SHEDNOTES 145: Labour’s losers keep on missing the point

An episode of Pointless reminded The Shed of a great Johnny Cash song, Twenty Five Minutes To Go, about a condemned man waiting on the hangman’s trap, which would make a good soundtrack for the countdown to the Labour leadership election …

The Shed has some old Labour loyalties to consider, although they are fading into irrelevance, and feels obliged to comment on the state of play.

As Patrick Wintour has been making clear in the Guardian, Labour has been clearly told the perfectly obvious but has ignored the message.

On August 5, Wintour reported on a leaked memo written after the 2010 election by a Labour adviser called James Morris, who worked with a number of focus groups.

Wintour reported:

He (Morris) wrote: “Across all the groups, the Labour party was felt to be on the side of the undeserving – particularly the workshy and immigrants.

“Labour is seen as having consistently ignored English people’s views on immigration. A Labour leader who wants to show change has to show that they understand that. This is not just an issue for lost working-class voters – it was central to Middle England and a major concern for Lib Dems. Out of the 40 people who took part in the groups only one person mounted any sort of defence of a relatively open policy on immigration.

“There was a universal concern about benefits and the provision of services, with immigrants sending child benefit abroad symbolic of the issue. Just as common was a cultural concern. This was partly about people adopting British culture when they come here and partly about standing up for British and in particular English traditions and English people. There was a strong sense that people who are born and bred in England should be prioritised.

“Linked to immigration, but distinct from it, was the issue of benefits. This was the symbol of a deep concern that Labour does not understand the link between effort and desert. People in all the groups felt that, while they worked hard for their money, there were people who are able to sit at home and not work.

“Labour is seen to have been a principal architect and defender of a benefits culture. Participants in all the groups felt they knew people who were leading lights in that culture, while they went out to work. Several people in the ‘lost working class’ thought they would be better off financially if they didn’t work.”

Morris added …

“While people did see bankers’ risk-taking as a key cause of the recession, there was also a belief that Labour spending helped create the economic mess we are in. The belief was that public spending is like private spending – if you spend more than you are getting in, you are storing up a problem for the future. Beyond that, public understanding is sketchy.

“So the test for a political party is whether they recognise the problem and promise to address it by matching spending to income. A Labour leader who argues that we should keep spending to secure growth is flying in the face of common sense and would need a volte face by the entire media to have any chance of success.”

A week or two ago, Wintour was reporting on a Fabian Society publication, titled Never Again, written by seven of Labour’s most promising losing candidates in the latest general election.

The following quotes are extracted from Wintour’s report:

The campaign, the authors claim, addressed only “the needy and greedy”, leaving the rest ignored. The party had nothing to say on welfare, business creation or immigration, “sounding as if it was on the side of those that don’t work”.

Labour, they say, was “frightened to enter the difficult conversations on immigration, leaving those discussions to go on without the Labour party”.

The seven also suggest Labour needs not just to regain economic credibility but to rethink its approach to immigration, advocating a shift from free to fair movement of labour within the EU.

They write: “We need to answer concerns about immigration and identity, especially for people attracted by Ukip’s resistance to change. We need to show how we improve the welfare system. We cannot simply defend a status quo that many people think is unfair.”

Rowenna Davis (Southampton Itchen) said: “No matter what the polls said, you could smell it. You felt it when you dismissed a Ukip voter’s concerns about levels of European immigration with promises to hire more border guards, or when you tried to deny someone’s concerns about our economic record. The leadership seemed to assume that people were either needy, greedy or irrelevant.

“We were left with a cold, utilitarian narrative that was ultimately based on adversity between the classes and a distrust of the English people. We had been told by senior figures in the party that Ukip was a boon to Labour, splitting the right of the country, but not for marginal seats like ours. In these white working class communities, particularly on the coast, Ukip tore our vote apart.

“This loss of the white working class vote is a crisis for our party, not just because we lost, but because it raises an existential question about who we represent.”

Will Straw (Rossendale and Darwen) said: “Wherever I turned there was a palpable sense that the welfare system was devoid of any sense of contribution.

“Despite Labour’s vocal campaigning, people rarely wanted to talk about the bedroom tax unless they were directly affected. Instead, they wanted to know what Labour would do about the family down the street on benefits who’d ‘never done an honest day’s work in their life’ or why some families jumped up the housing ladder. It might make us feel uncomfortable and it might be unfair, but the public thought that we were on the side of people who don’t work.”

He added: “Ed Miliband famously forgot to mention the deficit in his 2014 conference speech. He didn’t even plan to talk about the welfare system. He should have been saying “Labour – the party of work – the clue is in the name … I want to teach my kids that it is wrong to be idle on benefits, when you can work.”

Sally Keeble (Northampton North): “The voters we need to reach are now embedded in the Tory and Ukip ranks. We lost the argument over linking the contribution people make to society and what they take out in cash or kind. Tory attacks, however unfounded, on our record of welfare spending were corrosive.”

Jessica Asato (Norwich North): “Labour is neither trusted to run services efficiently or to reform them effectively where needed. Arguments for increased funding, now desperately needed, fall on deaf ears because we ‘wasted’ taxpayers’ money last time.”

She reveals voters greeted some of its campaign pledges with incredulity: “‘You can’t guarantee I will get to see my GP in 48 hours!’ or ‘20,000 nurses – you’ll only get that many if they’re all immigrants. My daughter won’t get a look in.’”

Polly Billington (Thurrock): “We need to push further out of our comfort zone and talk about the cultural impact of immigration and the way some communities have changed rapidly over the past few decades.

“The fact is we have been frightened to have the conversations, so the conversations have gone on without us. If we re-enter those conversations without opening them up, we will end up sounding like we are defending the status quo.

“And the status quo is leaving far too many working people behind for us to think it is our preferred option. But the reality is whatever we said did not pass the smell test of leadership, competence or sincerity based on people’s experience of those in power.”

James Frith (Bury North): “We were always up against an assumption that Labour was anti-business. This read across to many as also being anti-private sector worker and too pro-welfare. At this election, our proposition was all opposition. We spoke of all we’d stop and little of what we’d start. Our offer was a complaint. A no deal.

“We rightly spoke of zero hours and wrongly said nothing to those working long hours. So as we jostle and jockey for a way ahead let’s make sure, well before next time, that we show we have the interests not just of those in need of a payday but those responsible for making payroll.”

For some reason, you have to pay £9.95 to read the whole thing but it can be arranged via

The Shed’s own focus group agreed with all that.

But what is the response, today, to the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, talking tough about the situation at Calais?

Guardian again …

Yvette Cooper said he was being “alarmist and unhelpful” and Liz Kendall said there should be no place for dehumanising language in the debate. Jeremy Corbyn said Hammond’s comments were part of a pattern of language designed to whip up prejudice and hostility.

In July, rights groups and politicians rounded on David Cameron when he told ITV news that there was a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean” to seek a better life.

Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham criticised the prime minister’s phrasing, tweeting: “Cameron calling Calais migrants a ‘swarm’ is nothing short of disgraceful. Confirms there’s no dog-whistle these Bullingdon Boys won’t blow.”

Abusing the Tories as a bunch of posh boys is another mistake, when a lot of the old Labour classes have now decided they are the only ones who talk any sense.

It’s probably too late to correct all the mistakes now. Let’s face it, however appealing Jeremy Corbyn might sound in some ways, he is not going to become the champion of the UKIP tendency – although the trade union movement he was raised in would have understood it perfectly well, before it changed its spots to stay cosy with middle-class Labour.

Andy Burnham has come across quite well, sounding more real than he looks, and renationalising the railways is a bold proposal which could be popular. But it’s not enough when the chaos at Calais, and the European agreements which created it, are the issues of the day.

sorryandallthat …

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