New Labour Criticises Ed Miliband For Failing To Be ‘Aspirational’ – But What Does ‘Aspiration’ Actually Mean?

by Ray_North on May 12, 2015

Unknown-2It began with almost indecent haste – it was almost as though the Ed Sceptics in the Labour Party had already decided on their attack before we’d even had time to pick our jaws up off the floor after hearing the exit polls last Thursday.

And, the thrust of their attack seems to be that Ed Miliband failed to tap into the aspirations of the nation.

We’ve heard it from Tony Blair, we’ve heard it from David Lammy, we’ve heard it from David Miliband, it has become the buzz reason why Labour lost the election – ‘it wasn’t aspirational enough.’

And, at first blush, there is a persuasiveness to it – after all, people do want to vote for something that is positive, and they do want to hear politicians who relate to thee things that are important to them.

But, once you peel back the Blairite sheen of this statement, you start to run into difficulties – and the first being – what exactly does it mean?

I fear that for Blair and his ilk, the subtext of their assertions about ‘aspiration’ is that it was all very well Ed Miliband going on about social housing and state education and saving the NHS, but, what he should have been saying is that, somehow, Labour will help you acquire that car you wanted, or that holiday you need, or perhaps get the kids into the better school up the road – because, after all, that was what New Labour was all about – appealing to the perceived aspirations of middle England, the great desire by the middle classes to acquire stuff that will make them feel better about themselves.

And sure, we all do it – at times there’s nothing better than the acquisition of stuff. But, should that be political principal? Should that be a declared aim of a political party?

Well, no.

For starters it is almost impossible to define, and attempts to do so start to become dangerously controlling – none of us have the same aspirations and the aspirations we do have change throughout our lives. Thirty years ago, my aspiration was to play in a band, twenty years ago, it was to be a politician, ten years ago, it was to have children, now, I aspire to sell ice-creams out of a van on a Greek island. I have aspirations for myself and my children – I don’t expect them to be achieved for me by the Government but I do expect the government to help by providing the basic foundations of a good society: law and order, health care provision, schools and a framework of regulation to stop me from being shafted by those who seek to sell me the stuff I’m supposed to aspire to want.

The Tories have a different view – their perception of the world is that it is a place where the acquisition of wealth is what drives us all forward – they expect the state to simply be a conduit that will allow this to happen, they care little for the organs of the state that protect those who are weaker and less able to acquire wealth. And, ok, I’d love to be wealthy – but, and call me a tree hugging liberal whoopsie if you want, I don’t aspire to live in a country where my wealth is disproportionate to that of other working people, or where I bask in the wondrousness of all the stuff I’ve collected, whilst others have little.

The view of New Labour was pretty clear – Tony Blair et al, concluded that the Labour Party could not afford to be a party of the working class, but, instead should speak for the ‘middle class’ hence much of its programme of government was designed to appease the desires of the ‘middle classes’: academy schools, PFI, part tendering in the NHS, deregulation of the City – these were policies of the ‘third way,’ which sought to re-distribute wealth in an effective way towards ‘hard-working people’ or the middle classes of middle England if you will. Ok, some benefitted, but many others found that this pseudo privatisation and overt deregulation was a disaster, because it has meant a general lowering of wages and increase in the gap between those who have and those who don’t. New Labour did much that was good, but in attempting to pander to the aspirations of the middle, it forgot those on the periphery and, when it did turn its attention to the less well off, ended up creating not an aspirational working class but a dependent under-class, a view that has been articulated very eloquently by the Labour MP John Cruddas.

I’m afraid that I take a much more pragmatic view of government – it’s there to give everyone a chance, it’s there to organise the fundamental and basic needs of its society in a proper and effective way – it’s not there to turn people into millionaires, it’s not there to allow some the opportunity to acquire consumer durables beyond their wildest dreams and leave others to flounder.

There is, I’m afraid, something deeply troubling when politicians talk about the aspirations of individuals, it has the whiff of the used-car forecourt about – they should not be there to make promises that have no substance, I don’t want them to make me happy – I want them to work towards ensuring that our society is fair in terms of the opportunities it offers and the services it provides – nothing more and nothing less.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East May 12, 2015 at 11:15 am



Eddie Kaye May 12, 2015 at 10:03 pm

Herein lies the paradox. To take advantage of the opportunity is seen as playing the game. To take advantage of the services seen as weakness or worse. In my opinion, as you say they are flip sides of the same coin. In the prevailing psyche, one is detached from the other. Enter the Tories and their media. One is demonised, scapegoated even. One is beatified. It is a hollow victory in my mind to sit atop a pile of rubbish.


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