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.


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

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Donald Trump's healthcare failure could be to his advantage

The appearance of weakness is less electorally damaging than actually removing healthcare from millions of people.

Good morning. Is it all over for Donald Trump? His approval ratings have cratered to below 40%. Now his attempt to dismantle Barack Obama's healthcare reforms have hit serious resistance from within the Republican Party, adding to the failures and retreats of his early days in office.

The problem for the GOP is that their opposition to Obamacare had more to do with the word "Obama" than the word "care". The previous President opted for a right-wing solution to the problem of the uninsured in a doomed attempt to secure bipartisan support for his healthcare reform. The politician with the biggest impact on the structures of the Affordable Care Act is Mitt Romney.

But now that the Republicans control all three branches of government they are left in a situation where they have no alternative to Obamacare that wouldn't either a) shred conservative orthodoxies on healthcare or b) create numerous and angry losers in their constituencies. The difficulties for Trump's proposal is that it does a bit of both.

Now the man who ran on his ability to cut a deal has been forced to make a take it or leave plea to Republicans in the House of Representatives: vote for this plan or say goodbye to any chance of repealing Obamacare.

But that's probably good news for Trump. The appearance of weakness and failure is less electorally damaging than actually succeeding in removing healthcare from millions of people, including people who voted for Trump.

Trump won his first term because his own negatives as a candidate weren't quite enough to drag him down on a night when he underperformed Republican candidates across the country. The historical trends all make it hard for a first-term incumbent to lose. So far, Trump's administration is largely being frustrated by the Republican establishment though he is succeeding in leveraging the Presidency for the benefit of his business empire.

But it may be that in the failure to get anything done he succeeds in once again riding Republican coattails to victory in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.