How dangerous for Labour is the Harman plan?
Perhaps the biggest political achievement of Tony Blair was his ability in the run up to the 1997 general election to transform his party into a political force that it was safe for the “middle classes” – epitomised by Daily Mail readers if you like – to vote for.
And when on May 1st of that year the time came to vote millions who had never thought of supporting the party before lined up to give Blair’s NuLab their backing. This totally changed the British political landscape, left the Tories looking split and ineffective, and had enough force behind it to enable the second landslide in 2001 and, in spite of the Iraq war, to lead to an historic third term in 2005.
Ever since Blair was booted out in June 2007 after what was effectively a coup nine months earlier Labour’s electoral prospects have looked in doubt. For without the man who had made it possible the party appeared like a class-based movement again just as the Tories were finally getting their act together.
Labour supporters on PB often accuse me of being anti-Brown. I’m not but from where I sit it’s blindingly obvious that Blair’s replacement does not have the qualities that will keep enough of his predecessor’s coalition together to make a fourth term a realistic possibility.
For the test, as Blair Freebairn argued in his brilliant article here, is how things will go down in the medium-sized English towns. This is where many of the key marginals are away, it should be emphasised, from the metropolitian areas where people can look at things differently.
So what are we to make of this morning’s splash lead in the Daily Mail? The broad plan, according to the paper, is to extend existing policies on race, age, gender, disability and sexuality to include social background.
An unnamed Cabinet Minister is quoted as describing the measures as “socialism in one clause”, and the Mail wonders whether this “will raise fears that the better-off could see a squeeze on their access to everything from healthcare to school places.”
This has the same feel as the rush by the Tories in the two or three years before they lost power to privatise the railways. It was though they recognised the inevitability of defeat but wanted to get one final big measure in place before Labour arrived.
We shall see.