THE BLOG

When Did Labour Become a Party of Snobs?

21/11/2014 17:12 GMT | Updated 21/01/2015 10:59 GMT

The resignation of Emily Thornberry for tweeting a picture of a home in Rochester will continue to be used against Labour. Somewhere along the line, the party appears to have lost its ability to tap into the fears and aspirations of a part of the electorate, what we may have traditionally thought of as the working class vote.

None of this is new. Blair's great triumph was to understand what they wanted but combining it with a more middle class, soft left, outlook. he classic example being summed as 'tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime'. But this trick was repeated across 'education, education, education' and a host of other policy areas. Economic times were obviously different but the approach brought together parts of the electorate that not otherwise always agree.

At the moment, Labour's agenda, particularly on Europe and immigration, is either indistinct or aping Ukip/Conservative policies. How can Labour be tougher on 'scroungers'? How can we prevent people from coming to live in the UK? There has always been a more 'right wing' element of the working class. For some those priorities would dominate and this led to a Conservative vote whilst for others the need for collective action and state action would lead to a Labour vote. The old working class has got smaller in number but what now keeps them bound to the Labour Party?

In Scotland, the agenda is slightly different and more 'traditional'. Nicola Sturgeon's commitment to social justice and tackling inequality is what matters north of the border. She knows that and is making a deliberate play for Labour voters to come across to the SNP. The SNP in this light isn't just about independence but in this new pitch is focused on the things that Labour used to fight for - social justice and equality.

Miliband is being caught in the middle seemingly unable to appeal to either the working class in Scotland or the working class in the south of England. So, despite the protestations otherwise, it is a core vote strategy that will focus on the Midlands and the North. That, however, takes a leap of faith these voters too will not lose faith but also think that the party will address what they want.

There have been allegations about 'champagne socialists' for years. Detractors of the party used such 'luvvies' as a way of showing that Labour wasn't talking for ordinary people. The Peter Mandelson mushy peas / guacamole story was used to illustrate his own detachment and semi-isolated nature, cocooned in North London, it suggested that he was a fish out of water in Hartlepool.

The snob allegation is, however, much more damaging. It infers a sneering attitude towards anyone that has less money and does not enjoy the same outlook. It is a superiority complex.

It fits the narrative of the Labour party, promoted by the Conservatives and Ukip, caught in the grip of a metropolitan elite obsessed by political correctness and unable to stand up for the feelings of ordinary people. It is also shifting into suggestions of a lack of patriotism and an inability to understand what England wants.

Leaders of the Labour Party have often come a similar university-educated, monied elite but what set Clem Attlee and Harold Wilson apart was their ability to be seen as 'of the people'. Wilson's prop, his pipe, was pure media management. Standing beside the Beatles and being associated with popular culture helped him to engage and communicate. The image of Attlee driving around the country with his wife campaigning in the 1951 election is difficult to forget.

Attlee, Wilson and then onto Blair had the policies, personalities and image to appeal widely. There was also perceived to be balance amongst the leadership. There were always Ministers and Shadow Ministers that helped to broaden the appeal. Blair and Prescott were the ultimate 'balanced ticket' in UK politics. There was also leaders - Callaghan and Kinnock - who were cut from a different cloth. Callaghan's union (albeit the civil service) and Kinnock's working class backgrounds helped to show a depth amongst its leadership.

The truth is that the party isn't a party of snobs but the image has grown up over time and has not been demolished. It is symptomatic of a perceived distance from parts of the electorate. Just look at the hard time Ed Miliband got campaigning in Scotland. You can now imagine similar scenes in parts of the south.

Of course, there is now a furious trawling of MPs' Twitter feeds taking place to see if there are any other snobs out there and the Conservative Party will be particularly worried. If they are seen as sneering then that plays into the problems that have of posh Bullingdon Club boys surrounded by people that look and sound like they do.

Whether it is policies, communications or candidate selection, Thornberry's tweet has only highlighted a problem that has been growing for a while.