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banner Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 07:58 GMT
Philip Gould: The mission remains the same

By Philip Gould, author of The Unfinished Revolution and political consultant and adviser to Tony Blair.

Philip Gould: I love Labour
I love the Labour Party. I joined when I was 16 years of age. My second membership card, dated 1967, is stuck to the wall in front of my desk.

I doubt if I had found anything more exciting than the very first political meetings I attended in musty church halls. Or the first time I went out canvassing. Or, perhaps above all, election days. For me, there was never any doubt: I was Labour.

But I was brought up not in a traditional area of Labour strength, but in a suburban outpost of London.

I write about this in my book The Unfinished Revolution: "I learned my politics where I grew up, around the small town of Woking in Surrey. Not in great northern cities, the Welsh valleys or crumbling urban estates. Not in places with great political traditions and dramatic folklore.

I learnt my politics where I grew up - not in places with great political traditions and dramatic folklore
I learned my politics in an unexceptional suburban town where most people were neither privileged nor deprived, but nearly everybody was struggling to get by - which was not pretty, and grew uglier - where people lived in unassuming council estates or in tiny semi-detached houses, where university was out of the question for most, and where nearly everyone went to secondary modern schools."

I did not have a deprived upbringing. I had an ordinary upbringing, born and brought up in a twilight suburbia where post-war council estates nestled alongside small, detached, red-brick Victorian villas."

The point of my book was to say that for a time Labour forgot about these voters, and it was only when the party was able to connect with the fears and aspirations of these ordinary, hard-working families - to become genuinely a party of the people once more - that it could form a government.

'Potential squandered'

But now I live in Camden, a bastion of traditional Labour support. I love urban living. I love the harsh sounds of the city. I love the scale of the buildings, especially the imposing industrial buildings stretching out to the east, beyond the East London College in Whitechapel High Street where I went to study after failing all but one of my O-levels.

But it is, of course, impossible to live in central London and not see the poverty, and deprivation that blights the lives of so many. It is impossible not to be acutely aware that the potential of many young people is squandered and wasted.

A progressive party that seeks to win and hold power must build a coalition that includes both the emerging middle class of my childhood and the urban working-class voters of Camden
But my grounding political principle is that the politics of the deprived inner city, of the traditional Labour heartlands and of the new middle classes are not mutually exclusive - but mutually dependent.

More than a question of political expediency

A progressive party today that seeks to win and hold power must build a coalition that includes both the emerging middle class of my childhood and the urban working-class voters of Camden, and of the many other urban Labour heartlands up and down the nation.

But this is far more than a question of electoral expediency. It is a matter of basic progressive principle. Both groups of people lead lives of struggle, although of very different kinds.

It is foolish to say that the new middle class and the traditional working class enjoy the same opportunities and life chances.

But it is folly also to say that one group lives a life of privilege while the other does not. Both have lives that are tough, demanding and difficult. Both want better hospitals, better schools, safer streets.

The real division is not between working-class and middle-class voters. It is between those who have a shortage of opportunity and life chances, and those that have a surfeit of them. Our opponents represent the latter - those who have more than they need.

We seek a different mission in politics: to create opportunity, potential and life chances for all those that are held back by the forces of conservatism and reaction - class, prejudice and inequality.

It is the mission of the New Labour Party to support hard-working families whether they are working class or middle class. I want these groups joined together in a new progressive coalition, keeping Labour in, keeping the Tories out.

But most importantly, building a Britain in which the potential of all is realised, not just that of a lucky few.

That was the mission of the new Labour Party 100 years ago. That is New Labour's mission today.

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22 Feb 00 |  Labour centenary
Why New Labour is dazed and confused

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