Ed Miliband should abandon his “them versus us” strategy pitching the poor against the rich, so he can extend Labour’s appeal beyond the party’s core vote, Lord Mandelson has said.
The former Cabinet minister voiced in public the private fears among Blairites that Mr Miliband’s criticism of the rich and big business risks alienating “aspirational” middle class voters. His speech at Westminster will be seen as a criticism of the Labour leader’s attack on the “zero-zero economy”, with people on zero hours contracts at the bottom and the highest earners paying “zero tax”.
Lord Mandelson said that, with the Conservative and Labour vote fragmented, parties would win power by building “alliances of voters from different parts the spectrum and of the country”.
He said the voters up for grabs were moderate, progressive but “don’t like the polarization of politics between the rich and poor”.
He added: “They want a fairer, less unequal society and know this must be paid for. But they also want policies that are aspirational and not motivated by envy or resentment of those who are better off. They want workers to be treated fairly in their pay and conditions but don’t like a ‘them and us’ mentality where you have to be for 'the bosses’ or for 'the workers’.”
The former Business Secretary told a meeting staged by the Policy Network think tank he founded that Labour needed to reassure voters it would tackle the deficit before it would get a hearing for its “fairness and social justice” agenda.
But he insisted that Labour could win next May’s general election, saying that George Osborne had set off “alarm bells” among voters about the country’s future in by proposing £55bn of public spending cuts in last week’s Autumn Statement. This had given Labour an opening, he argued.
Miliband aides hit back, insisting that his “zero-zero economy” attack was in line with Lord Mandelson’s famous remark that New Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes”.