Labour used to be a party for normal people – a party through which we could improve our lives. Before them the Liberals were too, for a time.
Yet the whole of the left has lost sight of the self-interest of normal families of late, and sounds like it is always just pulling heart-strings for helping other people.
That is mostly down to poor language.
Stop using stupid words!
“But what about people round here?”
In 2010 that was a common response from the public in the early stages of the election campaign. Labour was focusing hard on deprivation and deprived areas. And yet, in deprived areas, people thought Labour meant somewhere else.
In East London, one inspirational (to me) local councillor nailed why. On an estate that absolutely was in deprivation, she said no one feels deprivation. They were broke. They needed a job, or better pay. They struggled with bills. But they weren’t a charity case. They weren’t a depressed statistic. They were just normal people.
Deprivation sounded like well-meaning moral caring for other people – but not like anything that would help “me and my family”. And when “I” am broke, helping other people sounds like a luxury.
That 2010 election took a new turn part way through. Labour nationally carried on not speaking to normal people it thought it was speaking to. But locally, in East London, English language returned.
Normal people talk about schools and police and housing, and Labour in East London cast off the national language and did the same. They swept several councils – including some of them returning 100% of Labour candidates.
Although that was a Labour experience, all of the left has overlooked the lesson and needs to learn it now.
Nothing Wrong With Self-Interest
In the earliest part of the 20th century, the Liberal Party created the state pension. This was popular with people who saw it as a possible improvement not just to some abstract statistical group of people in need, but to “me and my family”.
In the middle of the 20th century, Labour created the cradle to grave welfare state – including the NHS. The public celebrated not just because abstract other people might benefit and that’s nice, but because it would benefit “me and my family”.
So why, in 2020, has so much self interest been lost from the sales pitch for policies that clearly stand to benefit normal people? Why is it lost in a sweep of well-meaning moral caring for abstract “others”?
Here’s two examples.
Green New Deal – sold by multiple parties as an important environmental improvement that will tackle the abstract known as Climate Change.
Why not, however, be more normal? Our energy bills keep rising – along with petrol prices – because we are running out of fuel. Renewables are the path to cheaper bills and eventually to electric cars that cost less to run. And that will help “me and my family”.
The NHS – Talked of on the left with a focus on privatisation and dodgy trade deals with the USA. This was completely blunted by lies from the right about 40 new hospitals.
So why not be more normal? Just talk about threats to local A&E services, lack of GPs, endless waits, and how investing now can give people and their families the healthcare they deserve?
As odd as it sounds, in Communications it can be useful to ban certain words to help people communicate better. Because if the communicator fails to get across their message to the audience, that is not the fault of the audience.
Some words diminish attention or diminish comprehension. Others end up just being used lazily to demonstrate supposed intelligence or morality rather than really talk.
The political left – across all parties – seems to love words like “neo-liberal” and “deprivation”. So ban them. Because they hinder communication. Stop saying “educators” or “health professionals” too, because that forces you to speak normal – saying teachers, doctors, and nurses.
The parties of the left offer policies that should benefit normal people quite significantly. Yet trying to hide from self-interest feels like a strange academic game.
Normal people celebrate self interest. We like a big telly, we want to own a house, we even get a little jealous of Chrissie down the road who just got a bonus and bought a bit of a flash motor.
And the left used to too. It must learn how to again.