I’m an instinctive Labour voter, though by no means a tribal one. I support greater social justice, less inequality and strong public services. Even so, I’m finding it harder and harder to support Labour these days.
Two incidents have left me finding it harder to support Ed Miliband at the moment – his debate with Myleene Klass and the row over Emily Thornberry’s tweet. On neither of these though, am I disappointed in these for the reasons being trotted out by the tabloid media.
Myleene Klass has receiving multiple plaudits from the press for “taking on” Ed Miliband over the Mansion Tax, despite the fact that she was self-evidently talking utter nonsense. Not least for her claim that £2million would buy you a garage in London.
This is easily disproved with five minutes on Rightmove. I did a quick search of what was available for £2 million in groovy Islington, pretty much at the epicentre of the London housing bubble. For exactly that price, I found a three bedroom luxury apartment. Admittedly that’s not a mansion, but it ain’t no garage either.
Moving slightly further out, I did another search in Richmond Upon Thames – a swanky area within easy commuting distance of central London. Again, looking for homes at exactly £2 million the first result was a beautiful seven bedroom house, with spacious rooms and an impressive-looking garden.
And then there’s South Wales, where I live. Rightmove returned very few results on or above that price, but it found me a period four-bedroom farmhouse with 78 acres of land and five holiday cottages on the grounds, in the desirable area of Cowbridge – again, for that precise sum of 2 million quid.
Just to add to the foolishness, Klass followed up with, “You might as well tax this glass of water”, apparently oblivious to the suggestion that there’s such a thing as water bills.
What Myleene Klass was doing is what the wealthy always do when confronted with some vaguely progressive attempt at wealth redistribution. They’re never going to go on TV and say, “Well, of course I don’t want to give you a small slice of my big pile of money! I want to dive into a heap of gold and roll around in it like Scrooge McDuck!” Instead they say, “It’ll be bad for you! The little guy!” A 50p top rate of Income Tax? That’ll hurt the aspirations of everyone out there! Never mind that your average teacher, nurse, police officer or squaddie will never reach that top rate, no matter how hard they strive. It’ll hurt their aspirations! The likes of Klass tend to get away with this rubbish because the national media are crammed with people who see a privileged lifestyle as the natural order of things, rather than a lucky accident of birth on their part.
Miliband should have taken her apart, and pointed out that she was obviously shilling for the 1% rather than some poor Granny in the London suburbs. Instead he retreated into burbling talking points about the NHS going backwards. Hence Klass was able to be portrayed as some sort of Robin Hood, albeit a very, very rich Robin Hood.
And then there’s Emily Thornberry’s tweet. Admittedly it was somewhat ill-advised, but to suggest that Miliband’s response was utterly craven. Rather than defending a colleague (who, incidentally, grew up in a far more working class background than he did) he spectacularly caved in to the right-wing media narrative that Thornberry had insulted the working classes.
Because that’s what it is to be working class? To live in a house bedecked with gigantic St George’s flags with a white van outside? Who’s stereotyping who here? I live in a traditional working class suburb of Cardiff and I don’t see any houses round here like that (and before anyone points out the obvious, no, there aren’t any with great big Welsh flags draped over them either).
Miliband’s claim that when he sees a white van he thinks, “Respect” has to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in some time. Really, who thinks that on seeing a white van? Mostly, I think, “Oh Christ, I’m going to get cut up at the traffic lights again.”
There’s more I could say about the Emily Thornberry non-scandal, but Sarah Ditum has already said it here.
If there’s one thing Miliband has shown, it’s that he’s at his best when he grows a spine and starts taking on the establishment, as he did over Leveson and the Daily Mail’s treatment of his Dad. But he just isn’t doing it enough. Too often he retreats into pandering to the tabloids, despite their decreasing relevance in an age of social media.
Real change needs a real alternative to the Tory-Lib Dem coalition – not Miliband’s milquetoast, half-hearted opposition, and certainly not Ukip’s drunken band of privately-educated City bankers. That’s why I’m increasingly thinking of switching my vote from Labour to Green.
It’s not a definite decision, not least because my constituency is a key Labour v Lib Dem battleground. My local MP did everything she could to support the Bedroom Tax, before recently resigning from the government on a point of principle. I believe the principle was she wants to be re-elected next year.
I may yet vote Labour in 2015, if only to kick Jenny Willott out. But my vote will not be automatic. If Labour want me to support them, then they’re going to have to work harder than they are right now.