During Prime Minister's Questions this past Wednesday, Gordon Brown remarked that the Tory policy on Inheritance Tax "seems to have been dreamt up on the playing fields of Eton." This has led commentators to speculate that, in the words of the Telegraph's Ben Brogan, "as it was in the beginning for Labour, so shall it be in the end: class war, plain and simple. Soak the rich, crow about it, and damn the consequences."
Peter Lazenby, in the Guardian, is in a distinct minority amongst journalists. He states that "Gordon Brown has a point" and "there's a lot of people who might be glad to see a Labour government taking a more traditional stance on the class divide in Britain." To the contrary, in the same paper Michael White's "hunch is that Labour would be wise not to overdo the class warfare stuff" as "it should be confined to background elevator music." In the Independent, Andrew Grice says it is wise that Labour "is playing the ball, not the man, by linking the class attack to policy, not personality." However, "most voters probably agree with Mr Cameron that it doesn’t matter where you come from, but where you want to take the country" and as such "could backfire."
The Daily Mail, as might be expected, goes even further. Harry Phibbs calls this "class war" a "desperate, divisive tactic" born "of the politics of envy." It is, he says, a "resort to prejudice and personal abuse" that "will not rescue their chances" but will "simply risk turning a bad defeat into meltdown." The Mail's editorial section offers much the same opinion, not that this is a surprise from a "newspaper" unwilling to publish dissident opinions. The comment is instructive in its backwards reasoning, putting forward a strong case for class war, and against every principle of the paper itself, as a bizarre proof that all Labour is doing is flying a "tattered red flag." Thus, the rich "have become far richer" and "the poor are getting poorer,"because "both poverty and income inequality are rising." (Although, in a hat-tip to traditional Toryism, "those on benefits are fine." This statement being an utter, bald lie.) The fact that "yesterday it emerged that Britain’s industrial base had declined more under Labour than under Margaret Thatcher" allows us to ignore the fact that Thatcher did start this trend and declare the argument that "the Tories cannot be trusted because they are the friends of the rich" to be a display of "cheek." And so that this is actually truth (albeit an extremely hypocritical truth coming from New Labour) gets lost in the outrage.
Some perspective is called for, then. As White's Guardian column points out, "it suits the Conservative press to cry "class warfare" because they know middle Britain voters don't like it." Brown has yet to use either the term "class war" or "toffs" in his rhetoric, and this certainly does not signal New Labour's abandonment of pro-business policies, as I am certain the Pre-Budget Report will confirm. The only class war that Labour and the Conservatives are fighting is the one being waged by the rich against the poor, ongoing since at least 1979.
That's why I'm more inclined to take the stance of Ian Bone and other class war anarchists, and declare that "we will fight them on the playing fields." With the supposedly "non-domiciled" Zac Goldsmith standing in Richmond under the nonsense that "I was born into a position of privilege and am therefore not corruptible," plans by London Class War to "take Class War back onto the streets" seems the most reasonable next step. This starts with "a march on ZAC GOLDMINE’S palace in Richmond – just to check his non-dom status!"
If the time has come for class war, then it should be done properly. That is, through working class self-organisation and direct action on the streets. Not by corrupt and corruptible politicians who will use whatever rhetoric they can to claim the votes of the poor before betraying them in favour of the dominant classes.