Has the movement forgotten what made Blair electable?
In days gone by the TUC conference (it starts today by the way) used to be a high profile event that kicked off the season of political gatherings and would be given almost as much coverage as the Liberal, Labour and Tories ones that followed.
That was when the unions were much larger and much more powerful than they are today and, of course, when the country still had a significant manufacturing base. Since then the movement has been scarred by the Thatcher reforms of ’80s and, of course, the way the economy has evolved.
A big problem, of course, is that the unions are the biggest pay-masters of the party and a Labour without the monthly cheques from UNITE and others is going to be in a very poor state indeed.
So the TUC gathering is a very dangerous week for Labour and the one period during the political year when the focus is on the “core values” and things like redistribution. Even the artful former leader who was forced out in 2007 by the Brown gang had to treat this one with great caution.
Blair’s great genius was to realise that the only way his party could achieve and hold onto power was by making it “safe” for large sections of the middle classes, particularly in England, to give it their votes. He did it brilliantly and the reason that Labour is now in such a mess is that it is losing its appeal to those he brought on board.
All this talk of making the “middle classes” the target for taxation and cuts might go down well at the TUC but it will add, surely, to its electoral challenges. Having a leader without a natural affinity with the key segments is bad enough but to single them out for “special treatment” might be going too far.
Jackie Ashley’s argument seems to be based on the premise that Labour has already lost and should be aiming for a vote share in the low 30s so it’s “able to regroup in opposition and exploit the tough times the Tories will face”. I think that she is wrong.
Without keeping a significant proportion of middle class votes Labour won’t be able to win again. These are people, of course, who are more likely to be on the electoral register and much more likely to vote.