Thursday, 19 December 2019

Drop the "working class" baloney

The narrative has it that Labour has lost the working class to the Tories. I'm not sure that holds. It's more the case that Labour was pitching policies to a working class that no longer exists. This is something picked up on last week. The composition of Labour heartlands has evolved considerably, with former mining towns now having fairly decent affordable housing stock within an hour commute of Leeds or Sheffield - making them viable prospects for young first time buyers from elsewhere who do not follow in the working class tradition.

That tradition is long dead. I recall a while back I ventured into the former mining village of Cwm in the Welsh Valleys. It was a ghost town. The primary school and church both boarded up along with rows of dilapidated terraced houses. Some of these places can be found in the outer reaches of South Yorkshire but for the most part, the world has moved on. At one time you would work in the village you were born in, go to off on holiday or go off to war with your neighbours. Not now. The classic notion of the working class and its traditions is dead.

In terms of association we continue to assume that working class means poor, but there are a great many working class families who did pretty well since the 80's, now having paid off mortgages, not least thanks to redundancy payouts from the mines etc. They have assets they wish to pass on to their children. And when they die, the working class as we perceive it won't even be a living memory.

That is at the core of Labour's electoral problems. They don't know who their own base are. They made a series of assumptions based on vox pops of Northern pensioners filmed on a rainy Wednesday morning in Rotherham when everyone else was at work. As such the Labour party is not a labour movement, rather it is a brand name in London and elections are little more than marketing campaigns. This is not politics by the people for the people.

Ultimately Corbyn and the gang were dinosaurs. John McDonnell spoke of general strikes, imagining factory workers downing tools and going on the march, but we're not shipbuilders, steel workers and coal miners now. We're customer service managers, computer programmers and mid level bureaucrats as much as we are factory and warehouse workers. Over the last three years the term "working class" has become a euphemism for something else (and I'm just as guilty) but if politics is to understand the electorate, we need to ditch this increasingly meaningless expression.

No comments:

Post a Comment