Sunday, June 10, 2007

Thinking like Winners

In her role as Party Chairman, Hazel Blears has published a document outlining a suggested strategy for Labour at the next general election. The theme is that there is "no iron law of politics which decrees that the Tories are on an unstoppable path back to power"; Labour can reverse the trend and increase their majority but: "We have to think like winners".

The seats Labour are targeting offers few surprises. They were all seats lost in 2005 and currently the incumbent has a small majority. So voters within Croydon Central, Rochdale, Manchester Withington, Bethnal Green and Bow will all face the onslaught of Labour's professional, on-the-ground campaign. Fair enough, however it is the segmentation and public expression of real politik that is a little disconcerting.

Firstly there is the issue focus. All the seats are noted to have a diverse demographic; their concerns then will be immigration, housing, crime and anti-social behaviour, welfare and benefits, and public services especially the police, NHS and schools: this is somewhat obvious as they are currently the most important issues / problems as found consistently in polls. But "‘Middle class issues’ such as climate change, civil liberties and international aid are not election-deciding issues for the swing voters in the these seats"; so do not expect a Brown government to be focusing much attention in these areas.

The second area is what parties elegantly refer to as the BME communities, meaning Black and Minority Ethnic. Apparently the main issue for those voters in 2005 was Iraq, clearly the party hope this will be forgotten by 2009/2010 but to stand in Bethnal Green and Bow (George Galloway's steal from Oona King in 2005) is Rushnara Ali; described as "an excellent Bangladeshi women candidate, so this should fall to Labour next time". So politics seems not to matter, only the ethnic background and gender, the tone of the document suggests.

The concluding points are that a win is virtually in the bag as long as Labour:

  • remain firmly camped on the centre ground of British politics, where elections are won and lost;
  • focus on campaigning in the community;
  • build our strength in the key Labour-held marginal seats;
  • win back the seats we never should have lost in 2005.
Is there something missing here?

While no document such as this can detail the politics of the government between now and when the election is called. However the language suggests cynical but professional electioneering. We need to talk about a, b and c, but ignore x and y; but there is no sense of what the government should do to win these voters' support. It is true that ground level campaigning works, but there has to be something behind that campaign that engages the voters. That can be the quality of the candidate, though an incumbent can gain a personal vote too, but it must match with the perception that the party is the best one for government. Underpinning it all is the notion that "a new leadership team, new ministers, new policy initiatives, and a renewed sense of purpose and determination" will offer that positive perception; so perhaps criticism is a little previous. However circulating these documents gives a bad impression independent of the overall strategy. Just taking one element, the shortlisting of Rushnara Ali, her ability as a representative or the party's policies that will support the BMEs is not considered, just her Bangladeshi background; doesn't this devalue the role of a potential MP a little?

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