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Sunday, April 10, 2005


An old whine in new bottles

Prize for the most ludicrous statement in the election so far must go to Peter Hain, who has been stigmatising left-wing critics of New Labour as "chardonnay socialists".

According to the front page
headline story in today's Observer,

With the mood among voters still highly volatile, cabinet minister Peter Hain launched a fierce attack on self-indulgent 'dinner party critics' among the liberal middle classes who are tempted to use the ballot box to punish Blair. He said that by doing so, they would only hurt the poorest, who were dependent on a Labour victory.

The leader had 'got the message' about their displeasure, Hain said, arguing that those who still disagreed over Iraq or civil liberties should reopen the arguments after the election.

'There's now a kind of dinner party critics who quaff shiraz or chardonnay and just sneeringly say, "You are no different from the Tories",' he said. 'Most of the people in this category are pretty comfortably off: it's not going to be the end of the world if they get a Tory government. In a working-class constituency like mine, this is a lifeline. It's not a luxury.'
I liked Backing Blair's reaction:

"I nearly choked on my focaccia when I read that."
Hain's suggestion that voters should leave aside the issues of Iraq and civil liberties until after the election is patently absurd. A general election is precisely the time when we should be arguing about such major issues. No-one's vote is Labour's as of right, and Hain will have to debate the issues to earn anyone's vote, whether he likes it or not.

However, the part of Hain's language I'd like to unpack is the reference to "dinner parties", "shiraz" and "chardonnay". Hain must know that most people in Britain have been "quaffing" regularly since about the time of
Abigail's Party. Shiraz and chardonnay are nowadays a banal component of the weekly trolley-full from Tesco's.

Hain's attack is a complete anachronism. The jokes twenty years ago about Roy Jenkins and claret were dated even then. So who is Hain trying to impress?

One presumes this is New Labour's own attempt at 'dog whistle' politics, aimed at the few remaining over-70s working class people who "won't eat that foreign muck". If so, it is an act of desperation. It's a message unlikely to reach its intended audience, but which will insult and alienate still further progressive critics of Blair.

More generally, Hain's attack is part and parcel of Labour's "Vote Lib Dem, get the Tories" tactic. This is now emerging as the main means by which Labour aims to fight the Liberal Democrats and protect its left flank, while scaring its core support into turning out.

Even such critics of Blair as
Robin Cook and Nick Cohen are reiterating this tosh. There's even a rumour that Tony Benn will be wheeled out to deliver a similar message.

The facts are these. If every disaffected Labour voter in every marginal seat where the Liberal Democrats are in second place voted Liberal Democrat, AND the Liberal Democrats won all these seats, the Labour Party would still have a comfortable majority.

As the
Actually Existing blog explains, the Tories would need to gain about 170 seats - more than they hold now - to form a Commons majority. The Tories will probably make some gains on 5th May, but nowhere near that many.

There's an obvious repost to Hain et al: Vote Liberal Democrat and you'll get Liberal Democrat.

Now, where did I leave the corkscrew...?

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