Saturday, May 28, 2005

British Labour Party...lessons for Irish parties?

The success of the British Labour Party in three elections under Tony Blair has been remarkable. Okay, they had a drop of support in the recent election - but any party would still envy the big size of their overall majority going into a third term. Fianna Fail in contrast have probably forgotten that overall majorities can even be achieved.

The British Labour Party's success may have many complex ingredients but some simple formulae have stood to them in my opinion....

Firstly, they work intelligently to make damn sure they keep their core traditional Labour voters. The typical low paid worker will still vote Labour, or at very least will not vote Conservative. I listened with interest to interviews with Rover workers who just before the election lost their jobs. Surely they would be angry enough to stuff Labour in their voting. No, most Rover workers interviewed said they would vote Labour. It was interesting to listen to them saying things like...."Well, I've always voted Labour..." or "Labour tried their best to keep this place going...the Tories would have been much worse". For many workers , Thatcher's perceived reign of terror in the 1980s with industry probably still puts shivers into their souls.

Secondly, Blair and Labour cleverly stole the Tories middle class appeal. Blair acts and sounds rather like a Conservative. Notice also a very powerful but simple word he always works into his speeches...the word "decent". Everything is about doing "decent" things for society, a "decent" living standard, etc. Working people love to hear it and it's a more marketable word to middle classes than phrases like "social standards" which knocks on the door of that dirty word "socialist". Blair has the confidence and articulate skills of a Margaret Thatcher in both House of Commons debates and in dealing with the media. However Blair has a further skill. He is not afraid to face debate with masses of ordinary people, take their raw anger on the chin and calmly articulate his views. He may get a mauling in the process, but he somehow emerges looking like he cares or at least is trying to be ..."decent"!

This "Labour dressed as Conservative" tactic reminds me, albeit with many differences, of Charles Haughey's path following the infamous "Tallaght Strategy" under the noble Alan Dukes of Fine Gael. Haughey tactically played the opposition's own game and Fine Gael have been struggling ever since!

You would wonder if the Irish Labour Party could ever emulate the British Labour Party's success....I've many thoughts on this...but maybe for another day!

One final thought which says it all - Margaret Thatcher herself was reportedly asked earlier this year what was her greatest legacy. "New Labour", was the pithy reply!

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