Peter Hoskin

Why class wars don’t work

Why class wars don't work
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Well, it seems like Paul Richards – a former aide to Hazel Blears – wants to corner the market in quietly persuasive demolitions of his own party's strategy.  If you remember, he wrote a perceptive piece on Labour's shortcomings in the aftermath of the Norwich North by-election, which we highlighted here on Coffee House.  And, today, he's at it again, with a very readable article in PR Week on why the class war won't work.  His three reasons why are worth noting down:

"First, it is hypocritical. The Labour Party has a disproportionately far higher number of former public schoolboys and schoolgirls in parliament and in the government than a random sample of the public they serve. It is well-known that Labour's deputy leader, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Schools Secretary, and a host of other ministers went to fee-paying schools. They can't be blamed for the choices made by their parents any more than those made by David Cameron's parents.

Two of Labour's most successful leaders have been the products of public schools: Clement Attlee (Played 3, Won 2) and Tony Blair (Played 3, Won 3). Most of all it is hypocritical for Labour to attack people's private education because Labour has made no attempt over 12 years to stop private schools operating. And nor should they have.

Second, it doesn't work. The lamentable attempt to depict Edward Timpson, the Conservatives' candidate in the Crewe & Nantwich by-election in May 2008, as a ‘Tory toff' famously failed. A stunt involved apparatchiks dressed in top hats and tails. But Timpson's family made their money from a string of shops which cut keys and mended shoes. Key-cutting and shoe-mending is hardly owning a sweat-shop or salt-mine. Timpsons has a sound brand and good reputation. There was some excitement when a rumour hit the Labour campaign that Timpson had been seen in a Bentley, until someone pointed out that Bentleys are manufactured in - guess where - Crewe.

Any attempt to paint the Tories as the party of toffs would allow the Tories to wheel out Eric Pickles, Sayeeda Warsi, Shaun Bailey and the other non-traditional Tory type candidates they've been assiduously selecting since 2007. It would draw attention to the educational background of various Cabinet ministers. It would back-fire.

Third, it risks contaminating New Labour's image as a party of aspiration. Blair knew that ‘Mondeo Man' would never be able to send his son to Eton. But Mondeo Man didn't hate the people who did, if he felt they deserved their affluence. Indeed Mondeo Man might strive to send his children to the local prep school, and certainly wouldn't vote for a Labour Party which told him it was wrong to do so." To my mind, the class war strategy's main weakness is probably what Downing Street regards as its strength: it only really connects with the Labour hardcore.  In that respect, it signals the retreat, rather than an advancement, of Brown's premiership.