Read more : Read more : Ryan Shorthouse: June 2008

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The new party of aspiration

They targeted the toffs. And then the foreigners. Who will it be in the upcoming Henley by-election? The Oxford University professors down the road? Their scruffy clothes bring down the area. And their bicycles cause traffic jams.

Labour ran a negative, divisive campaign in Crewe and Nantwich. They thought they could channel people’s anger and frustration- exacerbated by uncertain economic times- towards certain groups. Tory Boys get thousands in bonuses while were struggling to afford to put petrol in the car. And the foreigners are coming over and knicking all our jobs. The Government encouraged these messages to surface in the hope that ordinary, hard-working families would see the Labour party as their natural ally. Well, were the electorate thinking what Labour were thinking? Obviously not. Edward Timpson got 7,860 more votes than Dunwoody Junior. The Government surely now realises that it cannot re-direct people’s anger: people are, first and foremost, angry with the Government, especially after the removal of the 10p tax band.

Following an ugly, populist by-election campaign, have Labour become the new nasty party? I don’t think so. And the public won’t think so either. Their policies may not always achieve it, but the Government does have the admirable intention of helping the poorest in our society. Rather, Labour is the new negative party. Listen to the Prime Minister and he discusses the tough international economic climate we now face. Of course, he’s quick to take credit for “low inflation and low unemployment” over the past 10 years in the same old speech every PMQ’s. But the problems we now face- falling house prices, the rising cost of living, the fear of recession- are apparently nothing to do with Gordon, but by unstoppable forces from abroad. Brown’s message is therefore terribly pessimistic: we are helpless. I will try, he says. But when it comes down to it, the ‘nice decade’ is over and there’s nothing much we can do about it.

The doom and gloom is accentuated by the PM’s sombre look and uneasy demeanour. Frank Field was right : he looks desperately unhappy. Through no fault of his own, he just looks miserable. And that makes us miserable, consequently making us pessimistic about the future. Inspiring people is just not Gordon’s thing. Part of the appeal of Boris, I think, was his jolliness and vivacity- twinned with his serious policies- in tough times. That awful picture of Ken drinking a cup of coffee outside ‘Ken’s cafĂ©’, contrastingly, just invoked feelings of a damp and dreary Monday morning.

Labour has lost its energy and its positivity. That is where it’s going wrong. New Labour was a success because it was the party of aspiration: it believed that the lives of all individuals could be improved and that progress was possible. Gordon Brown boasts about his past record and moans about the troublesome present. David Cameron, on the other hand, speaks with excitement about his ideas for the future, whether it be producing more good schools or creating a more family-friendly Britain. He has made the Tories the progressive, optimistic party; the party of aspiration.

You knew it would go wrong, I suppose, when on starting as Prime Minister, Gordon finished his speech with: “Now let the work of change begin”. Depressing. Had we all become employees of a Victorian factory all of a sudden? It chucked it down that day and a lot of people were probably thinking: I miss Tony, already. Team Gordon assumed that the public wanted a leader who was not flash, but like a boring bank manager: competent rather than charismatic. Brown should look west for lessons from the race for the Democratic nominee in the US: Obama- youthful, optimistic, a voice for a better future- is preferred to Clinton- who has positioned herself as the wiser and more experienced candidate in a time of immense difficulties.

New Labour was the party of ambition, of hope, of a better future. This is the soul of New Labour. It is why, under the party’s stewardship, more people go to university, why we went to war with Iraq, and why Cherie has made a million from her new book. Labour has forgotten what aspiration is, allowed the Conservatives to be the champion of it, and ultimately paid the price.