Successfully bashing the Conservatives is not necessarily a successful week for Labour

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February 17, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith

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At first glance, it looks like Labour had a very good week last week. Starting off by pointing out the issue of Coalition government policy allowing hedge funds to avoid stamp duty, there followed some great examples (a quite unnecessarily sumptuous fund raising ball, a mass of Tory donors caught in the glare of possible tax avoidance, and a pink bus aimed at non-voting women that received the perfect amount of publicity) as to how a political party can make its’ own luck. Yet the winner, I would argue, is not the Labour Party, but the none-of-the-above alternatives who have sat (gladly) by on the sidelines whilst the two mainstream parties tear each others’ reputation to pieces and bring on a further plague on both their houses.

Let’s concentrate on what we can call Labour’s tactical victories. On Monday night there was a fund-raising ball that raised about £2 million from people bidding on lots such as a shopping trip with the current Home Secretary to a bronze bust of Margaret a Thatcher. The tax avoidance row started off with Ed Miliband using Parliamentary privilege to talk about David Cameron’s ‘dodgy donors’, linking the donations from the ball and people named on the list of those who had Swiss Bank accounts at HSBC that were being investigated for their tax avoidance activities, (many of whom work in hedge funds) to the stamp duty exemption for hedge funds.

Miliband courted trouble by naming Lord Stanley Fink as one of those with a Swiss bank account, suggesting there was something odd about this when Fink, in fact, lived and worked in Switzerland in the late 1990s. Yet Fink then handed Miliband a present by pointing out in an interview the next day that the definition of tax avoidance is so broad that “everyone does it”, with those last three words becoming the headline. Even though the Tory-supporting newspapers have hit back with lists of the tax avoidance activities of Labour Party donors, Miliband has managed to activate the base of Labour voters by reminding them of who would run the country if the Tories won again.

Talking of activating voters, the pink van in which Gloria De Piero and Harriet a Harman started travelling around the country has managed to reach the exact people they wanted, although not in the way they might have planned. The response to the colour of the van was to have accusations of sexism and patronisation thrown at Labour, but this furore actually served instead to point those Labour was trying to reach towards them. There are up to a million female voters who don’t vote in elections, and if Labour can get them participating, they can benefit, which is why the visit to an Asda in a deprived area made a lot of sense. Helped by huge publicity gifted to them by fabricated outrage about the pink coloured van, they got onto the major news broadcasts, and the response of those actually interviewed about it was positive.

So, there we go, a victory on tax avoidance and in engaging women voters that should not only raise the amount of people voting Labour, but also possibly reduce those ready to make the leap to the Conservatives that that party would need to get near a majority again. Associating them with hedge fund tax avoiders, and having that at the top of the news for a week could only be good for Labour. Surely?

I would argue that it doesn’t. I would argue that Nigel Farage, Nathalie Bennett and Nicola Sturgeon might see last week as a great week for UKIP, the Greens and the SNP (I left out the Lib Dems for an obvious reason). The two mainstream parties slung mud at each other again and again and seemed to be unable to have a discussion which was anything related to what the voters really want, which is an answer to their life’s challenges, was not in the news. Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, came and gave a speech about the need to try something other than austerity, which both Labour and the Conservatives are committed to and the SNP are not. In a week when the super-rich have been at the forefront of the news, the parties who represent answers (economically illiterate or not) for those at the other end of the income spectrum, may have moved closer to increasing their vote share.

This is the danger for Labour and the Conservatives. Concentrate on bashing each other, and they might drive voters away. Concentrate on solutions to the challenges of daily life for the majority of voters, and they may not. So, whether or not it looks like Labour beat the Conservatives last week, or any week, it doesn’t mean that Labour actually won.

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