Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Do they get it yet?

The noted historian Tristram Hunt was Labour’s Shadow Education Minister until he was ousted by the Corbynite revolution. Son of a Labour life peer, educated at an independent school and Cambridge and later, after a spell at the University of Chicago, returning to Cambridge to gain his doctorate, Doctor Hunt was a shoo-in for opposition education matters; having spent so much time in academia he clearly understands the schooling needs of ordinary inner-city kids like himself. Truly a man of the people.

In a new book, previewed in an article in the Guardian which is known to be read by all grass roots, working class, horny-handed sons of toil, he manages to simultaneously explain why he thinks he understands the hearts and minds of former Labour voters and demonstrate that he simply doesn’t understand the hearts and minds of former Labour voters. It is an academic attempt to explain a wholly visceral thing, a sense of belonging, of shared struggle and ultimately betrayal by a party they simply don’t recognise any more.

In tune with the concerns of England flag flying white van men everywhere he writes: "Of course, the 2015 election had a particular English dynamic in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum. As the only credibly British party, Labour was subjected to a ruthless tag-team effort by David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon that pitted each as the protector of the English and Scottish nation. Scottish voters were told we would sell them out to the Tories, and in England we would sell them out to the Nats. And it cut through: too many traditional Labour voters felt that the party was embarrassed to fight for England’s interests."

Really Tristram, you think the voters you abandoned thought that deeply about it? And you still thought Labor was credible? Hunt is emblematic of the difficulty Labour has in reaching its former guaranteed voters because, try as he might to analyse the situation, the principle problem is that Labour is no longer a party of the people - it hasn’t been for a good couple of decades. And no matter how much they believe they are for the people they are so far divorced from being by the people they may as well be the Champagne Socialists they are perceived to be.

Hunt, despite trying to show he cares, nevertheless handles ‘Englishness’ by his outstretched thumb and forefinger, his other hand holding his nose. He is prepared to tolerate the smell, he seems to suggest, if that is what it takes for the little people to vote for him. Corbyn holds more appeal, simply by being a Neolithic throwback to the bad old days of flying pickets and wildcat strikes, when jobs, not benefits or houses were at stake and they had the strength to force an employer’s hand. Today’s Labour’s activists seem to operate at arm’s length from the people whose votes they want but whose hand they disdain to shake.

It is widely believed that to shore up dwindling support they imported a new bloc vote and flooded the country with reliable claiming-class voters. But these votes came with the baggage that must not be named. As a consequence we now have the phenomenon of the illegal schools revealed by Ofsted. But still Labour cannot bring itself to take the blame. Current Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Lucy Powell, yesterday denounced the Tories for not spotting the so-called jihadi schools sooner. But at least the current administration actually bothered to investigate.

The happiest days of your life?

Ed Miliband was fond of saying that the Tories ‘don’t get it’. To a Labour Party struggling to find out where it went wrong and wondering why it no longer connects to its traditional voting base, the Tristram Hunt article will no doubt be read with knowing nods and much beard-stroking. But academic pontificating will get Labour nowhere until it admits to and truly understands a situation of its own making, which can be summed up in a single unpalatable word; Rotherham.

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