For too many working and middle class voters, Labour doesn’t value aspiration. This needs to change.

by Renie Anjeh

Various theories are doing the rounds at the moment about why Labour is not performing as well as it should.  On the left of the party, they bemoan the fact that Labour is not nearly as leftwing as they think it should be.  On the right of the party, there is much concern about the party’s lack of credibility on the economy.   The left-wing Labour Representation Committee would argue that nationalising everything from the energy companies to children’s Christmas presents will deliver a crucial victory in 2015.  Progress would think otherwise (and rightly so).  But I still think that we have not asked a very important question.  Are we really standing up for all working class and middle class people?

During the Mayoral election in 2012, I canvassed a middle aged couple in Ilford who were less than pleased when they saw my ‘vote Labour’ sticker.  They worked hard all their lives and played by the rules but they didn’t think that we were on their side.  They felt that the odds were stacked against them and that we had no answers.  To them, we were completely out of touch with their aspirations and their concerns.

Unfortunately, people like the couple in Ilford have become objects of incomprehension at best, or derision at worst, for too many in our movement.  The idea that we should give them as much focus to as we give to the bedroom tax, is an anathema to some on the Left.

Part of the reason why Labour lost power is that we were seen to be a party exclusively for special interest groups such as public sector workers, single parents, immigrants and benefit claimants not a party for the generality of working class and middle class people.

If Labour is serious about victory in 2015, we must break free from that perception and start looking at the world from the vantage point of the couple in Ilford.  We need to be in touch with the parent in Gloucester who is looking for a good school for their child, the young professional in Battersea who wants to get on the property ladder, the proud homeowner in Enfield who is angry about antisocial behaviour or the plumber in Peterborough who is anxious about immigration.

We need tell working people that we value them, not just because of the taxes that they pay to the Treasury but because of the contribution that they make to society. We must be the party of aspiration and social mobility, supporting people who just want to get on life. Let’s start with some clear policies to demonstrate that we actually understand these people:

  • Top priority for social housing given to local people who work or volunteer and have a good tenancy record alongside those in need;
  • A shift in the tax burden away from income and towards wealth;
  • No stamp duty on homes worth less than £500,000 and a proportion of new homes should be affordable starter homes reserved for first-time buyers;
  • No school catchment areas and an ‘education credit’ for parents with children attending a failing school which they could give to a new state school of their choice if they accept their child;
  • New rights for social housing tenants to evict persistently antisocial neighbours and ban them from living within a few miles from their home;
  • Return of the Migration Impact Fund and 8,000 new immigration officers funded by a rise in stamp duty for homes worth more than £2m.

I would be very surprised if there were not people in the Labour party who were aghast at these ideas but we need fresh thinking in order to reconnect with those people we have ignored for far too long.  If Ed Miliband starts to really connect with these people, he will be Britain’s next Prime Minister.
Have a happy New Year!

Renie Anjeh is a Labour party activist

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13 Responses to “For too many working and middle class voters, Labour doesn’t value aspiration. This needs to change.”

  1. Duncan Blessed says:

    On nationalisation, the Labour party’s position of keeping public utilities in private hands is to the right of TORY voters’ wishes, let alone Labour voters’. The policies you suggest are notable for not actually increasing the prospects of people generally, merely reshuffling who is allowed to access ever-diminishing support.

    Instead of restricting housing rights, why not actually build houses? I haven’t found any polling but I suspect that close to 95% of the public support moves to decrease homelessness.

    “Part of the reason why Labour lost power is that we were seen to be a party exclusively for special interest groups such as public sector workers, single parents, immigrants and benefit claimants not a party for the generality of working class and middle class people.” Public sector workers (5.6 million), single parent families (2 million+), immigrants (about 2 million?), benefit claimants (5.5 million people). Obviously there’s some overlap, but that’s a substantial part of the population, and probably a majority of the working-class. Remember them? The people you used to care about?

  2. John Reid says:

    Renie! You campaigned in Ilford, I never met you there,I was hoping to invite David Lammy to havering if he wants to be mayor in 2016, do IlFord have a preference?

  3. Renie Anjeh says:

    @John – this was over a year ago. I am sure West Streeting would be willing to help.

  4. Renie Anjeh says:

    @Duncan – Labour had a policy on nationalisation and it lost big time in ’83 and ’87. It’s not a credible policy. As for my policy suggestions, explain how they wouldn’t increase prospects? Allowing children in failing schools to go to good schools, making it easier for people to own their own home, giving social housing to working people? You think people wouldn’t be in favour of getting rid of troublesome neighbours – if you’re serious, then you completely out of touch. As someone who is the son of an immigrant single mother who did rely on benefits and did work in the public sector, my argument is that we should be open to everyone not just special interest groups. Rather than tallying up meaningless numbers, it is time for the party to broaden its appeal.

  5. Robert says:

    On balance, the Labour Party is where it should be on most issues. This is why 35% of people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 now say that they will vote Labour according to the polls. Labour’s lack of credibility on the economy is probably inevitable when it is considered what happened when it was in power and I am also sceptical about nationalisation. It is not explained why the middle aged couple did not like the Labour Party. They might be so right-wing that trying to attract them will just lose other voters.

    My comments on the suggested policies are as follows:

    Disagree. The priority should be given to building more houses, social and private.

    There should be more taxes on wealth but taxes on income should be more progressive. Less tax on low incomes but the 40% and 45% rates should be retained or even increased.

    Disagree on stamp duty but a proportion of affordable homes is sensible.

    Disagree. Parental choice in education is a myth and the aim should be that nobody attends a failing school.

    Disagree. My main concerns about this proposal is that tenants might discriminate against minority groups. I am aware that tenants elect the managers of their estates in parts of London and this should be considered.

    The last suggestion is sensible.

  6. Renie Anjeh says:

    @Robert – Focus should be on soft Tory voters. No one in the real world, defines themselves as ‘leftwing’ or ‘rightwing’ and politics is not a zero-sum game. I did explain why the couple didn’t like Labour. As for your policy suggestions, I’m not sure you quite understand what I’m saying. No one is arguing against building more homes but that is irrelevant. I’m arguing for is a change in the social housing waiting list to make it fairer for those who do the right thing. Stamp duty discourages mobility and first-time buyers, therefore targeting it at richer homes would be more progressive. Income tax is already progressive. Parental choice isn’t a myth, it just exists for the rich who can afford to move to nice areas with good schools or pay for extra tuition. Saying making sure that nobody should attend a failing school is all very well, but it is quite frankly idealistic. Empowering all parents should be a priority rather than letting ‘choice’ be a privilege of the rich. It wouldn’t discriminate against minority groups, in fact people from ‘minority groups’ would be in favour of this idea (call it Hasbos). Why should people (usually poor people) be frightened to live in their own homes? People who make lives hell for others should be a priority. Glad we agree on immigration.

  7. Robert says:

    Renie, I am a bit bemused about your comments on left and right. For what it is worth, I am on the moderate left and vote accordingly. This means Labour unless it has done something idiotic!

    I am also bemused by your statement that building more houses is irrelevant. That must be the priority for the next government and it will be difficult to achieve! I do not feel strongly either way about your proposals on waiting lists or stamp duty to be honest.

    Another aim for any government should be ensuring that all schools are at least adequate. I went to an average comprehensive school and that should not be an unrealistic aim for all children!

    I remain unconvinced about your suggestion on tenants.

  8. Caravaggio says:

    Your policy suggestions aren’t bad, but the bigger picture is lacking. This is betrayed by your sloppy language. For example, in response to the idea that Labour should call for the renationalisation of utilities (something that is very popular), you say

    “Labour had a policy on nationalisation and it lost big time in ’83 and ’87.”

    Labour had ‘a’ policy on ‘nationalisation’? Perhaps you meant to say Labour had a policy ‘of’ nationalisation. In any event, the vagueness of this comment demonstrates one or possibly both of the following things: that you don’t know what Labour’s nationalisation policies were in ’83 and ’87; and/or that you do not have anything of substance to say on the particular policy of -utilities- nationalisation. Instead of addressing the actual issue in contention, you wave your hand and make a vague remark about the 1980s.

    A similar lack of content is at work where you claim to have “[explained] why the couple didn’t like Labour.”

    Except you did not. All you supplied was a paragraph of buzzwords. You have not mentioned a single policy issue which this couple raised. Fine practice for your future conference platform performance as Shadow Minister for Fisheries, but not sufficient for those looking for signs of intellectual life.

  9. Renie Anjeh says:

    @Robert – But you are politically ‘in-the-know’ (for want of a better word), most voters aren’t. Most people don’t define themselves as ‘left’ or ‘right’ and sometimes we need to remember that. House building is a priority – I’d like a million new homes – but for the purposes of this article, it’s irrelevant because I wanted to focus on the waiting list and stamp duty. It’s great that you went to an average comprehensive school but many people don’t go to a below average comprehensive and suffer as a result. Long-term objective should be to ensure all schools are good schools but in the mean time, you need to have a mechanism to allow parents to get out of failing schools if they want to.
    @Caravaggio – Forgive me but I did not want to delve too deeply into nationalisation. Most people know what the policy was and why it was a failure. I’m not sure that constitutes as ‘sloppy language’. Sometimes we need to focus on small policy details as well as a bigger vision. Ed Miliband has done the ‘big vision’ thing for the best part of 4 years but it counted for nothing because there has been little policy framework. I can’t think of anything worse than being Shadow Minister for Fisheries. But thanks for your comment, I will bear that in mind in future.

  10. Ex-Labour says:


    “A similar lack of content is at work where you claim to have “[explained] why the couple didn’t like Labour.”

    I’ll explain it for you in simple terms. Under Labour if you are a feckless, feral, workshy layabout you are entitled to all the state handouts possible. However if you have worked all, most or at least a significant part of your life , paid your taxes, saved for retirement etc you get fuck all.

    Is this now explained ?

  11. Robert says:

    Ex-Labour, I suspect that the couple would say something similar to you. They are entitled to their opinion but Labour is not the party for them basically.

    I suspect that you were actually Labour in the late 1990s. Blair was a genius at persuading very unlikely people to vote Labour. It is a pity that he was an awful Prime Minister!

  12. Ex-Labour says:


    I was Labour for 30 years well before Blair. Unfortunately I realised too late that Labour does not respresent the ordinary working people and families. Blair was the best of a bad bunch of Labour leaders.

  13. Landless Peasant says:

    Well this Benefit Claimant will be voting Green not Labour. I cannot vote for a party that supports Benefit Sanctions and compulsory low-paid work, and I don’t see why I should have to sit yet another Basic Skills test when I already have seven ‘O’-Levels, two Diplomas, and an Honours Degree. Rachel Reeves please take note.

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