What’s Crewe and Nantwich gotta do with it? (Class attacks still won’t work)

It’s official, class is an issue! Who cares about whether we should slash the deficit or continue to pump money into the economy like the choke on a 1970s Ford Capri pumps fuel into a spluttering engine on a cold day. Who cares? The days will probably get hotter where we pump CO2 into the atmosphere like there’s no tomorrow, so perhaps not only the choke in that metaphor but the weather too will become outdated – just like class politics was supposed to bear no relation to the spangly, third-way politics that Blair brought in.

Apparently two papers are going to give the Tories their polling majority back so perhaps, even as I write this, class-based attacks will disappear just as Crewe and Nantwich seemed to stop them last time around.

But why? Class attacks do seem to gain some traction, especially in a recession. They scare the Tories. A PHI poll has found that many in Westminster agree that they’ll work. And, most importantly for the political observer if not the partisan hack, Crewe and Nantwich (which is commonly cited as an example of how they don’t work) should not be taken as an indicator of a general election.

Labour had limped from short sighted mistake to mistake just before Crewe – there was terrible coverage resulting from an election that was never quite called, and this was followed up by the fall-out of ditching the 10p tax rate.

Labour went on to choose a candidate almost solely because of her surname: “Dunwoody”. She had previously been in the Welsh Assembly until she was booted out in favour of a Tory. The reason class attacks didn’t work in Crewe is because Tamsin Dunwoody had been parachuted into a seat on a hereditary principle, turned out to have a title, and then ran a hypocritical campaign based on class. Crewe and Nantwich may have been filled with Labour’s core voters, but it shouldn’t be taken of an indicator of how the core react to class, merely how they react to Tamsin Dunwoody and being taken for granted.

But this isn’t to say class attacks will work this time either. As I pointed out the other day, Labour have hardly been class warriors over the past 12 years. Their sudden Damascene conversion will appear hollow under the spotlight of an election campaign. Perhaps they might be better off leaving the issue alone, or at least not making it the centerpiece of their campaign.

PS. In the Times, Matthew Parris advises the Tories to ignore personal attacks and focus on the issues, which yesterday I noted that they currently aren’t doing. The Telegraph’s Charles Moore has another idea, but his summary of the issue is what’s worth paying attention to.

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