Labour grass roots give voice to disillusion: Support in its traditional heartlands is slipping away as the party seeks support from middle-class voters through 'red rose socialism'

'IT HAS come. Poor little child of danger, nurseling of the storm. May it be blessed.' Thus, on a blustery, wet day in February 1900 did Keir Hardie, the pacifist son of an unmarried Scottish farm servant, christen the Labour Party and become its first parliamentary leader.

His vision of a broad-based coalition of intellectuals and working men's unions has travelled uneasily down the century, not least of all to the Cynon Valley in South Wales where he became MP. Here, as in Wallasey on Merseyside, there is disenchantment among grass-roots working-class voters about the growing influence of the Savile Row Tendency, the elegantly-suited section of the party leadership with its passionate pursuit of middle-class approval.

Both areas suffer from high unemployment (the Welsh constituency is known as Sign-on Valley) and the inevitable social consequences - crime, drugs and poverty. It is becoming difficult for Labour's lower ranks to identify with leaders who seem to lead different lives. John Smith is regarded as a man whose manifest virtues - decency, intelligence - are being neutralised by the blandness of his performance in Parliament.

At the last general election, Labour gained Wallasey when its candidate, Angela Eagle, unseated the Conservative minister Lynda Chalker. Today the victory has turned sour on Merseyside. The local hierarchy had wanted to field its own candidate, Lol Duffy, a left-wing activist on the Wirral. Party headquarters at Walworth Road in south-east London 'imposed' Ms Eagle, 32, an Oxford- educated parliamentary liaison officer for Cohse, the health workers' union.

In the political skirmishes that followed, the Wallasey party was (and remains) suspended. Labour's divided identity, between suburban socialism and the realities that underline day-to-day survival in the party's working-class strongholds, is becoming even more marked in the Cynon Valley.

The closure of its pits (only one, Tower, remains) has all but destroyed the social and political structure of its colliery lodges. It has been replaced by apathy - only one out of three voters turned out in the recent council elections - and resentment against the sitting MP, Ann Clwyd.

She is accused of being remote, not attending enough functions in the valley, and preoccupied with a career in the Shadow Cabinet. Labour activists have begun a campaign to force her to stand aside when she comes up for routine reselection in 18 months.

At Westminster some leading voices in the party are beginning to question the strategy of gentrification and distancing from trade union power brokers. Clare Short MP, in the left-wing weekly Tribune, warned Mr Smith of 'the poisonous voices' of ambitious 'crown princes' - the Savile Row Tendency of Tony Blair, the shadow Home Secretary; Gordon Brown, shadow Chancellor; and Peter Mandelson, who helped shape the red rose image - who 'want to be leader after we lose the next election'.

Roy Hattersley, the former deputy leader, said in the New Statesman and Society that turning the party into a 'more compassionate sort of Conservatism' would doom it to electoral defeat. Neither Mr Blair nor Mr Mandelson would discuss the evidence of working-class unhappiness about the party's direction. But Margaret Beckett, deputy leader, said: 'It's natural for people who were desperately anxious for a change of government to feel a great sense of sadness and despair when that did not happen.'

She defended Mr Smith's leadership, complaining that the media, particularly the BBC, was failing to report his tireless campaign to restore grass-roots morale by attending almost every regional party conference.

Beatrix Campbell, page 24

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before