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4 December 2009

How Labour should handle class

An approach that links policy to class is distinct from toff bashing

By George Eaton

John Prescott and Eric Pickles had an amusing dust-up on the Today programme this morning over the hot topic of class. The highlight being Pickles’s joke that Prescott’s croquet game was like “looking into the last page of Animal Farm.”

The exchange soon degenerated into a row over Lord Ashcroft (or ‘Lord Ashdown’ according to Prescott) and his tax status but not before both had agreed that the next election won’t be fought on class.

I’ve long thought that a strategy based on class would be wrong in principle and practice for Labour. Crewe and Nantwich marked the humiliating and long overdue death of this strategy. But an approach that points out the correlation between Tory policy and class interests (not least on inheritance tax) seems to me to be distinct from crude toff-bashing.

As for Gordon Brown’s quip that the Tories’ inheritance tax policy seemed to have been “dreamt up on the playing fields of Eton” that was most notable for its absurdist thrust.

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Despite this I still think a forensic, policy-based critique will serve Labour best. Ministers should embarrass Cameron by pointing out the disparity between his Rawlsian declaration that the “the right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich” and his grossly regressive pledge to slash inheritance tax.

This contradiction is also a reminder of Cameron’s insincerity on several fronts. When asked for their impression of Cameron voters still tell pollsters the story about Cameron cycling to work while his chauffeur drives behind with his shoes.

If Labour can fuse those various strands into one they may finally have an effective critique of Cameron’s brand of conservatism.

 

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