This is our truth, tell us yours
John Cruddas has gone public on his view that Labour should, in his words, stop patronizing socially conservative working class people.
We have heard this argument in the Labour Party before. I heard it in Bermondsey in 1983, when the socially conservative elements of the local Labour Party refused to accept Peter Tatchell as the local Labour candidate for Parliament because of his sexuality, and the way he expressed it. In the teeth of a revolting and homophobic campaign from the Liberals, for which they have never fully apologized. Labour’s socially conservative elements washed their hands of Tatchell, and accepted Hughes.
So John Cruddas is saying nothing new when he says that Labour has to reach an accommodation with its socially conservative supporters. He supports his analysis with a hefty dollop of values mode analysis, supported by a carefully framed battery of statements that Cruddas claims justifies his views.
I’m one of the people Cruddas says shouldn’t be shaping Labour policy, because, apparently, people like me frighten the social conservatives. I’m a transcedent pioneer, according to values mode analysis.
Now, there’s a methodological problem with Cruddas’s analysis, and with values mode research. The first problem is the framing effect of questions. Consider the question ‘Our welfare system is too generous to people who aren’t prepared to work hard for a living’- does that strike you as a neutral question, or one framed to tap into ideas about the moral virtues of hard work? Is it possible that the question will pre-dispose some respondents to give a particular answer?
Let’s be quite clear about this. Either John Cruddas knows what he’s doing in framing questions in such a way, which makes him a participant, not an observer, or he doesn’t, in which case he’s not qualified to ask why Labour lost. We touched on this yesterday, but it’s too important an issue not to return to it.
If you’re talking to settlers (in the values mode sense) the language of benefits and welfare is the wrong language. Settlers prize social security. They hate New Labour for abandoning the social contract of social security, from the cradle to the grave, in favour of a mix and match approach that is designed to win over Mondeo Man or Worcester Man, not the traditional Labour voting settlers. John Cruddas doesn’t choose to frame the debate in that way. He should.
Harold Wilson delivered more general election victories than Tony Blair. He held the Labour Party together for longer than Blair, and had a career that was marked by dissent and resignation (in 1950) as well as deal making and coalition building. He perfected the technique of getting Labour’s pioneers to work with Labour’s settlers by framing the welfare state as social security, an insurance scheme that ensured those who needed it would always have a safety net, while getting the settlers to see liberalism as a reasonable way of being fair to all.
John Cruddas appears not to know this. He appears to believe that Labour has so lost the argument, that there is no longer any point in trying to form a social coalition; instead Cruddas advocates pursuing the lowest common denominator.
The settlers are not a group who have moved away from Labour; they believe Labour has moved away from them, and they have a point. It’s not a point about their social conservatism though. Unconscious racists and homophobes also deserve social security, and are more likely to be amenable to debates about equality and and fairness if they feel they are being treated fairly and equally, and they don’t. Faced with a Labour shift away from council housing, from a unified NHS, away from social security to the welfare problem, the social conservatives have demonstrated that they don’t like change, and have opted for UKIP, a conservative party that appears to share their values.
John Cruddas doesn’t appear to notice this, perhaps because of how he framed his questions. Whether he’s a charlatan or a fool, he’s an unreliable guide.