The Daily Mail’s absurd claim of “class war”

Gordon Brown accused of “class war” for referring to “ordinary” background.

When I first saw the front page of this morning's Daily Mail, I assumed I was off the pace. Had I really missed Labour's pledge to nationalise Eton?

Not at all, as it turns out. The paper's headline in fact refers to Gordon Brown's rather inoffensive declaration that he was from "an ordinary middle-class family in an ordinary town". Undoubtedly this line was a dog whistle targeted at those voters suspicious of David Cameron's privileged background. But was it really worthy of the name "class war"?

"Class war" was once a term reserved for the sort of epic pitched battles one saw between Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill's NUM. But now, apparently, it can be wheeled out to attack comments as unremarkable as Brown's yesterday.

This isn't the first time either. Last year, the Prime Minister found himself denounced as a Jacobin after one rather amusing joke about Tory policy having been dreamt up on the "playing fields of Eton".

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It's also worth noting the Daily Mail's rather selective criticism of class war. As Sunder Katwala reminds us today, and as my colleague Jon Bernstein has pointed out in the past, the right is perfectly willing to tolerate class war from the other side.

Conservative leaders from Margaret Thatcher to John Major to Michael Howard all highlighted their modest backgrounds for political purposes, Howard famously declaring to Tony Blair across the despatch box: "This grammar-school boy isn't going to take any lessons from a public-school boy."

But was any of them rebuked by the Mail for waging their own "class war"? Strangely not.

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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.