In 2012, 59% of people surveyed by Ipsos MORI said they had not been affected by cuts. Now, that has skyrocketed to 75%. My maths has always been a bit sketchy, but I assume I am right in saying that 25% is not a vote large enough to propel Labour into government.
A reformed Milifan is I, but a leftie I remain. When those on the Labour Right argued over summer about the futility of a core base vote, I –like many members- was suspicious that it was a euphemism for fighting on a solely middle class, centrist ticket, and I was not inspired.
But the truth that there is a ceiling to how much of a vote share a party can win on, not even a 35% but a 25% strategy, does not inspire me either.
This does not, however, call for abandoning our fight against the social injustices of austerity, assuming the Tories will be cutting into the 2020s (they will) and that it will still be pre-eminent during the 2020 election (it will). It does not mean we cannot fight on an anti-cuts campaign, so long as we conduct such a campaign in a wholly different fashion to the way we are now.
“Standing Up, Not Standing By”, the new motto for Labour’s local election campaign in May, is certainly a departure from the vacuous bullshit that has come before it. But it’s still bullshit in different clothing. It speaks only to people struggling or people worried about those struggling, and such a campaign may make us feel good, but it will not end in actually helping people struggling (which, when you think about it, is a perfect description of the contemporary British Labour Party). It’s also not the time to be experimenting with something we know will fail, as councils face obscene setbacks and some even move to criminalize homelessness. I am aware that in the PLP meeting it was pointed out that we are not targeting Tory councils, which is obviously ludicrous, albeit realistic. And it’s ludicrous that it’s realistic.
[Note: local elections are not general elections, it is about getting out your core vote; but somehow, frankly, I don’t think that that much thought was put into this – I think, rather, it is stubbornness to stick to a preferred but incredibly flawed message]
You can appeal to an anti-cuts sentiment, or at least attempt to create such sentiment, without appealing narrowing to altruism alone. As always, as boring as it is, ‘security’ is the buzzword upon which elections are won post-crisis.
“There was widespread ‘hunkering down’ into security goals such as safety and certainty, with effects concentrated among socio-economically vulnerable groups and the formative generation.”
So says Dr Annie Austen on the effects to British ‘values’ of the financial crisis.(x)
The assumption that a crisis will benefit us, will fuel anti-capitalist rhetoric is just plain wrong, and Labour is rubbish at capitalising anyway. Often, insecurity makes people more cautious, not less. Forward, not backward, so it goes. So security is key.
If people think cuts make them more secure, they will vote for more cuts. And, on the whole, the electorate see cuts as a necessary evil, if ‘evil’ at all. Us responding to this by saying cuts are a moral issue misses the point entirely. Most people, even many working class people, do not see the devastating impact of cuts that have disproportionately affected a vulnerable minority. They instead see it as a nationwide thing, in terms of national security. They see a national credit card that they are unwilling to max out.
George Osborne is already framing the apparent impending crisis as a reason for ‘living within our means’, and Labour hasn’t responded in any way, shape or form.
And he does this to frame cuts, once again, as a security measure.
The only way Labour can break this spell, is not by going merely after those directly affected by cuts on a moral basis, whom to others, to put it crassly, are sacrificial lambs for the greater good, but to tell those not directly affected by cuts that cuts are a threat to national security. To tell them that they are indirectly affected by cuts in a negative way. And, for a competent party, this should be entirely possible.
For a person who pays a whole lot of attention to either politics or economics, or those that remember that the financial crash was not caused by Gordon Brown, George Osborne’s statement that cuts would protect us from global turmoil is undoubtedly preposterous. It is illiterate, and it is clearly complete bullshit. But he gets away with it. And he does because we respond in the way we respond.
We need to move away from our moral high-horsedness and concretely dispel why this is bad economics and why it makes us exposed to global market meltdown. Enough of the fluffy crap, you have to go hard on why this doesn’t just affect the most vulnerable, but makes the whole country vulnerable instead. It puts middle class families at risk, it puts the working poor at risk. And right there is an electoral coalition. An allieship that will actually help people. That coalition is achieved with as short and sharp messages that propelled the Tories into office in 2010 and again in 2015. George Osborne exposes the country to risk. Repeat it. Talk nationwide, talk cross-class.
We have to make everyone of every class realise that cuts affect them too, even if not directly. Those 75% not affected by cuts are just as exposed to global markets as those that are directly affected. And we need at least some of that 75% to help the 25%.
There is no point being anti-austerity and putting forward our arguments on a purely moral basis; we have to make anti-austerity arguments logical and rational too, for everyone.
Let’s stop feeling good about ourselves and start doing good for other people.