17th February 2016
THEY WERE ALL RED TORIES
I grew up on a council housing estate in Brighton during the 1960s and 70s. Nearly everybody voted Labour. In a good year as many as one window in three displayed a vote Labour poster. Tory posters were as rare as a cuckoo in February. Residents voted Labour or did not vote at all.
My parents were typical tenants. They never described themselves as socialists but were ardent Labour party supporters. We did not spend hours around the kitchen table discussing politics. Earning a living, going to school, cooking and eating and generally enjoying ourselves had greater priority. My father’s political comments were mainly limited to “Labour is the party for the working man” (and woman, of course!). My mother would occasionally contribute a “you cannot trust the Tories”.
Their political priorities were secure, well paid jobs, universal free healthcare and affordable homes fit for purpose. Anybody whose politics are left of centre would subscribe to these. However, my parents’ set of values were more nuanced than that. They put great stock in hard work being its own reward. They believed that any benefits derived from life should be a reward for hard work. If a family were relocated to the estate and other residents believed they were being given something they did not deserve then that family would be cold-shouldered. Cameron’s comments about the “something for nothing society” would have received a welcome ear from my Labour voting parents.
My parents also believed that strong defence and national security were important. They would have no truck with those opposed to the atom bombing of Japan in 1945 or RAF bombing of German cities. They saw these as ways of “bringing our boys home early”. This was not an empty phrase to them, as it was my mother’s many brothers who were fighting at different locations around the world. They blamed the Tories for the Second World War and Baldwin and Chamberlain for not dealing with Hitler earlier. Peace was very important to them and they saw the nuclear deterrent as a means for securing this.
My parents were also royalists and were dismissive of suggestions of elitism and excessive privilege. They thought that church was a place you went to for baptisms, weddings and funerals but none of that made them agnostic. The Royal Family and the Church of England were necessary pillars of civilised society.
The Labour party would look after us, make sure we had jobs, provide our healthcare and homes but my parents’ socialism included priority also being given to defence and national security plus support for the Monarchy and respect for the Church.
My parents are no longer here for me to ask but my guess would be they would be very concerned at Labour electing a republican pacifist as leader. They would view Corbyn as being weak and lacking leadership skills. They would compare him to the appeasers of the 1930s. To them he would be no Attlee, Wilson or Blair.
Has the framework of beliefs and values that working people hold dear changed much since the 1960s and 70s? The evidence of polls and surveys would indicate not. Thousands will flock to The Mall this summer to celebrate the Queen’s next longevity achievement. The majority are in favour of renewing Trident. They support our armed forces. It was the electorate’s views about welfare and immigration that got the Tories over the line last May. YouGov’s excellent post May 2015 election survey confirmed the basic conservatism of UK voters. They will move to the left but only in steady, managed steps. A party which they view as being either too far to the left or right is usually doomed.
And the morale of the tale about my parents? If Labour is to be electable again it needs to build a platform from where the voters are and not from where some would wish them to be.
The economy, housing and health remain important but so does love of country and a willingness to defend it. A recent poll taken of those over 65 seems to show Corbyn is not in tune with his own age group. As for younger people, those that Labour Corbynites say they are leading, what are their thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn? It seems they are… ‘Who he?’
The sooner Labour calibrates itself to where the voters are the better.
By Keith Nieland