Monday, March 24, 2008

Getting “White Van” Man to Vote Labour

Back from an Easter visit to home in North Wales to find out that the BNP held the seat in the Havering Council by-election on Thursday in Gooshays. A disappointing result of course. Despite Labour coming 2nd and increasing its share of the vote at the expense of the Tories (and the turnout only being a miserly 22%).

However, there is no way that this overwhelmingly white working class ward should be represented by one Nazi and two Tories! We all need to try harder! I think there is more to it than just racism and Labour unpopularity.

Gooshays is not a “sink estate” but to all appearances, a well run and looked after, traditional outer London Council estate. Most of the properties I guess, have now been sold under “The Right to Buy”. I don’t think (this was on a Sunday I visited) that I have ever seen so many “white vans” parked outside homes with adverts on their sides for their self employed owners. This made me think.

Last Saturday evening in Wales, my brother-in-law, a self employed pipe lagger, proudly picked up the Mrs and I from our hotel in his brand new white transit, to go out for a family meal. My brother-in-law is a really hard and conscientious worker, who went out on site every day during the Bank holiday in order to finish a job in time.

My brother-in-law won’t have his company logo sprayed on the sides of his van because he believes that he will not be able to legally smoke while driving if it is identified as a “company vehicle”. I’m not sure that this is actually true or not?

He is not nowadays, a "natural" supporter of the Labour Party, even though he was brought up in a council estate and admits that his business has boomed out of all recognition since Labour came to power. Since most of his work is lagging central heating pipes in new and refurbished hospitals, schools and other public buildings that have been commissioned due to the government pouring money into the public sector infrastructure. However, he thinks that the more business he has, the more he unfairly pays in taxes. He won’t tell me who he votes for, but I can guess.

How can we persuade him and his Essex counterparts to vote Labour?

As you can imagine, we have had a number of wide ranging conversations during the years. Often, admittedly alcohol fuelled, so not always that constructive.

I haven’t got an answer. I think that he appreciates the improvement in the NHS, local schools and crime. Although this is not enough to interest him to consider voting Labour.

The only time I felt that I really had his interest is when we discussed what will happen to him if he becomes too ill to work and will he have an adequate pension when he retires?

As you can guess, the answer is that he will be in a very serious financial mess if he becomes long term sick before he retires, since he cannot afford permanent ill health medical insurance. He is also unsure whether or not his personal pension plans will provide him (and my sister!) with a reasonable living when he retires.

Other countries have industry wide sickness and pension protection plans for the self employed. These collective schemes collect contributions from employers and contractors and share the risk. Despite being suspicious of the State in many ways, he would rather trust the the State (or evens unions?) with his money rather than banks and insurance companies (for obvious reasons).

My point is that we need to attract and appeal to the new working class self employed. Forget any old arguments about how they should all be part of some sort of Council DLO. The genuinely self employed (not false long term construction workers) must be attracted with policies that reflect what concerns them and their own particular circumstances.

Who knows, if we get this right, perhaps in the future, the Tories will tremble when we mention the electoral power of Welsh and Essex “Labour White Van Persons”?


Anonymous said...

"My brother-in-law won’t have his company logo sprayed on the sides of his van because he believes that he will not be able to legally smoke while driving if it is identified as a “company vehicle”. I’m not sure that this is actually true or not?"

Does this bit not give you a clue as to one of the reasons why? The nanny state is not a tabloid creation, it is everyday life under this Government.

Anonymous said...

Good post. It's really gloomy for us at the moment but it's one step at a time. 1st May in London's our big test. If we get through that members need to demand serious change. Ken should not be in this position. The government's unpopularity has too much to do with it.

ian said...


While I agree that we should appeal to the self employed, I dont think that the self employed 'white vanners' are as common as you make out.Many of the white van brigade actually work for genuine delivery firms as employees. There are now thousands of small companies taking up the online purchasing revolution and operating deliveries.
Also I remember how back in the early 90s how the recession hit the individual self employed which saw them trying to find work in mainstream employment. Its a phenomena that happens in economic boom.These people voted the Tories out because of what they suffered then.

Our main orientation is to the millions who work in the service sector. By far the vast majority of council tenants/owners work in this industry. If hubby is a self employed builder/plumber, the wife probably work as a cleaner down the local school/hospital.

Well done for working hard to stop the BNP.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that a a large proportion of public sector workers now pay higher rate tax...basically everything you earn over 40K is a straight 40%. If you are a police sergeant, a specialist nurse working shifts, a teaching head of department, a fire officer, that's you. If you have a company car everything over 34K and you are in the higher rate. Then you have stamp duty on houses, council tax rising for years over the rate of inflation, tax on savings, insurance, flights, cars, petrol and a million stealth taxes on top. You need to be unemployed, extremely low paid to vote labour.

John Gray said...

Hi Ian 1

“Does this bit not give you a clue as to one of the reasons why....”

Well, as you pointed out in your blog – it is not illegal to smoke in your own van, only is you were carrying paid passengers. This excessive “fear” of the Nanny State is surely a media invention. Or why else would so many people believe such stuff?

Hi J

I think that the dip in the polls is not so much about the government or Ken – to quote the first Clinton “it’s the economy stupid”. I think that the fear of financial meltdown has been overegged. By co-incidence I’ve just got back from a Pension committee meeting and to my surprise the fund managers were fairly upbeat about the economy. If this is just a economic blip – then the prospects for the government in the long term should be fine. In the meanwhile we need to campaign on Ken’s and the Labour GLA real record of delivery to see off Boris.

Hi Ian 2

Yes, I think you are right that a number of these vans are delivery drivers and are usually not really “genuine” self-employed. They should be offered the benefits of working directly for large companies. However, I think that most were “proper” self-employed trade’s people and contractors. I do think that this sector is very large and the Party needs to offer policies that will directly appeal to this sector. I suspect that large numbers of people struggling to survive on state sickness benefits and pension credit are formerly self-employed who have had no financial protection against illness/accidents or a decent pension. It is the absolute role of the state to intervene where there is such market failure?

Hi Anon

“The problem is that....”

I don’t think you are right over this? Okay, practically everyone moans about paying taxes. However, most people in the public services who are on higher rate tax will probably accept that taxes are needed to pay for their jobs. Many would probably not mind paying more in tax if they felt is was properly used. Nearly everyone thinks that the very highly paid (private equity etc) should pay more than 40%!

Finally, regardless of your income you need to have a heart to vote Labour and a lobotomy to vote Tory.

Anonymous said...

It makes me incredibly angry when people talk about tax as though it's going to line the pockets of the Government - I pay a 40% tax rate and am more than happy to do so - I want to contribute to quality education, healthcare and public services which benefit me as a citizen and all of us as a society - and no, I don't work in the public services. My brother works in the financial services and earns a six figure salary and has never voted anything other than Labour in his life andis equally happy to contribute to collective provision of services for everyone - which is what makes us a civilised society in my view.

And isn't it curious that those who talk about the nanny state are usually the type of people that would prefer a government that didn't give a stuff about the health and welfare of it's people . Nanny state or Dog east Dog - I know which gets my vote

Anonymous said...

Of course everyone thinks that someone else deserves to pay higher tax than them...and its good that the public service employees realise that their taxes help pay towards their costs. I guess the teachers and policemen will be dropping their claims for larger pay awards then?....but guess what my taxes also pay towards an inflated Government bureaucracy and I have some stake and some say in how it should be spent. The problem is too much tax paying for too much Governemnt, most of which is interfering and low qualit. Only the people who work in the public sector think its any good...but judging from the large numbers of nurses emigrating even they think its crap. Anyone with half a brain knows this government has been econimically incompetent. "NO MORE BOOM NOR BUST' ...what happened to the Iron chancellor?

Anonymous said...

" makes me incredibly angry" I'm more than happy to pay 40% tax?...look around you moron.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the intelligent debate - much happier to pay tax than be called a moron. I'd mistakenly thought this was a forum for exchanging ideas than one for receiving insults - this will certainly be the last post I make

John Gray said...

Sorry Anon
Except for crude sexual swear words, overt racism, deliberate libel etc – people can post want they want. He is probably a Tory troll, so your response has probably pleased him.

Anonymous said...

I am sure that the 5.3 million who will have found that the nice Gordon Brown has scrapped the 10 pence tax rate will rush out and vote Labour after they open their first higher taxed pay packet.

Cheers Gordon!

John Gray said...

Hi anon

I think it was a mistake to not compensate low earners (get rid of 40% tax relief on pension?). However, although 20 million Brits benefit from the 2p reduction in income tax and Child credits.

I'll have more of that please Gordon!