Class war: policy, not personal attacks

David Miliband heeds David Cameron's words and redefines Labour's class war strategy

Class, the elephant in the room for English society, seems sure to be a central dividing line in the upcoming election.

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, used his appearance on The Andrew Marr Show this morning to realign Labour's stance on class. Highlighting the "effective abolition" of inheritance tax proposed by the Tories, he said:

I don't care where Cameron went to school. I do care that he's bringing about the biggest redistribution of wealth to the wealthy in two generations.

This shift in emphasis from personal attack to policy is vital. The media outrage at Gordon Brown's "playing fields of Eton" gibe, and the oft-cited failure of the "toff" strategy in Crewe and Nantwich, demonstrate that this is a dangerous road to tread. David Cameron, in a BBC interview in December, branded the strategy "petty, spiteful and stupid".

Interestingly, Cameron continued:

My view is very simple . . . that what people are interested in is not where you come from but where you're going to, what you've got to offer, what you've got to offer the country.

Perhaps unwittingly, the Tory leader stumbled on some very good advice for Labour in this comment -- namely, that it is policies which entrench privilege or, as Miliband put it, "redistribute wealth to the wealthy", that will alienate the electorate. As Dominic Lawson points out, to most of society, personal attacks are meaningless, because the entire political class is elite.

Miliband came close to losing his cool when asked whether he knew about the failed plot to oust Gordon Brown. Steering the conversation back to questions of redistribution and fairness, he appeared to set the episode up as a rallying point for the beleaguered government:

We have one leader, we are one team, and we are absolutely unified.

A poll two weeks ago showed that 50 per cent of people thought that Cameron was on the side of the rich over ordinary people, with just 26 per cent saying the same of Brown. Yes, Cameron's personal approval ratings continue to sky-rocket over the Prime Minister's, but the poll proves that demonstrating unfairness in Tory policy, if employed effectively, could still be a useful strategy for Labour.


Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Leader: Mourning in Manchester

Yet another attack shows we are going to have to get to used to the idea that our liberalism and our freedoms can only be preserved by a strong state.

Children are murdered and maimed by a suicide bomber as they are leaving a pop concert in Manchester. As a consequence, the government raises the terror threat to “critical”, which implies that another attack is imminent, and the army is sent out on to the streets of our cities in an attempt to reassure and encourage all good citizens to carry on as normal. The general election campaign is suspended. Islamic State gleefully denounces the murdered and wounded as “crusaders” and “polytheists”.

Meanwhile, the usual questions are asked, as they are after each new Islamist terrorist atrocity. Why do they hate us so much? Have they no conscience or pity or sense of fellow feeling? We hear, too, the same platitudes: there is more that unites us than divides us, and so on. And so we wait for the next attack on innocent civilians, the next assault on the free and open society, the next demonstration that Islamism is the world’s most malignant and dangerous ideology.

The truth of the matter is that the Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Ramadan Abedi, was born and educated in Britain. He was 22 when he chose to end his own life. He had grown up among us: indeed, like the London bombers of 7 July 2005, you could call him, however reluctantly, one of us. The son of Libyan refugees, he supported Manchester United, studied business management at Salford University and worshipped at Didsbury Mosque. Yet he hated this country and its people so viscerally that he was prepared to blow himself up in an attempt to murder and wound as many of his fellow citizens as possible.

The Manchester massacre was an act of nihilism by a wicked man. It was also sadly inevitable. “The bomb was,” writes the Mancunian cultural commentator Stuart Maconie on page 26, “as far as we can guess, an attack on the fans of a young American woman and entertainer, on the frivolousness and foolishness and fun of young girlhood, on lipstick and dressing up and dancing, on ‘boyfs’ and ‘bezzies’ and all the other freedoms that so enrage the fanatics and contradict their idiot dogmas. Hatred of women is a smouldering core of their wider, deeper loathing for us. But to single out children feels like a new low of wickedness.”

We understand the geopolitical context for the atrocity. IS is under assault and in retreat in its former strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa. Instead of urging recruits to migrate to the “caliphate”, IS has been urging its sympathisers and operatives in Europe to carry out attacks in their countries of residence. As our contributing writer and terrorism expert, Shiraz Maher, explains on page 22, these attacks are considered to be acts of revenge by the foot soldiers and fellow-travellers of the caliphate. There have been Western interventions in Muslim lands and so, in their view, all civilians in Western countries are legitimate targets for retaliatory violence.

An ever-present threat of terrorism is the new reality of our lives in Europe. If these zealots can murder children at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, there is no action that they would not consider unconscionable. And in this country there are many thousands – perhaps even tens of thousands – who are in thrall to Islamist ideology. “Terror makes the new future possible,” the American Don DeLillo wrote in his novel Mao II, long before the al-Qaeda attacks of 11 September 2001. The main work of terrorists “involves mid-air explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative.”

Immediately after the Paris attacks in November 2015, John Gray reminded us in these pages of how “peaceful coexistence is not the default condition of modern humankind”. We are going to have to get used to the idea that our liberalism and our freedoms can only be preserved by a strong state. “The progressive narrative in which freedom is advancing throughout the world has left liberal societies unaware of their fragility,” John Gray wrote. Liberals may not like it, but a strong state is the precondition of any civilised social order. Certain cherished freedoms may have to be compromised. This is the new tragic narrative.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

0800 7318496