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24 January 2010

Class war: policy, not personal attacks

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

By Samira Shackle

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”.

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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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