The General Election of 2005 resulted in a reduced but sound parliamentary majority for New Labour, this on the basis of winning the support of 25% of registered voters. The usual crocodile tears were shed over voter apathy, disconnection from politics and so on. Various people have pointed out that under the present voting system most votes do not in fact count, and that election campaigns are aimed at a relatively small swathe of voters, what are called ‘swing voters’ in what are ‘marginal’ constituencies. This is similar to what happens in US elections. These particular voters were then given nationally representative status by adoption of the Bill Clinton phrase, “hard-working families who play by the rules.”
The campaign was fought by New Labour and the Conservatives acted on an assumption both parties are keen to make, that the British public as a whole is far nastier and less tolerant than it is. New Labour with its profoundly two-faced attitude to non-white immigrants and asylum seekers – their structural importance to its neo-liberal economic polices as workers, which depends on politically managed levels of their feeling of insecurity, had set the tone. Michael Howard’s Conservatives naturally enough went a step further with their crudely subliminal “Are You Thinking What We’re Thinking?” All this was done in the face of the reality of a British multiculturalism in which race is simply not an issue for many urban people and especially the young. For other people it has become more important, encouraged by the political class with its ‘war on terror’ and war on ‘bogus’ asylum seekers. This does not prevent the same class from also selling multiculturalism as what makes Britain ‘cutting edge’. As a commodity it is now being given a very heavy sell in New Labour’s propaganda campaign to get the Olympic Games for 2012. What does matter, what does have consequences is that the narrow swathe of voters who do count in elections were less likely to be fans of multiculturalism. As Paul Gilroy has described, “convivial Britain” which enjoys multiculturalism has no place in official British politics. Except when it is a selling point.
There was, as Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats, also a climate of fear generated by New Labour and followed by the Conservatives, in which the ‘war on terror’ and the talked up inevitability of an attack on London (one denied when it did happen…it was not to do with British participation in the invasion of Iraq), which brought with it imprisonment without trial, a push for ID cards and more ASBOs.
At the same time, and as early as September 2004, New Labour had begun to identify the Liberal Democrats as a danger, that Lab our supporters angry about various aspects of New labour policy. In a credulous feature on Peter Hain. The Guardian of 6/9/04 (credulous because how could it know what was being asked at his MP’s surgery in Neath) it wrote “For months he has been worried that the revived Liberal Democrats are a threat to Labour. The conventional wisdom in the Labour hierarchy was that Charles Kennedy’s party helps Labour because it mainly takes votes from the Tories. But after the Iraq war, that is changing, Liberal Democrats are making inroads into Labour’s Northern heartlands.” All this, Hain said, might “hand” such seats to the Tories.
New Labour’s fabled propaganda department in classic Bolshevik fashion began to define who ought to vote for them but might not, and why they might not. In this they were aided by media loyalists who might criticize certain actions of the Leader, a far too cosy relationship with Rupert Murdoch for example , but who countenance no alternative.
Those who ought to vote for it but might not had their motivation isolated as being anti-the Iraq invasion. Duplicitous and imperialist as the invasion was, and with the Leader shifted into History-Will-Absolve-Me mode, there were plenty of other reasons not to vote New Labour.
Having then reduced possible opposition from those who ought to vote New Labour but might not to this single issue, the next move was then to define and caricature those same people, before bullying them into coming back to the fold. In the minds of New Labour propagandists they were to be identified as an irresponsible section of the progressive middle class. Peter Hain defined them as Shiraz and Chardonnay drinkers, dreadful stuff that no self-respecting member of the attacked class would drink. They were irresponsible because the return of a Conservative government which their deviant voting would have as a consequence, would have no impact on their lifestyles. It would be the poor who would suffer.
New Labour, following Mrs Thatcher are constantly creating new precedents in brazen deceit as well as in the permissibility of torture. This is a government which despite tax credit schemes for the poor, have acted comprehensively in the interests of the rich and the more privileged middle class. It is true that there is a progressive middleclass: there is also a progressive working class. That such a class exists is especially abhorrent to New Labour. It undermines its whole rationale and the only way to deal with it is to pretend it does not exist, far easier to ascribe opposition to it as the work of that irresponsible middle class that has the luxury of conscience. In the event it would appear that under such bullying, only the tougher part of that class held its nerve. The much larger rebellion came from working class voters. Mr Hain’s own vote in Neath was considerable reduced. There was little comment on this result and a deafening silence from the politico-media class on the result in Bleanau. In this constituency opposition by lifetime members of the Labour Party to a candidate parachuted in by the Leader’s immediate circle, lead to them being expelled from the party in classic Bolshevik style. In the event they fielded their own ‘unofficial Labour’ candidate and won decisively.
The progressive working class was no doubt appalled by those many ‘economies with the truth’ that lead to the invasion of Iraq. At the same time as the Leader who appealed exclusively to those who passed the three tests – family, hard-working and playing by the rules – large scale redundancies were announced at MG Rover. Regrettable but that’s the way of the globalized world. At which point many progressive working class voters nationwide might well have said, Work Hard Play by the Rules and Get Shafted. Or decided that they really did not like the Leader’s language with its authoritarian tone. Play by whose rules? they may have asked at the same time as they saw an elitist trajectory to educational’reform’, and feared that the attack on civil liberties might reach them and tap them on the shoulder: an ASBO; a call-up for Parenting Courses; or a large fine for a minor transgression.