Reading the papers and various blogs and websites during the past week I have been struck by how many left-leaning commentators have been at pains to point out that the likes of David Cameron and Boris Johnson aren’t too bad and that if we do end up with a Tory government in a couple of years time it wouldn’t be such a disaster after all.
What worries me is that there is hint of decadence about some middle-class voters who will place punishing the government for its ‘failings’ above the reality of the very real improvements to the lives and life chances of whole communities that were abandoned by the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s. The truth is that for the middle classes it is a luxury to vote Tory, or Lib Dem or to abstain. Why? Because the middle classes can afford to not have a Labour government in office but the poor cannot. Labour has a good record in terms of fighting poverty over the past decade. The facts are that over 600,000 children have been lifted out of poverty since 1997, the poorest fifth of families will be £4000 a year better off by 2009 and the winter fuel allowance, pensioner credit and increases to the state pension have taken over 2 million pensioners out of poverty. The recent 10p tax fiasco was not a deliberate attempt by Labour to penalise the low paid, neither was it a calculated, cavalier act designed to appease middle England. It was, quite simply, a mistake – nothing more and nothing less.
The ‘talk left but act right’ tendency that is so prevalent in much of Britain’s media appears to have decided that Labour does not deserve another term. They are apparently untroubled by the fact that so many of the changes made since 1997 could end up being rolled back by a Cameron led, rightwing Tory government that could easily dismantle most, if not all, of the things that have been achieved. If Labour does fail in winning a fourth term and is therefore unable to introduce further reform of public services then the Tories will find it almost impossible to resist the ideological temptation to demolish the very ethos on which they are built - with more charging, less investment, good services for the well-off middle classes and second-class services for the poor.
Labour used to be the party that gave comfort to the afflicted whilst afflicting the conscience of the comfortable. It needs to regain its sense of identity and purpose and above all it needs to remind people that under the Tories it is unlikely that things would get better but they could get a whole lot worse.