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.


5 essential resources for voters who give a shit – General Election 2010

Whether you’re a first-time voter or grizzled veteran of the ballot, political nihilist or unquenchable optimist, you probably couldn’t help but notice that General Election 2010(TM) is something of a big fucking deal. Every party promises exciting change and the polls indicate the results will be so close the next parliament may very well be hanged – sorry, hung.

Speaking to people who are kind enough not to throw stuff at me, there seems to be a niggling sensation (like crabs) that they should vote, but without knowing who for or why.

As I tend to keep rather young, intelligent and creative company, I know they’re interested in and affected by what’s going on but have little patience for remote politicians and journalistic hackery. This list is for them and all the others out there who give a shit about having their say in the future of this country but aren’t sure exactly what to do about it.

1. Finding out the truth behind the headlines

I subscribe to over 100 RSS feeds, follow the top stories and columnists of all the major British broadsheets and regularly watch or listen to the main political programmes on the BBC. From this abnormal perspective, I think I can safely say with a modicum of authority that it is almost impossible for anyone in this country to know what’s actually going on by relying on traditional news sources.

Documented examples of the institutional bullshittery, sensationalism, spin, obfuscation, incompetence and ignorance prevalent in the British press can be found here, here, here and here. As far as I can tell, the best option for the undecided voter looking for objectivity is the BBC website – but only because after you give up trying to find anything of substance you’re just a few clicks away from the latest episode of Doctor Who on iPlayer.

In terms of revealing the unelectable reality behind the claims and counter-claims strewn about by politicians, Channel 4’s FactCheck is possibly the only semi-authoritative route to the truth around.

2. Finding out which party best represents your interests

This is a task made infinitely easier thanks to the Vote for Policies project. Taking personality and image bias out of the equation, the surprisingly slick site presents the policy promises of six parties across nine key issues including crime, health, economy, the environment and immigration. Policies are shown without reference to the party they belong to, which is perhaps the only honest means of discovering who you really support.

3. Finding out which party to actually vote for in your constituency

After you’ve sorted out which party you agree with, it’s time to forget that and work out which party you should actually vote for. Pah, naive n00b, you think they’re the same? Wake up, asshole.

I know, this sounds bullshit, and it is, but the reality of the British electoral system is that tactically voting against the party you don’t want to win could be the only way to make sure your vote gets counted.

For example, in the Surrey South West constituency in 2005, the division of votes was as follows:

con: 51 lib: 39 lab: 8 other: 2

In such a battle, assuming similar voting trends this time around, for a progressive, left-wing lifelong Labour supporter, a vote for the Reds would be wasted. While a vote for the Lib Dems may not be their ideal choice, to not vote this way would only divide the left-wing vote.

The situation’s even worse when you get down to the “other” category. To use a right-wing example, a die-hard Eurosceptic may be more naturally inclined towards UKIP but be forced to vote Tory – the alternative is to see their vote, which our brave boys fought and died for in the Second World War against the bastard krauts, lost within the “other” category. The same obviously applies to the Green party. An honest vote could be a vote discounted from history.

You can find the voting history of your constituency on the BBC website here.

4. Finding out what to do about our stupid electoral system

So, where are we? You’ve found out that the free press routinely lies to you, you’ve excitedly discovered which party you want to vote for and you’ve dejectedly realised this isn’t always the same as the way you probably should vote. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that this democracy thing we practice is a crock of shit.

You’re not alone. The Electoral Reform Society and Vote For A Change are campaigning to make our system fairer. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are both making electoral reform part of their manifestos (though not for the first time) and with public faith in politics currently at an all-time low, this may be the time when enough popular support can introduce a system that makes every vote – for the first time in British history – count.

5. Finally, finding out how to vote

Visit About My Vote to find out how to register (if you haven’t already done so) and engorge yourself with more information about what to do come May 6th.

Happy suffrage.