Friday, 4 December 2009

Frank Luntz - Is He Missing Something?

Expert pollster Frank Luntz was on This Week last night with Andrew Neil, Michael Portillo and Diane Abbot.

Luntz is brilliant. His insights are superb and his methodology is highly evolved.


I don't think Luntz has grasped the full impact of a particularly British issue - class.

The Labour party have finally unleashed this issue on the Conservatives - and it's working and it's going to work better and better as it gets more and more traction.

Luntz seemed to dismiss the impact of this - but as Diane observed, it is a 'visceral' issue with the British public. Perhaps it's just difficult for someone who doesn't have a UK upbringing to understand.

Andrew Landsley handled the 'class' issue well on Questiontime last night. He combated the charge of the Conservatives being 'upper-class' and elitist by casting such accusations as being prejudiced. It worked to an extent; in that it closed the debate down and prevented more charges being flung at the Conservatives of being elitist and privileged etc.

But all this really did was close the debate down, for a bit. It didn't unravel it and confound it. It just drove it under-ground temporarily.

To put it another way - people, when asked, will happily confirm that they do not think that someone's background should be held against them.

But they do hold it against them. Really. Diane Abbot was right it's visceral - deep, instinctive, unreasoning.

And as Prescott said it is rooted in Education. If you didn't have a public school education (like me) then you carry a little resentment through life with you - against those who had that advantage. For some people it's small but for others it's a powerful prejudice. I don't like to admit this but it's true.

But regardless of intensity, you feel it is unfair, and why should you support delivering even more advantages to the privileged few by giving them the top jobs - i.e. making them the government - so they can perpetuate the inequality.

If you did have a public school education or even if you went to a Grammar school you probably don't grasp this. Because you don't feel it - obviously. Get wise.

So, the Conservatives must get this. Labour understand it. They know it is a great motivator for the majority - those who didn't have a private education.

But how to combat it?

1) First, Agree with the Central Charge. Agree that it is wrong that a small minority, by an accident of birth, should be handed a huge educational advantage - a massive life advantage. It's unfair and it's a waste of talent. It's not meritocritous, it's old fashioned and it's wrong.

2) Hit Labour with their own Failure - Isn't this what people used to think that the Labour party existed to do? - To create equality of opportunity? Who would have ever believed that after 12 years of Labour government, with huge working majorities they have done virtually nothing to make educational opportunity equal, not just failed to improve things as much as might have been wished - but completely failed to deal with it. At all. In fact, 'social mobility' has gone significantly backwards under their governance. Labour have been responsible for this inequality.

3) Put Conservative Education Policy CentreStage. There is a growing understanding that Conservative policy will drive equality of opportunity. But it's not enough for Michael Gove to deliver this message. Despite his partly public school education he is not viewed as one of the privileged elite - the accent and persona are not privileged elite stylee. Michael's policies need highly visible, passionate support from David Cameron and George Osborne. The key representatives of the 'elite' need to be seen to 'denounce' the historic inequality, and to give the strongest endorsement possible to policies that will sweep it away. The people need proof positive that a Conservative govt will deliver on this where Labour have utterly failed.

Once this is done we can get back to personality politics with the Conservatives in the ascendancy. Instead of striped tie at PMQ's, inept but his wife loves him, Gordy vs aloof, hectoring, priveleged old Etonian DC we can get back to slovenly, grimacing, lumbering Gordy Broontrousers vs Dave the man.

Sorted.. as we Comprehensive School oiks might say.


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