Ed Miliband’s ‘progressive majority’ must learn the language of nostalgia

Ed Miliband’s belief that the Alternative Vote will unleash Britain’s “progressive majority” is looking more than a little bit presumptuous. A YouGov poll for Channel 4 News shows that while the big winners of voting reform will undoubtedly be the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives come off none the worse and Labour actually end up losing more seats than they gain. What’s worst, more Lib Dem voters have said they will choose Cameron’s Tories as their second preference than Ed’s Labour.

So, belief in this ‘progressive majority’ would seem fairly optimistic. Especially considering it’s far from obvious if there is a progressive majority within the Labour party itself.

A battle for the very soul of the Labour party currently rages* behind the scenes, with the notion of ‘Blue Labour’ being championed as a way to regain the support of lower-class voters. Blue Labour describes that ‘socially conservative, economically interventionist’ strand of the electorate who, it is argued, felt abandoned by the hyper-modern, change-frantic progressiveness of New Labour.

This idea is elaborated upon by Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian, who disregards some of the historical grandeur behind Blue Labour and focuses instead on the “value of nostalgia”. Still, the two lines of thought share the same core reasoning: Labour’s core voters have been abandoned. Bunting writes:

“…there was – and is – another account of betrayal in which a liberal elite, smugly superior in their metropolitan progressivism, championed globalisation and sold ordinary working people down the river.”

And so Bunting doesn’t just begin to define some of the frustrations felt by these “ordinary working people”, but puts them directly at odds with the smug, uncaring progressive majority Ed Miliband’s been fantasising about.

Intrigued by this dichotomy, I brainstormed** some terms I feel represent those ‘nostalgic’ values of Blue Labour voters and pitted them against the corresponding principles of the progressives.

The differences between the nostalgics and the progressives are, in many cases, vast. But the purposes of this little exercise was not just to highlight the foolishness of Ed Miliband campaigning for AV using language which will actively repel those it doesn’t simply bore. I also hope this list could help progressives step beyond their own values and connect with nostalgics by speaking in terms the latter can relate to.

Owen Jones offers some sage advice for anyone wanting to communicate with people beyond the echo chamber. His first rule is to start where people are. I don’t think you could go too far wrong using this list as a reference.

New Labour’s skill was in speaking to the impulses of the nostalgics, while shrewdly smuggling a form of pragmatic progressivism through the back door. Ed, unfortunately, does not have this skill. He’s in an echo chamber of one and quacking like a duck.

I’m not unsympathetic. I imagine attempting to unify the disparate groups of latent lefties must be like wrangling a schizophrenic hydra. But Ed’s ‘progressives’ are currently struggling to talk to the majority, let alone with them or even, heaven forbid, for them.

* Poetic licence – it’s really not all that raging.

** Powered using only my brain, I’m afraid. If you want to contribute your brain to either deride, improve or celebrate what I’ve attempted to do, please leave a comment.


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