All entries for May 2008

May 15, 2008

Labour's shameful Crewe populism

(Labour activists campaign dressed as ‘toffs’)

Excellent piece by John Harris in the Guardian on Labour’s shameful campaign in the Crewe and Nantwich byelection.

It’s wearying enough to see Labour activists trawling round Crewe dressed as ‘toffs’, but the nadir was reached with one particularly sinister campaign leaflet

titled “Tory candidate application form”, replete with questions and ticked boxes. Number one is, “Do you live in a big mansion house?” Question two is – and, really, the sense of humour on display is quite something – “Do you think that regeneration is adding a new wing to your mansion?” The third reads: “Have you and your Tory mates on the council been soft on yobs and failed to make our streets safer?” But the best is saved for question four, at which point pantomimic class hatred is suspended and we get something altogether more sinister. “Do you,” it asks, “oppose making foreign nationals carry an ID card?”

It’s disturbing to see Labour attack the Conservatives from the right but no longer surprising.

I was reminded of one of the closing passages of Tony Blair’s final speech to the party conference:

David Cameron’s Tories? My advice: get after them. His foreign policy. Pander to anti-Americanism by stepping back from America … His immigration policy. Says he’ll sort out illegal immigration, but opposes Identity Cards, the one thing essential to do it … He wants a Bill of Rights for Britain drafted by a Committee of Lawyers. Have you ever tried drafting anything with a Committee of Lawyers? And his policy for the old lady terrorised by the young thug is that she should put her arm round him and give him a nice, big hug.

Far from being rejected, such right-wing populism has been entrenched.

As for the byelection leaflet, such toff-bashing (a shame Labour would have been deprieved of the public-school educated Clement Attlee by that standard) is no substitute for principled egalitarianism and social democracy. Just as we judge Attlee and Tony Benn by their principles, not their class, so we should attack Edward Timpson for his ideology, not on his (actually quite complex) background.

The greatest irony though, is that many of those posturing in Crewe no doubt support the very neoliberal policies (minimal taxation of the super-rich, tax breaks for private schools) that have further entrenched class division in British society.

I’d also wager that they’re not too troubled by the persistence of our unelected, hereditary monarchy. Show you are and join the excellent Republic

P.S. Also see William Davies’s ‘The irrelevance of toff-bashing’ over at Prospect’s blog.


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