The spinning and the recriminations have already begun over the result of the Crewe by-election, before a vote has been cast. Labour is trying to persuade people that anything other than a big win by the Conservatives will be a poor result for David Cameron. They want the media to accept that losing Crewe would be just one of those things, a mid term blip for the government. All that would be more credible if the Conservatives had won Crewe in their days of electoral success in the 1980s, and if Labour were tackling the problems of 2008 in a credible manner.
Instead, we see Labour divisions over the Crewe campaign spilling into the newspapers before the result. Some Labour MPs and organisers are livid that their party has run a campaign based on old fashioned class antagonism. People on the doorstep want to know what the government is going to do about surging food and fuel prices, the petrol rip off, the mortgage squeeze, and the never ending tax grab. Labour tells them that their candidate is â€œone of usâ€ (a phrase they used to attribute to Margaret Thatcher and criticise strongly), and portrays the sensible and well educated Conservative candidate as a â€œTory toffâ€. Now trying to say it was a one off joke or stunt, the campaign literature they are putting out contains frequent reference to this personalised attack. Someone blogged in to say they had even seen me called a â€œTop Tory toffâ€ as I had been seen in a garden with a statue. My response was I was delighted to have made it to such status in Labourâ€™s new demonology, and was chuffed as I started out my life as a young child in a Council house. Clearly the realms of â€œtoffdomâ€ are wide ranging. It can lead Labour itself into difficult questions from the media, as Harriet Harman found out when she was defending the Labour campaign and had to answer about her own public school and family background. Tamsin Dunwoody herself could be accused of living in a larger house than the Conservative candidate, and is making her main appeal to the electors of Crewe the fact that she is her motherâ€™s daughter, the third generation of active Labour politicians in her family.
Labour should accept they have made a big mistake with this miscued campaign. The electorate is not against a candidate because they have worked hard and made some money, or because they have a good education. What matters is what the candidate stands for, what commitment they would bring to the job of MP, and how their party would tackle the problems of today and tomorrow. Labour has been strangely silent about the ever climbing petrol and diesel prices, and the big increase in tax take they get from it. Yet today the oil price has surged again to another new high, meaning more misery ahead at the pumps. They have been silent about why they have let inflation go up so much, and why their measure of it understates most peopleâ€™s experience. They have no answers on how to get the tax burden down. They have come up with a partial reimbursement, for one year only, for their tax snatch from the lower paid through the abolition of the 10p band.
What the public want to hear and see is a strong government response to the problems of an overborrowed public sector, a squeezed private sector, and a set of taxation measures which has hit those on lower incomes. They want to know what Labour will do about its large housebuilding targets and fine words about more homes for more people, when we see the housebuilding industry in free fall and builders laying off employees. It is all very well for Labour to respond during this by election campaign to offer one year of help to those they have hit by their income tax hike, but it leaves people asking Why did they want to put our tax up in the first place? More importantly it leaves people thinking the relief offered is just a political dodge to see them through the by-election, and next year they will be taking the tax as if the electorate had not spoken.
Whatever the result at Crewe tonight, this has been a bad couple of weeks for Labour. They have failed to understand the seriousness of the public mood, and the degree of pressure on peopleâ€™s budgets. They have thought that a nasty campaign tackling the main opponent personally would be a good substitute for having something to say about how they will make peopleâ€™s lives better. On the doorsteps of Crewe the public are hitting back. If Labour ignore the message, and carry on regardless with their high tax high waste approach they will stay out of favour in the country at large.
The full list of candidates in today’s by-election is as follows:
The Flying Brick – The Official Monster Raving Loony party
Tamsin Dunwoody – Labour
Gemma Garrett – Independent
Mike Nattrass – UK Independence Party
David Roberts – English Democrats
Elizabeth Shenton – Liberal Democrats
Robert Smith – Green Party
Paul Thorogood – Cut Tax on Petrol and Diesel
Edward Timpson – Conservatives
Mark Walklate – Independent