Class politics is back and with a vengeance.
In 1997 Labour’s John Prescott declared that ‘we’re all middle class now’ thus echoing the wishful thinking of many university-educated professionals who joined Blair’s New Labour believing forlornly that class distinctions was at long last finally dead and buried, never to return again. How wrong they were. Clearly, with austerity, food banks, precarious employment and rising wealth inequality, we’re not all middle class now. This and other such wishful thinking such as ‘there’s no longer a working class’ is an often repeated sentiment and mantra that throughout the decades has always proved to be premature.
George Orwell was disdainful of those who uttered such words and the author of the seminal work, The Uses of Literacy, Peter Hoggart, the working class intellectual and scholar from Leeds, went on to state: ‘Each decade we shiftily declare that we have buried class; each decade the coffin stays empty.’ This springs to mind the comments made by Peter Mandelson who once suggested that the ‘working class have nowhere else to go’ as if working class voters didn’t matter. It was this type of breath-taking arrogance and their U-turn on a second referendum that led to Labour suffering its biggest defeat since 1935 at the last General Election
Since the Blair years Labour has increasingly embraced identity politics at the expense of class, choosing to focus more on cultural and identity issues. However, this focus on identity politics doesn’t really cut much ice with the lived experience and day to day realities of many working class people who are struggling to survive either on a daily, weekly or monthly basis with ever decreasing incomes. The struggle for them is a social-economic one and the consequence of deflecting the issue with Labour more than happy to talk about race, gender or sexuality but not class have left the working class feeling marginalised and without a political voice. Many working-class voters have turned their backs on the party and voted with their feet.
However other parties have emerged to give working class people a voice. These parties, such as George Galloway’s Workers’ Party of Britain, could well cause problems for the middle class consensus that has emerged since the 1990’s that has led to the exclusion of working class representation in mainstream politics.
With the Red Wall finally collapsing what we have witnessed has been characterised by some as a ‘Revenge of the Chavs’. It also finely illustrates what happens when you take voters for granted and yet still there are no signs of the party re-connecting with these voters. If anything it’s quite the opposite especially if a leaked internal report proves to be correct. The internal report warns that Labour looks set for major losses at the upcoming local elections which have now been postponed due to the Corona outbreak. In a worst case scenario 315 seats could turn blue and historic labour heartlands such as Sheffield could switch over to the Conservatives. This should be a wake-up call but it seems once again Labour hasn’t learned its lesson and is still not listening.
Working class communities especially in the North have been left behind since de-industrialisation leaving behind a trail of poverty, depression and suicides without hope for a better future. They feel betrayed by Labour and it doesn’t look like they’re going to return anytime soon.
The favourite to lead Labour into the next battle for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people, Sir Keir Starmer, has recently refused to rule out a future campaign to re-join the EU should he be elected. This does not bode well for the party’s hopes of re-connecting with those lost voters up North or even in the Midlands or anywhere else for that matter. Starmer will march the party straight back to Blairism, towards centrist politics and neoliberal policies. He seems more concerned with those of Metropolitan London and other affluent parts of the country than those in the left behind areas of the country.
Adding fuel to the fire of such discontent has been calls from within the party for the reinstatement of people like Alistair Campbell who voted for the Lib-Dems which was in total violation of the party’s rules. His actions were nothing short of treachery and yet despite this there are calls for him to return?
If Labour wants to re-connect with its working class base and are really serious about winning back these lost voters then it needs to learn lessons. So will they learn? Who knows? But one thing is for sure you cannot continuously keep ignoring and dismissing the concerns of working class people and then still expect them to vote you into power. It simply doesn’t work like that. If Labour refuses to listen and learn from its mistakes then the party will face extinction as a vehicle for advancing the interests of the working class and with it an existential crisis of its own making.
Article by Eugene Egan