Monday, 12 July 2010

Labour Uncut Article - Posted 9.7.10

Link to original article
In 1997 my entire family voted for Tony Blair. We were genuinely thrilled as we celebrated the landslide. I was 21 and optimistic after a lifetime of Conservative government.
Fast forward to 2010 and only half of us still gave Labour our vote, with my mother making it very clear that this was their last chance. Interestingly, of the Labour voters, two of us are now members. We both got involved in the election campaign and felt passionately that Labour was the right party, on policy across the board and particularly to get us out of the recession.
But what about the rest of my family; what went wrong?

I should explain what sort of family we are. We are working class, although arguably we have moved to a more middle class existence. Within the family we have diverse careers and salaries. We have had a fair and moral upbringing. We live within our means and aren’t greedy. Here are the things that I believe defined and changed our politics, and those of other families, in the past 13 years.
1. The Iraq war. This led to me leaving the Labour party for 4 years and it was the final nail in Tony Blair’s coffin for my parents. This was an illegal war, without the backing of the British public and the first and only time I saw my mother get politicised (she even considered coming to London for the march). It felt as though Blair had completely lost interest in Britain and our domestic issues and that he was already cosying up to statesmen all over the world and getting into America’s back pocket in preparation for his post-politics millionaire lifestyle. This is history, and cannot be altered; but it was still not forgotten by the electorate in 2010.
2. Gordon Brown. Three of us were fans of Brown, cut to two after the Gillian Duffy affair. Despite the disappointment and frustration of all with the Blair spin years we discovered we didn’t want the alternative either. Brown unfortunately proved that you can’t be a 21st century PM unless you can act up for the media, smile naturally and play Mr Nice Guy. Substance, it seems doesn’t win you votes. People, and it would appear my family included, prefer someone with more charm and gloss to lead the country. There is no doubt that Labour has learned its lesson. All the leadership candidates are more media savvy, friendly and malleable than the former prime minister
3. Immigration. We are not a racist family. Nevertheless, my parents – like millions of other Labour and ex-Labour voters – are from the Duffy school of thought. When I ask them what negative experiences of immigration they have personally experienced they don’t have any answers. It is a perceived issue and their evidence includes: random stories from the Daily Mail, increased parking and traffic problems, Latvian neighbours (whom they very much like) and a lack of English spoken in a nearby High Street.
Yet both work closely with foreigners and are interested in and respectful of other cultures. Pretty depressing, but unfortunately their reasoning is far from unique amongst working class Britons. The leadership candidates have all agreed that complaints about immigration are often a smokescreen for other social issues such as housing, transport, poor town planning and run down areas. We all know that cultural diversity adds to our society, but that doesn’t appease people who see their immediate geography changing and link it with immigration almost by default.
Andy Burnham seems to be the only candidate speaking with an understanding of the average working class person and their concerns on this issue. It is not an easy subject, and some might argue that Labour were in the process of tackling it with their points based system, but this simply wasn’t communicated well enough. Clearly, we are in the EU and we can’t change history with regard to the east European immigrants, many of whom are no longer in the UK. The solution? Continue to educate and do not be afraid to celebrate the benefits of our society while listening to what the electorate actually wants, and maintaining an open, mature debate.
4. The Media. My family got scared. They read about the deficit and decided it was a big, dark monster that was going to get us if Labour got back in. They didn’t read complex economic analysis or read articles by leading economists. They heard a figure and it had the desired effect on them. They also saw how the media only printed pictures of Gordon Brown grimacing, frowning, mouth agape or in an equally unflattering pose. They believed that most of the people on benefits were lazy, undermotivated layabouts sponging off the government. They thought that all teenagers in baggy clothes talking ‘street’ were trouble. In essence they believed that Britain is broken.
It is too soon for the press to fall in back in love with Labour. But who knows – as things turn sour for the ConDem coalition maybe the nation will embrace an Ed, a Miliband, an Andy or Diane. The country nearly always leans to the left when a Tory government is in power, and surely this pattern will be replicated, especially given the regressive politics of this government.
On the positive side: what made me and my sister get involved and continue to do so post-election? We believe in right and wrong. We simply don’t think it is right to take away benefits from the poorest, cut spending in areas where the most vulnerable need support and let the rich continue to get richer. We don’t mind paying our taxes if it makes Britain a better country. We will happily pay our fair share and more if necessary.
We want to see the gap between rich and poor reduced, we want each child to have an equal start in life, we want to celebrate the tolerant and diverse Britain that we live in. Our lives improved between 1997 and 2010. We bought homes; we travelled; we have never been unemployed; our gay friends don’t encounter prejudices; we don’t experience sexism and we live in a fair tolerant society that we all helped to create. Our job for the next five years is to ensure that as life in Britain becomes harder, tougher and more unequal we are fighting for a fairer country as part of the Labour party.

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