Remember Crewe and Nantwich! Class Politics Doesn't Work...

By Jonathan Hoffman
March 31, 2012

Remember the Crewe and Nantwich by-election in 2008?

The by-election was caused by the death of the incumbent MP Gwynneth Dunwoody. Her daughter Tamsin was chosen as the Labour candidate.

The Labour Party ran a vicious personal class-based campaign against the Conservative candidate, barrister Edward Timpson, calling him "the Tarporley Toff", "Lord Snooty" and "Tory Boy Timpson". Labour supporters donned top hats to mock Timpson, whose family owns a national shoe repair and key-cutting business.

The campaign failed miserably. The Conservatives won the seat on a swing of 17.6% from Labour.

Why is this relevant now? Because Labour is attempting to play class politics again. And as at Crewe and Nantwich, it is certain to fail. Because the electorate moved beyond it years ago.

“Class politics” is what Labour’s attacks on the Budget decision on Cornish pasties is about. It was perfectly sensible to remove the anomaly whereby hot pasties were subject to VAT in a café but free from VAT in a supermarket. But Labour portrayed it as an attack on the working class, abetted by a media which has in many cases turned hostile to the government because of the initiation of the Levison Enquiry. John Mann’s questioning of George Osborne in the Treasury Select Committee would have been infantile in a school playground – let alone Parliament:

Mann: “When was the last time you bought a pasty in Greggs?”
Osborne: “I can’t remember when I last bought a pasty in Greggs
Mann: “That kind of sums it up”

And it gets worse. “Class politics” has been followed by “the politics of the absurd” – Labour’s attempt to blame the Government for queues at filling stations.

If you hear on the news that there might be a tanker driver’s strike, what do you do? You keep the average level of fuel in your car higher than normal. That means going to the filling station maybe two or three times a week instead of once. So more petrol will be in the tanks of cars and less in the tanks of filling stations. It’s rational behaviour. And yes if you have a jerry can you might fill that as well. Jerry cans are made for the safe storage of fuel. That’s their USP for heavens' sakes! John Mann’s call for Francis Maude’s resignation - after Diane Hill burnt herself mishandling fuel – is shameful and simply beggars belief. There are safe ways to store and handle fuel and there unsafe ways – why is Mann not saying that, instead of attempting to make political capital out of a tragic accident?

The point is that it is perfectly rational to respond to news of a possible disruption in fuel supplies by keeping the tank of your car fuller. One would do this whatever Ministers say. To blame Ministers for suggesting it is simply shooting the messenger and diverting attention from the real reason for the disruption –namely, the threat of a strike.


I was on Any Answers this week making these points. The recording will be on BBC I-Player for 7 days:

My slot starts at 19 minutes


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