US conservative right – they are not ready for “compassionate” discussions on immigration.
But then if the news stations, telling viewers that Gingrich is a mad leftie dinosaur with his no good compassion, were to take a closer look at Gingrich’s plans on immigration, they’d soon question what is compassionate about it (one would hope).
He is in favour of what is called the “Red Card Solution” which would basically extend the guest worker status of an illegal immigrant if they were, in Gingrich’s words, “paying taxes and obeying the law” with a family.
But on the downside, the red card solution all but dissolves the rights of immigrants, makes second-class citizens of them and their families, and effectively marks them out as “cheap labor at the expense of native-born workers.“
Even conservatives think so. Dan Stein, president of the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform, said:
“This is effort to create a stratified labor force that provides wealthy employers with a way to get employees at below-market rates.”
What Gingrich supports both cheapens immigration and the movement of people, and is light years from the compassion which those on the GOP hard right are snubbing him for.
Given his recent words on the stupidity of child labour laws, one can only imagine what dreams he has of an entire cheap workforce, spared the burden of proper labour rights.
If his opponents, accusing him of wanting amnesty, were to do a bit of research then maybe they would reveal a different story about Gingrich’s so-called compassion. Not that many would listen anyway.
What’s the common quip about Edmund Burke? The guy was fearful of change; this informed his dislike of the French Revolution. But what’s the truth? He looked at the undercooked revolution and decided that the system of governance which has lasted decades over, in spite of its faults, is better than taking a risk on a totally unknown type of Republican, anti-Monarchism.
The same principle should be taken very seriously with regards to print media right now, though the industry is seriously suffering. Few titles you find in the shops made returns at the best of times; The Times was the first of the UK nationals to put up a pay wall online, the Guardian is considering its own – news from various, free sources has put the willies in the traditional print press, and efforts to retain any price tag is possibly a losing battle.
With the increasing sway of the blogosphere and citizen journalism, as well as content that is freely available online, can these papers really justify their unique claim of quality journalism – and expect us to pay for it?
Certainly what hasn’t helped the case for print is Murdoch and the Milly Dowler case, the Mirror being caught up in scandals, and – on the other hand – the furore surrounding Johann Hari.
So what comes after print? Are there standards in blogging? Can it be regulated in the same way as the press, or – to apply higher standards – TV and radio? There is a lot of hatred towards the tabloid press right now, and the protection which Hari and his own standards have received by paper owners who were only too aware of how many readers he was drawing in, have made us all question the sinking ship.
However according to some, instead of being the death of print, all this could simply empower Paul Dacre – a scary thought indeed. Could blogs and the twittersphere really knock The Daily Mail off? One would only hope, but that’s no solution, only a replacement of a problem.
Perhaps what is missing is accountability, in which case the problem becomes one of how to keep a free press, while making sure it doesn’t wield excessive power. Few people, to be sure, would argue against the PCC emulating OFCOM more – the latter widely considered having more weight, and, as Mehdi Hasan implied recently at his book launch at the LSE, may be one reason why news broadcasting is more respected by the public than other forms of journalism.
Perhaps the case for questioning how much one company can own is the better argument to have. Edward Pearce in the LRB recently said: “A law forbidding anyone, directly or through nominees, to hold more than a fixed, low percentage of any or all media would build a barrier against invincibility.” 40 years ago Ralph Miliband talked about the link in the concentration of power and conservatism. Perhaps not an inherent link, but that is the case in this country.
Now that Labour, under Miliband’s son, has made the forthright decision to take on the Murdoch press, come what may, why should Ed stop there? The dispersing of power among the UK media would be a radical move for Labour, but one that, if successful, would do permanent damage to the Conservatives, whose tune the press sing to by and large.
All in all, press standards are under the spotlight today – which is a great thing, but the solution is reform, not scrappage. Its weaknesses are bad, but what waits in the wings may be worse, or at worst lacking in standards. If reform dealt with the concentration of power, it could benefit the Labour party, and be good for the way in which we receive news too.
It’s not going to achieve much, when it comes to actually preparing the student movement and their allies in the teachers’ unions to take on and beat the cuts the Tory government demand, much less give them the class consciousness needed to take their struggle beyond a win for Labour (and their little better “graduate tax”) at the next election.
It was a risky proposition in that it may have ended up hurting people who have done nothing wrong, per se. But I bet bricking that Rolls Royce felt bloody good to those involved – and from even a cursory glance at the imagery involved, one can see why, when elected politicians are simply disregarding what they were elected promising to do.
Bad enough that wealthy men who are sucking ever so hard on the public teat themselves – whilst having enjoyed free university educations for the most part – are preparing to let university students get into massive debt, this was the monarch-to-be travelling in a car that is the last word in luxury to a gathering of immeasurably wealthy and self-satisfied celebrities who will never have to worry about such trivialities as paying for university education, blissfully unaware as the mere plebs created disorder.
Until that brick.
Some other imagery to consider. In parliament, the vote to raise top up fees passed by 21 votes. Twenty-seven Lib-Dem MPs voted to raise the fees. So the Lib-Dems are essentially responsible for the rise in top-up fees. An impressive feat for a party which promised – all 57 of its elected representatives promised – to vote against top-up fees. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Danny Alexander, educated at St. Anne’s College, Oxford – for free.
Norman Baker, educated at Royal Holloway – for free.
Alan Beith, educated at Balliol College, Oxford – for free.
Tom Brake, educated at Imperial College, London – for free.
Jeremy Browne, educated at Nottingham University – for free.
Malcolm Bruce, educated at Queen’s College, St. Andrew’s – for free.
Paul Burstow, educated at South Bank Polytechnic – for free.
Vince Cable, educated at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge – for free.
Alistair Carmicheal, educated at Aberdeen University – for free.
Nick Clegg, educated at Robinson College, Cambridge – for free.
Edward Davey, educated at Jesus College, Oxford – for free.
Don Foster, educated at Keele University – for free.
Stephen Gilbert, educated at University of Wales, Aberystwyth – for free.
Duncan Hames, educated at University of Oxford – for free.
Nick Harvey, educated at Middlesex Polytechnic – for free.
David Heath, educated at St. John’s College, Oxford – for free.
John Hemming, educated at Magdalen College, Oxford – for free.
Norman Lamb, educated at the University of Leicester – for free.
David Laws, educated at King’s College, Cambridge – for free.
Michael Moore, educated at Edinburgh University – for free.
Andrew Stunell, educated at the University of Manchester – for free.
Sarah Teather, educated at St. John’s College Cambridge – for free*.
David Ward, educated at Bradford University – for free.
Steve Webb, educated at Hertford College, Oxford – for free.
The leaking of some 90,000 military files, detailing US and coalition prosecution of the war in Afghanistan, presents a stark lesson in the extent to which our government is not accountable for its actions.
Reading the Guardian this morning, there were several key points that contributed to this. The capricious treatment of the relatives of civilians killed by coalition forces is high on my list.
The war logs document that occasionally relatives would be paid some sort of compensation for the death of a family member; in other cases they were ignored or bullied into silence.
Assassination as a tactic employed by our government should also concern us. The matter of its legality to one side, it puts an enormous amount of power into the hands of people who aren’t accountable. It’s done in secret. The only reason we’re finding out about it – or finding out about the number of spectacularly botched attempts at it, often with the cost of many civilian lives – is because someone broke the law to bring us this information.
How can we talk about democracy and accountability when we’re killing people in secret?
Exposé after exposé has documented how the intelligence and PR arms of the military have tried to control the flow of information. The clear evidence of misinformation provided by the activities of US Task Force 373 (and a lesser UK equivalent) surely raises questions about how the people of this country can make an informed decision on the war, which is (according to the democratic theory) supposed to filter out through elections.
It is my firm belief that we cannot trust our government to wage any war – and that therefore we should never go to war so long as government and its executive arms are the preserve of a narrow clique, hedged around with secrecy.
As Duncan points out yesterday, as regards the death of Ian Tomlinson at the hands of the police (and as is the case in deaths-in-custody or deaths during police restraints too), our media and politicians are all too ready to offer justification and explain away official mistakes, to dismiss the idea of blame and accountability. It’s no different in war abroad than in the policing of political dissent at home.
One of the Trotskyist reasons for opposing an endorsement of Chamberlain’s government and its participation in World War II was that Trotsky and others believed that the British ruling class would capitulate if they could get terms favourable to British imperialism and capitalism. The bottom line was that, despite all the rhetoric about ‘national unity’, the ruling class was out for its own interests and would interpret the national interest however it liked.
We haven’t moved on terribly far from that position.
There’s no doubt that our armed forces are propping up an oppressive, dictatorial, nepotistic regime in Afghanistan; talk of peace with the Taliban surely provides the last kick in the teeth to anyone who genuinely believed the US-UK coalition were invading for truth, justice and the American way. They’re ignoring civilian deaths, condoning assassination and deliberately misinforming domestic media.
Faced with a gap between reality and rhetoric, our governments (whether Democratic or Republican in the US, Labour or Conservative in the UK) have chosen to interpret their original mission statement to suit their immediate needs. Bugger democracy, or women’s rights; a puppet government of whatever political orientation will do nicely. Never mind not moving on from World War II, we haven’t moved on from Lord Auckland.
Whether one thinks in terms of class, cliques, power elites or another system of sociological division, the government is self-interested. Labour quite happily sat on most of these secrets and the Conservatives have, in a stunning display of political cowardice, refused to comment. William Hague simply stayed on message: “We are working hard with our allies in Afghanistan on improving security on the ground, in increasing the capacity of the Afghan government.”
This makes sense. Answering questions about these problems highlights that actually the Tories have been behind the invasions from day one, and might open the door to more serious questions about what the hell we’re doing in Afghanistan at all. Apart from letting Pakistan’s intelligence service try and play the Taliban off against India, or destabilising northern Pakistan and extending the reach of Islamic extremism in Central Asia.
And what can we do about any of this? The answer is not a lot – and that enrages me.
Foreign policy news stories – whether about the use of chemical weapons at Fallujah in Iraq, about the assassination of trades unionists by groups supplied by the coalition, the oppression of women by the same groups or the brazen incompetence of the armed wings of the pro-coalition Afghan government – arrive, have an effect on opinion polls and then leave. Their practical effect is essentially zero.
NGOs like Human Rights Watch will appear in the newspapers to denounce the behaviour of the coalition armed forces. Opinion pieces will be fielded by the political Right to the effect that we’re fighting against an enemy that’s much worse (as though moral relativism is any justification). The majority of people will quietly be disgusted, David Cameron will make some platitudinous remark about troops coming home and the status quo will continue.
Disempowerment doesn’t get much more complete than that.
I have been deeply troubled by the news as of late, much more so than usual. Industrial action at BA (which Dave has discussed here) and in the Civil Service, with promises of more to come, have got the Right and the media talking about the Unions again, in that wonderfully narrow-minded and ill-informed manner we’re all used to. I have come to the conclusion that my recently held suspicions of a resurgent Thatcherite tendency in the ranks of the Conservatives is becoming more and more obvious.
Even most on the left would accept that Margaret Thatcher was a woman of overwhelming conviction, and that she had a radical vision of how to change Britain. Though many on the left would not associate right-wing positions with radicalism, which is of course deeply flawed. The ideas of people like Thatcher, Milton Friedman and others on the fundamentalist right sought to change society, as they saw it, for the better, where we lefties tend to see them as changing it for the worse.
Whatever your views on the motivations of Thatcher and the consequences of her time in power, we can all agree that she made fairly significant alterations to our social and political landscape.
Her goal was to smash the post-war Keynesian consensus, and return to a more fundamentalist, laissez-faire, model of capitalism. She saw the changes of the post war period as limiting our opportunities in economic performance, and suffocating us with bloated and inefficient big government. As I like to often point out (with a somewhat smug tone), one of the major “successes” of this, as Thatcher herself put it, was New Labour. As she famously said, “we forced our opponents to change their minds”.
Despite the mountain of rubble under which the Tories buried themselves by 1997, Lady Thatcher could rest assure that certain elements of her cause would be safe in the hands of Blair and Brown.
Crucially, they supported her liberalisation of the financial markets. Despite manifesto promises, they supported continued marketisation of Public Services and never put an end to the Privatisation of essential services and national infrastructure.
They bought little or no reform to Local Government, essentially leaving Councils exactly as Thatcher had wanted them, spending agents of the Treasury. And virtually nothing was done to rebuild the skilled base of our once great, and highly Unionised, productive industries.
Our industrial sectors that were the backbone of numerous working class communities were decimated by an economic model that accepted un-unionised global competition as an immutable fact. Thatcher and her successors favoured a predominantly service based economy, where todays youngsters are more likely to be found working in jobs with little potential for advancement and less training in transferrable skills.
I tend to run through this list in my head and wonder, how much exactly did New Labour concede to Mrs Thatcher? Of course massive changes have been made, not least of all to the funding of our Public Services and eradication of poverty, but I am focusing on the core objectives of Thatcherism, the ones that survived her, and more so on the one that slipped the net.
Despite the tremendous damage Mrs Thatcher inflicted upon the Trade Union movement, she never truly succeeded in crushing them as she so wished. More importantly in my opinion (and in the opinion of many Tories no doubt!), she never managed to break the link between the Unions and the Labour Party, a pet cause of many on the right since Labour’s inception.
The Tories know, as Keir Hardie et. al also understood, that the major strength of the Labour Party is its nominal position as representative of the millions of men and women who are expected to bear the cost of every capitalistic cock up without protest.
That’s what made the Labour Party so special, it was rooted in the organised sections of the class it sought to represent. It was what the ruling classes of Britain had feared since the English Revolution, the previously silent majority organising effectively enough to make their voices heard, and right the terrible wrongs that this country’s majority had endured for centuries.
Although many will argue that this principle has been shunned by the current Labour leadership, which has refused to enact a whole host of policies suggested by various Trade Unions, they are just as vital to the continued existence of the Party, as they were at the beginning of the 20th century.
Most of the Party’s money come from Trade Union member’s, who donate money voluntarily to their respective Affiliate Political Funds. Also, large swathes of our activists come from the Unions, notably USDAW and Unite, who both play a massive role in Labour general election campaigns, with Unite currently running a national phone bank campaign, contacting tens of thousands of voters around the country.
The recent industrial disputes yesterday prompted Conservative Chairman Eric Pickle’s to bring this all up, he whipped himself into the usual kind of hysteria that Tories seem to get themselves into when Trade Unionists try to stand up for their members – which is, ironically, what Thatcher sought to portray as her aim, when it came to supposedly “undemocratic” union bosses and practices.
Pickles demanded that The Labour Party immediately stop taking funds from the Unite Union.
I have become bored of trying to explain the relationship between the affiliated Unions and the Labour Party to excited Tories who have very little understanding of our internal workings. I don’t want to make the whole “The Unions are a Part of the Labour Party” argument again, I outlined it here and George Eaton also wrote a cracking article in the New Statesman, that sums it up pretty well. But its pretty clear that the Tories are now trying to turn the Ashcroft scandal round on us and at the same time revive their favoured boogeyman.
George Osborne also had some words for us yesterday on the matter,
“Gordon Brown cannot have it both ways. He can’t condemn the strike whilst at the same time taking money from the strikers’ union and while at the same time allowing Charlie Whelan, the political director of that union, to have open access to 10 Downing Street.
“In the end it’s a question of leadership for Gordon Brown. He has to cut off the links with the Unite union which is a party within a party now for the Labour Party.”
It is clear from such comments that they are eager to get back to Thatcher’s unfinished business, and break the link between the Party and the Trade Unions for good.
David Cameron has been pretty open about his plans to reform the Union link, and Conservative sources have assured us that this is intended to be a first term priority if Cameron wins the election. If they succeed, they will pretty much destroy the last remnants of the Party’s links to the organised Labour movement, and certainly ensure it will no longer have any hope of serving its original purpose.
This shouldnt be of concern just to Labour Party members, but to all Trade Unionists, whatever their affiliations. This is an attack not on the Labour Party, but on the right of organised Labour to secure formalised political representation for our movement, and is an attempt to finish the work of their revered handbag brandishing leader. We should work to ensure they don’t get away with it.
When the time comes, the words “Taff Vale” will be on more lips than mine.