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Daily View: Gordon Brown and middle-class voters

Clare Spencer | 09:55 UK time, Monday, 18 January 2010

Gordon BrownGordon Brown's speech at the weekend for the Fabian Society set out to appeal to middle-class voters. Commentators consider what influenced this decision and how the electorate will react.

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said on the Today programme that the speech will define Labour's election strategy:

"He exhumed the idea of New Labour - a phrase that he never used in his conference speech, and used repeatedly this weekend. And with it, a new and much more subtle form of class war. The one that we're used to - the battle for the support of the middle classes.
"What Gordon Brown did was to say that he was born and brought up in the middle classes. He didn't point out - he didn't need to - that David Cameron was not, in his view. And he claimed that the Tories didn't understand the needs or the worries of middle-income Britain."

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Jackie Ashley in the Guardian thinks that engaging with middle-class voters shows the influence of Lord Mandelson:

"This is a huge change in emphasis. Combined with Alistair Darling's tough words on bringing down the deficit through serious cuts, it makes clear that Brown is no longer in charge as he was a month or two ago.
"There are plenty of people in the party who regret this move away from the core vote. Some doubt the wisdom of the 'we are middle class now' idea - as Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University has pointed out, it is tantamount to announcing the abolition of Labour's traditional working class base. Yet the 'class war/core strategy' seemed a counsel of despair rather than hope, simply shoring up those limited seats where Labour is unbeatable.
"Edging away from the core vote, however, won't save Labour from electoral slaughter. What the party has desperately needed is what one of the election inner circle calls 'a forward offer': a series of good reasons to vote Labour once more. It is astonishing that this is being assembled so late in the day."

Peter Hoskin in the Spectator says the policy highlights Labour's inconsitencies:

"It highlights just how inconsistent the government have been over the last few months. I mean, a government which only weeks ago proposed national insurance hikes - and which has, day after day, cast misleading aspersions about the Tories' inheritance tax plan - is now talking about aspiration? Get away.
"The simple fact is that Labour's policy is now determined by who is on top in the struggle between Brown and Balls, on one side, and people like Mandelson and Darling, on the other. Any shift in the power relations between now and the next election, and we're likely to see a different emphasis again. This does not a credible government make."

Joe Dyke writes in Total Politics that Gordon Brown is trying to "straddle two horses":

"Social mobility has that quality of being like justice, choice or freedom: everyone agrees with it but no one quite knows what it looks like. By making it a key election strategy, it enables Brown, rhetorically at least, to keep together Balls and Mandelson on a united ticket. So Brown's two horses might be able to stay parallel for now, but I am not sure they have morphed into one."

Paul Staines, writing as political blogger Guido Fawkes, reckons that Gordon Brown's appeal to middle class voters will force the Tories to rethink their policies:

"At first the Tories might be inclined to dismiss it as desperate political zig-zag forced on Brown and Balls by a cabinet that wisely wants to fight for middle-income swing votes rather than just core-votes in a defeatist retreat into welfarist clientelism. Except middle-income voters are bound to ask: 'What will the Tories do for us?'"

Philip Johnston in the Telegraph asks whether the Tories have deserted middle-class voters:

"But however brazen this pitch for Middle Britain may look, Mr Brown and his strategists (ie Lord Mandelson) see an opportunity here. The most provocative section of his speech deliberately accused the Tories of 'betraying' the middle classes. Does he have a point?
"Have the Tories become so cautious and so frightened of wooing their own 'core vote' that they are in danger of scaring them off - not into the arms of Mr Brown but to other parties or to sullen indifference?"

In the Daily Mail Melanie Phillips is untrusting of Gordon Brown:

"And there were millions of us thinking that he was, in fact, the unreconstructed arch-enemy of the middle classes and of everything they hold dear. For sheer unadulterated brazen gall, his pretence surely takes the latest of many mouldy digestive biscuits."

Links in full

SpectatorPeter Hoskin | Spectator | Labour's policy is a hostage to their internal struggles
SpectatorJames Forsyth | Spectator | Has Mandelson won a lasting victory on strategy?
TelegraphPhilip Johnston | Telegraph | Middle-class voters deserve better treatment
GuardianJackie Ashley | Guardian | The full, sapping cost of the Blair-Brown war is now clear
Total PoliticsJoe Dyke | Total Politics | Gordon Brown's two parallel horses
IndependentIndependent | Still playing the class card
MailMelanie Phillips | Daily Mail | Brown posing as saviour of the middle classes
Guido Fawkes' blogPaul Staines | Guido Fawkes' blog | What are Tories going to do for middle classes?
BBCNick Robinson | BBC

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