A Crewe mutiny for Labour?

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 “one of us” (a phrase they used to attribute to Margaret Thatcher and criticise strongly), and portrays the sensible and well educated Conservative candidate as a “Tory toff”. 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 “Top Tory toff” 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 Labour’s new demonology, and was chuffed as I started out my life as a young child in a Council house. Clearly the realms of “toffdom” 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 mother’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 people’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 people’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 people’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


  1. Letters From A Tory
    May 22, 2008

    I agree. If Labour think that Labour voters are impressed by attacking a decent guy who happens to have successful parents, they should think again. The fact that they completely misrepresented their own candidate as poor and working-class was laughable.

  2. Bemused of Middle En
    May 22, 2008

    I think that the mainstream media's handling of this by-election campaign has been disgraceful. They fell for this toff stunt and have repeatedly trailed the images. Whilst this may be very good for the Conservatives in Crewe, it demonstrates a complete failure of the media to hold politicians to account.

    Yes Harman was embarrassed when questioned about her background, but this nonsense could be stopped if all Labour MPs that had been to public schools were asked about their backgrounds, and if the press had highlighted her eduction at a private London school (Grey Coat Hospital, Westminster). But of course so many of hypocritical liberal/left wing press are educated at public schools that they would not want a spotlight thrown on such matters, except where it helps them to pour scorn on a candidate (e.g. the "Eton-educated" Mayor of London).

    Perhaps you can answer this question, if she is listed in Burke''s Peerage as Mrs Tamsin Dunwoody-Kneafsey, why are the press constantly referring to her as Tamsin Dunwoody – surely it is her full name than will appear on the ballot paper and be used by the Returning Officer to announce the results.

    Reply: I think the candidate fills in a form with the details of their name and party as they wish them to appear

  3. Mike Rouse
    May 22, 2008

    You're more "one of us" than most of the Labour lot.

  4. Neil Craig
    May 22, 2008

    Labour used to be able to rely on class antagonism to sustain their votes. We have all met the electors who acknowledged that their Labour MP/Councillor was useless & (words left out)but that they would vote for him because, being working class, they "have always voted Labour".

    Social changes have had something to do with it but Blair made it clear that the "working class" held no place in New Labour's affections.

    I think that is why their campaign, fought largely on class loyalty has come so badly unstuck, particularly in light of ending the 10p tax rate. In honesty I must say that I think ending that rate was a proper move by Brown to simplify a tax system he had made more complex & that the electorally advantageous decision by the Tories to oppose it was unprincipled.

  5. Will S
    May 22, 2008

    You forgot:

    The Flying Brick – The Official Monster Raving Loony Party

  6. mikestallard
    May 22, 2008

    Actually, things are a lot worse than you say for Labour at the moment. According to today's Telegraph, Mr Brown is now sending his e mails at 3.30 a.m. Apparently his fingernails are now nearly gone too.
    From the outside it is simply obvious that he cannot cope. His failure to appear and lead the wretched (unpaid) Labour workers into the election at Crewe is lamentable. Even worse, in my opinion, was the way that he hung the desperate Home Secretary out to dry at the Police Federation. It is completely obvious that the poor woman is just following orders – yet, when it is a case of facing the Police Federation, her Boss is in hiding.
    I give him, at the most, another month. I did think he would only last till Easter, but I was wrong then. Now, I think myself, it is terminal. He will either give up, be ousted or else have to go into Hospital.

  7. Jonathan Robson
    May 22, 2008

    It always fills me with bewilderment how anyone can call the "Tories" toffs., when the Labour Party and their cheer leaders are full to the brim with "old fasioned socialist toffs" – Was Tony Blair one of the lads? Was Tony Benn? Or what about Ed Balls, David Milliband etc?

    It is much easier for working people to identify with the Conservatives these days – not only was the host of this blog from a "humble" beginning but so was the shadow Home Secretary and the Shadow Defence Minister. William Hague went to a comprehensive. Was Mrs Thatcher the daughter of a greengrocer? These people worked their way up and I applaud them for it.

    It is just a shame that David Davies or Dr Fox had not been chosen as leader, imagine the book "From Council Estate to 10 Downing Street" (By the way my choice would have been the good Dr Fox )

  8. Martin Salter MP
    May 23, 2008

    Well its a representation of the previous generation of Tories. Now many Labour colleagues are also toffs, so it was short sighted. And toffs have done well from Labour, look at all those non doms, amongst the highest earners.

  9. adam
    May 23, 2008

    Now you are being kind to labour voters.
    I talk to many of them, one of their strongest anti conservative points is he/she is a Tory toff, dont vote for the toff. Its a bad strategy because it only appeals to people who think that way to begin with. To floaters it might look like prejudice.

    This behaviour coming from a party that thinks it supports equality is not lost on me.

  10. Acorn
    May 23, 2008

    Melanie Philips, in the Mail this week, used the phrase "Social Conservatism"; anybody have a definition for this?

    Also, you learn something every day reading Hansard (21st May):-

    Mr. McGovern: Will my hon. Friend give way?
    Mr. Thomas: Indeed.
    Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I ought to say to the hon. Gentleman that it is not custom and practice for a Parliamentary Private Secretary to intervene on his Minister.

    Mrs Heal for Speaker, I say, she may be a Labour MP but this lady is quality.

  11. Praguetory
    May 23, 2008

    If a toff is the antithesis of a New Labour politician, I think that we might see a revival in the toff brand. We're all toffs now.

  12. mikestallard
    May 23, 2008

    Allow me a further comment.
    The new class goes something like this, I suggest:
    1. The top layer mixing with rich people who have "got there" and who are now international: David Cameron, Tony Blair, Cherie Blair, Ruth Kelly, Cherie Blair, George Osborne, Ed Balls and his lovely wife…..Education is, of course, as ever, the key. Otherwise, you need BIG talent. David Beckham? Mick Jagger?
    2. Those of us who are in work/pensioned off. Assuming we have kept our noses clean, we are the people who make up the bulk of the population. Note, please, we think we are classless, we are (increasingly) colour blind, we probably have a family based on quaint old traditional ideas. We pride ourselves on being good and on being English, whatever our background. We support the Police.
    3. The rest who are sinking. Here are the immigrants, those on the rock'n'roll, druggies, disabled, psychiatric people etc etc. One in four of the population?

    By threatening the second class people and by trying it on with the first class people, Gordon Brown has blown it in Crewe. But what sunk him was hitting the third class people.
    (PS I am now second class, but have, for some time, been third class).

    Reply: I don't think your Third class is rightly defined. Migrants range from very rich and successful to those who will take unpleasant jobs at very low pay. The disabled are not the same as druggies and drop outs. On this basis there are more than 3 classes.

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