Monday, May 19, 2008

Cro-magnon Voter

You there - identify yourself! I suspect you could be an 'aspirational voter', despite the clinging musk of 'core voter' in your demeanour. If not AB then you are at least a C1, I warrant. Let's have a look at you. Yes, you are a bit of a slippery character. The trouble is, we're having difficulty designing a message that will make you vote for us. Last week, in party HQ, we devised a slogan that referred to the opposition as "Absolut Toffs". We thought that rather witty, and would go down as well with the aspiring Surrey single mothers as well as core heartland ordinary decent hard-working families from Blaneau Gwent. Sadly, the opposition routed us with a spin on the original, referring to us as "Absolut Balls", a cunning reference to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Ordinary Decent Hard-working Families. So, we need to pull out the big guns. Judging from various biomorphic measurements, we think you are Middle England personified, the goldilocks of psephology, the sweet spot. You are aspiring but comfortable with your roots, open-minded but also sensibly bigoted, cynical but easily manipulated, a dreamer with one foot on the ground - the sort of person eulogised in Alanis Morrissette's 'Hand in My Pocket'. Sorry, can I ask, how did that reference to popular culture feel to you? I mean, did you believe it, or was it just a little bit strained? We have tried variants referencing Snoop Snoop Icy Dog T, but as yet none of the homeboys have produced a rap about embodying different, mildly opposing states of being. M & Ms, you say? I will look into it. Now, if I were to tell you that I could give you a hundred and twenty pounds, would you consider voting for me? Well, suppose I distributed in your monthly pay packets evenly throughout the year? That's ten pounds a month, enough to subsidise a mild nicotine addiction, or buy a twelve pack of generic imported lager. Now, what if as an added incentive I told you that we really dislike pollution and are totally opposed to the menace of cancer? And we also might brutalise asylum seekers just a tiny little bit? Not too much, just callously break up their families and inflict casual violence and penury on them until they feel a mite unwanted? I think we understand one another...

Yes, it's the bye-election of doom, and the above skit is an introduction to the marvels of Hainite electoralism. Peter Hain's suspicion is that the New Labour coalition that won in 1997 is breaking up, and may not win its 'historic fourth term'. He further avouches that this is because Labour is now offering two extremes. One, favoured by 'New Labour ultras', is the crude mimickry of Toryism that takes Joe Sixpack for granted and will do anything to mobilise the marginals. The other, bruited by ?, is hard left class war politics that will ultimately see Labour retreat to a 'comfort zone' without the votes of swinging suburbia. The Hain option is to steer a middle course between these hazardous extremes, courting all the elements of the coalition that led to New Labour's staggering majority in 1997. The trouble with this logic, as ever, is that it is based on the dismal pseudo-science of psephology, which treats voters as market-tested blocs to be manipulated with policy flavours and a few cheap bribes into prefering one management team over another. Its occasionally self-fulfilling prophesies determine the limits of the possible in the minds of New Labour strategists. Populations are strafed and cleaved with poor substitutes for class and ideology, such as 'identity', 'values', 'social type', and so on. Coventry Woman in coalition with Sierra Man will win it for the team, provided their libidinal 'value' glands are tickled. Then, perhaps by stealth, the team might be able to do a small amount of what it wants to do, provided it doesn't upset the rich and their media outlets. Such a logic is, of course, profoundly anti-democratic. It highlights how little the electoral process now has to do with registering the real needs and desires of the population.

Labour politicians have always thought that the right answer to being defeated by the Tories was to try to imitate them further. They tried it in 1987, and again in 1992, and somehow it didn't work. Time to move even further to the right, get the middle class on-side, flatter big business. By 1997, the Tories were in such a state and their ideas so hated that New Labour could win on less votes than it had lost with in 1992. A broom with a red rosette sellotaped to it could have won the election at that point. Now they are being punished by working class voters for a decade of right-wing rule, and they're still biting their nails about 'aspiring' voters (as if we 'core' voters lack aspiration). So, rather than banging your head against the brick wall of Labourism, you'd do better to have a listen to the surprisingly prophetic discussion by the late Paul Foot, supplied by the excellent resource 'Resistance MP3s': Part I and Part II. This was just after John Smith had died, and Blair and Brown were sealing the deal for what would become the monstrosity that we have lived under for over a decade now. Foot is brilliantly scathing about Blair and his supporters, and the basic analysis has hardly dated.