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Has Class Warfare Returned to Great Britain?

by Phil Marks, 7th December 2009

Recent pronouncements by the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, suggest that the so-called New Labour Party has returned to the strategy of the pre-Blair 'old' Labour Party and is attacking the Tory Party (a Government in waiting?) on the basis of so-called class divisions. How should the Tory party deal with this?

It seems that the Labour Party, in the absence of any kind of a defensible  track record on education, health and the economy (to name a few key areas), have adopted an election strategy which harks back to the good old days of the 1960s and 1970s.

Last week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown attacked the Tory front bench (Conservative Party Shadow Cabinet) for having made taxation policy on the playing fields of Eton (a ‘top’ UK private school). This was on the basis that several of the Shadow Cabinet (the official Opposition mirror of the Government’s Cabinet) had been educated at the school –and that includes David Cameron the Tory Leader. The new (Old?) Labour stance is that Tory plans to reduce the impact of Inheritance Tax were designed to assist their schoolfriends and social class, and basically that the Tories were a party of 'toffs' (well-bred, well-dressed, well-educated, well-spoken and well-heeled).

This exhumed strategy effectively ditches the New Labour approach, which was to harness the people at the wealthy end of the spectrum, for political contributions and kudos, and also to demonstrate that social class distinctions were being removed. In the early 1990s New Labour recognised that they had to win the vote of the so-called middle classes if they were to become a Government. Do you remember the Oasis musicians and other A, B and Z list personalities attending parties at No.10 with Tony Blair? This was New Labour in full flow in a New Egalitarian Britain. Nowadays, it is generally accepted by informed commentators that social mobility in Britain has advanced little since 1997.

Now, Gordon Brown is going back to his roots, as he has always been perceived as having a serious problem with the New Labour social manifesto which Tony Blair drove through to achieve power in 1997. The current Government is clutching at straws as it sees its re-election hopes (in mid 2010) disappearing. It just needs to tie-in the playing fields of Eton with the fat cat bankers and the credit crunch, and all is solved from an electoral viewpoint. Probably the best they can do is to shore up their traditional vote.

The hypocrisy causes me a problem. Several of the senior members of the Cabinet (and predecessor Labour Cabinets), came from priveleged backgrounds and enjoyed the benefits of private education. That group includes Ed Balls and Harriet Harman. On top of that there are several instances in very recent times of Cabinet Ministers sending their children to private schools amid political uproar. One of the mantras of New Labour in 1997 was ‘Education, Education, Education’. Well, Labour have had 12 years to turn their dreams into a reality, and it patently has not worked. Recent analysis has shown that state-school educated UK children have the worst ‘3 R’s’ test performance of any Western Country. Most parents want the best education for their children that they can afford.

Now, with the poker hand being played by the Board of the Royal Bank of Scotland, who are insisting on paying market-rate bonuses to their bankers or they will resign en masse (and the UK Government is a major shareholder in RBS), we are seeing the Government floating the idea of targeted windfall taxes on bankers with large bonuses. This ties in neatly with the new Old Labour strategy.

Gordon Brown blames the Credit Crunch on world events, yet it was he who installed the weak and ineffective financial regulatory environment when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He famously said that ‘the days of boom and bust are over’.

So, what about the Tory Party and the new attack by Old Labour with an Old Class Battle Strategy? The Tories appear to be sensitive on the class issue, and on the issues surrounding bankers’ bonuses. Well, my perception is that the Old Labour strategy will fail, though it may go some way to shoring up Labour’s traditional vote. My view is that the UK has moved on.

Communications are better than ever and people are, in general, better informed than they ever have been. We live in a Twitter and Facebook almost-wireless society. The up-coming generation of voters do not subscribe to the class battles of the past. It’s a big generalisation, but I believe that they have the sense to see that New/Old Labour have had 12 years to deliver and have failed abjectly.

The Tories should stop being defensive and they should appeal to the broad mass of the British people on the facts. They should turn a perceived negative into a positive and attack the Government on their abysmal record, as a party of the past, on Gordon Brown's poor stewardship of the economy and on the hypocrisy surrounding education and the playing fields of Eton.


© 2009 Phil Marks