Wednesday 8 October 2008

Labour: on whose side?

Labour is on your side - but who are you? At the moment, Labour is torn between supporting the little man against the world and the 'decent' majority against the rest.

Gordon Brown's conference speech was full of references to victims of crime, to parents and to people juggling their budgets. Labour is on your side. You are the little man, fighting against a financial crisis that you didn't create, but which is hurting you. The emphasis is on the individual - how can Labour benefit you personally?

Even when the Prime Minister spoke about "Britain's vast majority - people on middle and modest incomes", he was not talking about a group which Labour would help. The vast majority might be suffering in the same way, but Labour's realtionship with each member of the majority is personal, individual.

Is this a shift in tone? Under Tony Blair, Labour was 'on your side', but you were a member of the (often unfairly mocked) decent, hard-working, law-abiding majority. The best example was criminal justice policy - ASBOs and the respect agenda put Labour on the side of the majority. And the majority was a coherent group - Labour's relationship was with the group, not each individual member.

Have we moved away from this? Have the British people become more individualised? More credit cleaved than credit crunched? Maybe. But, to maintain support for public spending in these straightened times, Labour must continue to talk about communities, rather than just individuals. Support for the less fortunate cannot be sustained if the government speaks to people only as individuals, rather than as members of a group.

In troubled times, individuals look after themselves; groups look after their members. Labour's individuals will vote as individuals. And they won't vote Labour.

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