Following the Rochester by-election (in which the Labour vote plummeted from 28% to 17%) there has been much commentary to the effect that Labour is no longer the party of the working man. This opinion, in conjunction with the Milliband 35% strategy, may account for Labour increasingly seeking to exploit the politics of envy and class war with recent announcements on mansion tax and the charitable status of public schools.
Labour was never the party of the working man; it was (and is) the party of the Trade Unions. As trade union membership has fallen by over 50% (to under 6 million) in the past 30 years it should not be surprising that the Labour vote is under extreme pressure. The Thatcherite privatisation of major companies and the ending of the closed shop account for much of the fall, as does the fundamental change in the UK economy.
Today the private sector employs 24.3 million people, of which 60% of UK private sector employment is in firms with fewer than 250 employees, and few of these have trade union representation within the company. The public sector employs a further 5.6 million people. The largest unions, Unite and (particularly) Unison comprise 50% of the TUC by membership (Unison is the public service union). Their members are predominantly employed by the government. Other unions include the National Union of Teachers, The Fire Service Union, The Prison Officer’s Association and the National Association of Probation Officers. The TUC is effectively the representative of government employees.
The Labour party therefore has become the party of the government machine, which is of course why it is unable to sanction the cuts in the machine necessary to balance the budget. Its “falling attraction to the working man” is in fact a reflection of the massive increase in SMEs and the growing public realisation that the government machine has bankrupt this country.
The transformation of employment from the nationalised behemoths of the 1970s to the nimbler companies of today has promoted a far wider understanding of how capitalism works and in many cases removed the need for any organised labour representation. In a workforce of 5,000 employees an individual worker has little power or realisation of how he (or she) adds vale. In an organisation of 50 employees (which is 98% of all SMEs) that same employee will know the boss personally and be well aware of their value. As the need for trade unions recedes the purpose of its party diminishes as well.
In fact the Labour party has a worse problem; as former TUC members become embedded in the private sector they become more aware of the failings of government service. Most employees want overtime, and many want to work well in excess of the 40 hours/week imposed by the EU Working Time Directive. They are increasingly intolerant of the falling public sector productivity while their own is rising. The Labour party is forced by to trumpet the benefits of state education and the NHS to voters who are increasingly aware of the shortcomings of and alternatives to these (and other) state supplied services. It is doomed.
If it were not for the fatuous invention of “New Labour” which created “the third way” of economics (which was never really defined, but led to the current massive debt) at a time when a fourth term of Conservative government was looking unappealing Labour could have died in 1997. It may have escaped then, but the rise of UKIP as a credible alternative worthy of a vote has given the British electorate, most of whom neither belong to a trade union nor work for the government, a wonderful opportunity to kill off the failed party that represents the dysfunctional government machine.
Labour’s time has passed and it has no future.