Listen for it….listen for it = and there it is. Another Labour MP/sad former Labour MP/Labour activist/outrider cum Grauniad rent-a-hack bemoaning the general election defeat with the phrase ‘…people who really need a Labour government.’.
The phrase comes with the sound of weary regret for an electorate that just didn’t know what was good for it. It’s a rhetorical tsk-tsk. It also leaves a whiff of rebuke in its trail. The implication being that the election result was an aberrant form of misbehaviour by people who were too selfish to put others’ priorities ahead of their own petty concerns about incompetent leadership/incontinent policy/antisemitism/JCR retro-Marxist chic etc., etc., etc.
So, let’s explore what ‘need’ means in this context.
In 1943, Abraham Maslow devised a theory of Hierarchy of Needs. The theory is expressed as a pyramid with Physiological Needs as the foundation. These are the things that are existential – food, shelter, clothing, air- all of which you’d perish from the lack of.
Reproduction is in there too but we can all look around on our morning commute and think there are a few people who might be better off missing that one out.
Safety Needs come next with protection from violence, the ability to support oneself with a job and to ensure that that which we own isn’t taken unjustly. Up the pyramid we go to Love and Belonging. Not much to argue with here and it would be the end of pop music if we didn’t have the warm n’ fuzzies in this layer.
The next stop (just past haberdashery and gentlemen’s requisites) is Esteem. This is the outward validation that society gives the individual. Finally, we get to Self-Actualisation at the thin end of the wedge and this is where we achieve our ambitions.
Nowhere in this pyramid does Maslow mention a Labour government. Nobody needs a Labour government.
Lord Ashcroft released a belter of a report into why Labour not only lost the argument but also why the party continues to hit itself over the head with a brick while imploring the country to see just how very naughty it was and recant.
It is immediately striking, even without a brick to hand, how arrogant Labour was to stick with a leadership and a governing philosophy so patently at odds with what they were hearing on the doorstep. They didn’t listen to what the voters actually said they needed, so busy were they in telling them what they should need.
Every time a candidate for LOTO or spareLOTO opens their yap, out it comes. We have reached the no-shit-Sherlock stage of reductive reasoning. It was elementary to dear Watson and that is why he’ll be conducting Zumba classes on the Lords’ Terrace.
The word ‘need’ sounds importunate and as dishonest as a patent medicine salesman who hasn’t made a sale all day and is resorting to warnings of existential doom should we fail, yet again, to buy.
Great Britain is not at war. We aren’t gripped by famine. We are not crippled with an internal refugee crisis and we are not experiencing mass unemployment. We have not descended into lawlessness. The foundations of Maslow’s hierarchy are pretty solid for the Many.
Most people recognise that they can’t expect the government to supply them with Love (although, Singapore gave that a shot). The average person on the Clapham omnibus isn’t wearing a badge with their pronouns and, short of the Gooperati, not many people claim Self-Actualization as a tangible right unjustly denied to them. So, most can dispense with the pointy bit.
Except, there is the small matter of Esteem. This is the layer that will keep the Conservatives in power for a decade. The Conservatives sold Esteem to Labour voters while the Labour Party sold miserablism to itself.
The same hyperbolic phrase that Labour repeats to infantilise the electorate is just being used as a template for Dom Cummings’ celebratory drinking game. Take a shot every time a Labour bod tells the voters that someone in need will pay for the misplaced X on their ballot. Take two shots if the same hectoring head adds the phrase ‘crying out for a Labour government’. Do IT! Do IT! DRINK!
The Conservatives used the word ‘need’ but as a single policy driver. We need to get Brexit done. The emphasis in this phrase was on ‘we’ rather than ‘need’. It was no accident that Johnson said this at every opportunity and it was the perfect counter argument to Labour’s offering. In six short words, it put the onus on him to deliver a policy that made those voters feel validated, listened to and respected. This is the Esteem layer made catchphrase. Hat tip to Dom and Isaac. Well played.
Until Labour gets a competent salesperson onboard and switches off the industrial spray of implied blame, the voters will keep their distance. Buried under their victimology are Remain voters who didn’t have the benefit of a competent opposition. That was the great unmet need.
Inside Lord Ashcroft’s report is the message that Labour will resist. They didn’t just lose voters to the Conservatives. They are focused on the Red Wall when they need to look again at the pyramid. Love is coupled with Belonging.