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Toby Perkins MP article for Progress: Why Labour must learn to love the salesman

Scorn and alarm was too much the Labour reaction to the old ‘core’ vote and the jobs those voters now do, from sales to SMEs. The party won’t succeed again until it properly understand them and problems like low wages and job insecurity.

The early months of the ConDem government has demonstrated their obsession with an ideological remodelling of Britain that favours a small state and a reduced role for public servants. Understandably, much of the attention of Labour’s campaigning will be around the fight for both the principle and the future shape of our public services.

However, this vital battle mustn’t prevent the Labour party re-evaluating its strategy towards business and the private sector (particularly SME) workers. In the myriad articles about how we can reconnect with our ‘core’ there has been too little discussion about what our core vote is or should be.

With some notable exceptions the days where working class people worked in huge factories or nationalised industries are gone. People who have considered themselves to be ‘core’ Labour voters are now as likely to work down the pub, or in the bookies; to serve us at Tesco’s or Matalan; to be encouraging us to change electricity suppliers at our doorstep or driving taxis; they make cappuccino’s and answer the phone in huge call centres.

Too often Labour appeared to view these people and their careers with a mixture of scorn and alarm. Well intentioned Labour measures on the licensing and smoking laws have contributed to the closure of thousands of pubs and the dismissal of David Cameron as ‘a salesman’ said to the hundreds of thousands of people whose sales mean Britain has a private sector economy that Labour wasn’t the party for them.

On pensions, job security and flexible working, people in the private sector felt there was one rule for them and one for the ‘special’ people in the public sector.

Similarly many ‘core’ supporters now run their own businesses or work for small firms. The man who used to be the pit electrician will now rewire your house in a smart white van with his name on the side; two Chesterfield miners used their ‘redundo’ to set up a firm that refills laser printer toners. For Labour to be back in the box seat when it comes to winning elections, people like these must feel comfortable voting Labour again.

And of course the reality for many of the new working class is not that their reduced working conditions are compensated by higher salaries. Pubs and fast food restaurants, cafes and retail sector are often offering just minimum wage in exchange for your labours.

Partly Labour’s recovery is a question of acknowledgement and language, simply by valuing the contribution of, and acknowledging the issues facing private sector workers and the self employed we will start to break down barriers. But for them to really feel that they are a part of the modern Labour movement we must reflect their concerns in our policies as well as our language.

The exact direction our policies take in this area will of course be subject to debate in the party, and the needs of the differing people I have referred to will of course be aired. But actually acknowledging the tax burden on the lower paid, the insecurity of their pension and job prospects, and a commitment to a genuine fair contribution to society from the poorest to the wealthiest will enable Labour to reconnect with many of the people who we have lost. Labour does have a duty to stand up for the hard working majority that we speak about so often, understanding them and debating their issues would be a great start.

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Welcome

I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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Tel: 01246 386286
Email: toby.perkins.mp@parliament.uk
Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF

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