Osborne plays the class card

A first glimpse of a new Tory strategy on class.

It's often said that George Osborne is much better at politics than he is at economics and he proved as much on The Andrew Marr Show this morning.

His fellow guest Harriet Harman attempted to catch him off-guard by asking if he ever fancied replacing David Cameron as leader. Osborne dismissed the question and responded: "We went to the same school [St Paul's]. They were always like this! Those Paulinas, so aggressive."

The pair may never have shared so much as a maths class (Osborne wasn't born when Harman left school), but the shadow chancellor's words offered a first glimpse of a strategy we can expect the Tories to return to ahead of the election.

Their argument goes like this: "Yes, we may be privileged toffs, but don't overlook those sitting on the Labour benches." Conveniently for the Tories, several of those (falsely) accused of waging "class war", notably Harman and Ed Balls, were privately educated.

It's no coincidence that this new strategy follows a Guardian/ICM poll showing the Tories are increasingly seen as the party of the upper classes. Given that in recent times the Tories have been led by individuals from modest or even "common" backgrounds (Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Michael Howard), Cameron is more sensitive to this charge than one might expect.

But since the political class as a whole appears so remote from voters I doubt either party will be the winner from this phoney "class war".

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.