Labour Party targets British middle class in bid to broaden base. Past socialist rhetoric gives way to emphasis on individual rights
With two years before Britain's next general election, the opposition Labour Party has unveiled a new policy on social affairs that its framers admit is an open attempt to capture the middle-class vote. The party's traditional red-flag emblem has been dropped from the latest literature, which outlines a new policy that moves away from working-class and socialist preoccupations toward the rights and political expectations of individual Britons.
Called the ``freedom and fairness campaign,'' Labour's new approach to social issues such as housing, medical care, and education is a direct response to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's emphasis on the rights of individuals and opposition to excessive state interference in the lives of citizens.
Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock announced the new campaign at a press conference this week, during which pamphlets were handed out to journalists which were notable for their slick, glossy appearance.
The new literature replaces old-fashioned posters emblazened with the image of the Labour Party's red flag. The new, cheerfully illustrated brochures promise a future Labour government which would, among other things, make grants available to homeowners to improve their properties. The government, for example, would help pay for security devices designed to prevent burglaries.
Mr. Kinnock followed the presentation of the new policy with a television broadcast in which he stressed the need for law and order as well as social justice. The policy, say analysts, grows out of Labour's recognition that it was a lack of middle-class support that foiled the party's bid for office during the general election of 1983.
According to one party insider, key Labour leaders now realize that many voters are no longer interested in a Marxist approach to politics. These voters see the antics of the Labour Party's left wing as repellant, the source said.
A series of recent public opinion polls conducted for the party confirmed that voters were unenthusiastic about recent Labour policies. The polls revealed, for example, that many potential Labour voters want to own their own homes -- in contrast to previous Labour policies favoring rentals.
Labour strategists calculate that about one-third of the British electorate is (or considers itself) middle class, and that without support from this group Labour has little hope of winning the next general election.
Kinnock has had to battle hard to get the new package of social policies adopted by his party. He has a narrow majority of supporters on the Labour Party's national executive committee, and this has enabled him to outmaneuver the more radical elements of the left wing, which argues that abandoning working-class ideology is a betrayal of Labour Party principles.
Left-wing leaders such as Tony Benn have criticized Kinnock for allegedly ignoring the plight of over 3 million unemployed workers and chasing the middle class instead. Inside the party, they have attacked him for moving away from a commitment to state ownership of large industries.
Kinnock argues that Labour must broaden its base or face the possibility that it will lose support in most areas of Britain, except its traditinal bastions in Scotland, the northeast region, and the Midlands.
Michael Meacher, the Labour Party's chief spokesman on welfare and health, denied that the new campaign was a betrayal of socialism. ``It is a sign that we can change with the times. The new program puts the stress on the needs of the individual without abandoning Labour's preoccupation with the plight of the poor, the disadvantaged, and the unemployed,'' he said.
Kinnock has appointed a group of news-media advisers who helped to launch the ``freedom and fairness'' campaign.
Meanwhile, Kinnock and his moderate backers on the party's executive committee are aware that the current alliance of Liberals and Social Democrats offers yet another option for voters disillusioned with the ruling Conservative Party.
Mrs. Thatcher's ministers, for their part, have poked fun at the Labour Party for its swing toward middle-class values. But Kinnock says it does not matter that the red flag no longer appears on the party's propaganda or that Labour is courting middle-class voters.
Kinnock points out that the Labour Party conference this October will present, as in previous years, a cheerful rendition of the Internationale -- the revolutionary song adopted by various movements as the hymn of the world proletariat -- with its reference to keeping the red flag flying.