The ‘In conversation with..’ format gave Lord Lipsey the floor to reminisce about his life in politics and reflect on the political landscape today.
What was most interesting to me was to hear first-hand how influence and class in politics has visibly changed. Not within the parties so much, but externally, with affiliated groups and the electorate. For when Lord Lipsey was seeking to get into politics at a young age he didn’t work at Labour HQ, a think tank or – dare I say it – a public affairs and PR agency like PLMR. Instead he set his sights on the General and Municipal Workers Union. This is where power and influence lay. This was the breeding ground for the left wing political classes and this held a huge amount of sway over policy making at the centre. Despite the ‘Red Ed’ moniker, this simply isn’t the case with Her Majesty’s Opposition today.
Unions still have a voice and a place in the politics of the left, but they certainly don’t have the final word. The reason this shift may have occurred was addressed in another interesting assertion made last night – that being the declining role of class in party politics. You might be screwing your nose up at this point and wondering what I’m talking about. And it is right that in fact there has never been so much attention than there is now on class within political parties. But that isn’t what Lord Lipsey meant. He meant that there was a declining role of class in what political parties stand for, what their policy positions are and who they are appealing to.
On the right and left, historically it was clear that Labour stood for the Unions, the workers and the disadvantaged, and the Conservative party stood for the upper classes, the successful businesspeople and those striving for individual success. But that has all changed now.
In the last General Election more middle class people voted for the Labour party than did working class and many Conservative votes emerged from those apathetic to three terms of Labour government and as a protest on hot topics like immigration. This led Lord Lipsey to make an interesting point. It is so much harder today to be a conviction politician and to stand for something resolutely. The great names of the past certainly did that, and could do that. But today the target voter for each party has changed dramatically, and cannot be slotted into a neat demographical box. This means that politicians are trying to be everything to everyone, to speak the language of people across social, demographic and economic divides. And the result? In most cases, it’s getting harder – for them and us – to be able to say what they stand for.