Saturday, 20 January 2018

Labour's identity crisis

Traditionally Labour has been the party of the working class. Whatever it is, it isn't that anymore. The people now setting the agenda on the left tend to be white, urban uppper middle class men and wetter than a haddock's bathing costume. This explains why Labour is not presently very popular with actual "working class" people.

Throughout the Brexit campaign we were told that leave voters are basically thick racists. That is not true but it would be wrong to suggest that a strong contingent of the leave vote was not comprised of people who could be characterised as thick and racist. People more likely to identify with the politics of Nick Griffin or Nigel Farage than Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn, however, is from the tradition of the Labour left that was once a working class movement. He is, therefore, the perfect empty vessel and can be morphed into a role dependent on the circumstances just so long as he keeps quiet. The art of populism is to have a leader who can be all things to all men. Corbyn can be sold as a Bennite eurosceptic or as a Waitrose liberal.

In many respects Corbyn is the perfect candidate for the statist paternalistic left though his quiet euoscepticism is increasingly inconvenient to them. His supporters, however, will not rock the boat because Corbyn is the one element which can command some of the working class vote. Labour is now an alliance between Islington, Liverpool and Sheffield. But it is a fragile one which depends on Corbyn never coming off the fence. He is only useful so long as he is an empty vessel.

The crisis for Labour is that if it does take measures to define itself along either lines then it loses half of its vote. It can just about hold together since Labour is prepared to reluctantly concede on Brexit. As an issue it has never really cared about EU membership either way so long as it is convenient stick with which to beat the Tories. Tony Blair is perhaps the only true believer Labour has ever had.

What is notable about Labour is that much of its politics, or rather the behind the scenes bickering, is caught up in a new strain of identarian politics where victims groups compete with each other for control of the narrative. A dispute that will not be resolved until one side wins decisively. Were Labour not one of the establishment parties with a parliamentary presence, it would now be going the same way as Ukip, shredded by its own internal conflicts. The only thing keeping it on life support is an utterly dysfunctional Tory party.

One of its problems is that it has a romanticised notion of the working class. They imagine the working class to be poor huddled masses taking a shellacking from austerity and waiting to be rescued by their betters. At the root of this is that same identarianism. The assumption that class, colour, or victim status dictates one's voting habits. Labour sees itself as entitled to the vote of the working class and minorities.

To understand this you have to understand the likes of John McDonnell who wants to overthrow the establishment. He openly speaks of insurrection. He speaks of mobilising and occupying the streets but I can't help thinking that he thinks this is 1930 and the unions can instruct the dockworkers and ship builders to down tools and bring the country to a grinding halt. It fits with the delusion that Britain is an impoverished huddled mass poised to overthrow their oppressors.

The chief reason Labour is in a world of its own is because the working class as they imagine it to be does not exist. In the same way that you cannot speak of the North as a homogeneous polity, you can't speak for the working class as a bloc either. Working class can mean anything from a young aspirational family in Bristol with a car on lease, a mortgage, two dogs and a conservatory, or it can mean living in a council owned pebble-dashed hut in the arse end of the Pennines with not a pot to piss in. Tony Blair understood this which is why he managed to win elections. 

What is missing here is a moral purpose. They are ever happy to parade their "compassion", but Labour ambitions are really only about taking control of the state in order to redistribute wealth in the direction of people who will vote for them. Not unlike the Tories.

Where Labour falls over is that it seeks to broadcast its own virtues and carve out exceptions for victim groups. Presently it occupies itself with the gender pay gap and seeks to use regulatory mechanisms to secure equality of outcomes. It seeks to intervene, placing obligations on businesses in the form of quotas rather than addressing the causal factors.

If there is one major factor responsible then it's an experience gap as women often have to take time out of their careers to raise children or look after the elderly. The obvious issue here is access to vocational training. Solve that and you also solve the problem of white boys from the bottom decile being left behind. At the same time we need to be removing the perverse incentives in the welfare system.

Successive governments have failed at this. New Labour's famous New Deal was initially successful but training and opportunities under that scheme varied in quality, and since it was only available to those on the dole for six months it incentivised long term unemployment. Given that spaces on the scheme were rationed, claimants found they could manipulate the system to stay on Job Seeker's Allowance for years. The total package of benefits for a single person outweighed the benefits of employment. 

I remember at the time I was surrounded by people who thought playing around with creative software and smoking pot all day was better than an eight hour shift in the local sausage factory. Had I not trained as a computer programmer I probably would have joined them. 

What we now find is that as a consequence of long term youth unemployment we now have a legion of dysfunctional adults now written off as suffering from depression and prescribed antidepressants. Another class of people now given the status of protected species by Labour's victim culture. No surprise then that South Wales and the industrial regions would have voted to leave the EU. 

The difference for me is I was probably the last generation to fall out of school to go and work for the biggest local employer. They paid for two week long commercial training packages which gave me most of what I needed to become an applications developer. I have never held a professional qualification but thanks to that, whatever else I may fail at, I always have a trade to fall back on where I can make a decent salary. 

Somewhere along the line, business stopped paying for that training. The burden was shifted on to the state which ran its own schemes which by and large were terrible and if you had done a government training scheme you certainly wouldn't admit to it, let alone put it on your CV. In this I might note that business doesn't need to invest in skills simply because it has a limitless supply of labour through freedom of movement. The UK has been taking Eastern Europe's labour surplus.  

If Labour was remotely interested in improving the lives of poorer people it would be looking at the many barriers that hold people back. The near impossibility of home ownership, a grossly unfair council tax system, legal aid in tatters, affordability of vocational training, access to decent education, business rates for small businesses, the uselessness of regional public transport.

But what do we find instead? An entire party apparatus obsessed with transgender rights - something affecting 0.001% of the population. Were it actually to do with civil rights it wouldn't be so bad but it's a vanguard for a more sinister agenda. It could not be less interested in governance.

Ultimately we need a government that governs for all. One which sets a moral standard where there are expectations of people and mutual obligations. Labour is in the business of fashioning excuses as to why victim groups should be exempted from having to compete. Instead of trying to level the playing field for equality of opportunity, it seeks equality of outcome. Nothing good can come from that.

This is the malign influence of the white middle class Waitrose liberals who see themselves as saviours - the white knights racing to the rescue of the downtrodden. They who believe it is the primary function of the state to act as a provider and surrogate parent. That condescension is in their DNA from welfare to Brexit. It is the belief that the working classes are a homogeneous polity, but one utterly enfeebled and incapable of being more. 

It is that kind of thinking which has become the dominant strain in governance which is why government has become a managerialist entity attempting to use state resources to produce universal outcomes. On a long enough timeline it is effectively a technocratic version of communism financed centrally by the supercomputer in the City. 

Ultimately Labour is no longer about the emancipation of people. Quite the reverse. We live in a system which gradually imprisons us on the basis of race, class, gender and those limitations we ought to have according to victimhood scripture. It is geared to disempowering people, dictating their limitations and prescribing their choices. It's not just anti-working class, it's anti-human. 

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