Thoughts in progress – reflections on class #2

March 4, 2008 at 10:34 pm | Posted in British Politics, What's left?, Working Class Britain | Leave a comment

During yesterday’s tirade against decent dole recipient Andrew Anthony, I promised to link to some interesting posts both on the article itself and the issues surrounding it. Peter Ryley agrees that the article is patchy but reads it more as an indictment of middle class condescension/ignorance of the working class. He highlights this one saving grace towards the end, about an embittered old racist whose children have black partners:

Yet in Dave’s story, we see, even if he can’t, the hidden success of multicultural Britain. Not the tolerance and respect for separatism as preached by archbishops and playwrights, but the messy, difficult and tense business of living and loving together. It’s the children of people such as Dave who live cheek by jowl with new arrivals and adapt to rapid change. They are the ones who really embrace people from other countries and cultures by forming relationships and raising children together.

Meanwhile, the liberal arts community, for all its eloquence in anti-racism, is far more inclined to retreat to private schools and affluent enclaves, the better to maintain a homogenous culture while pronouncing on the benefits of diversity.

It’s a brilliant point that’s not made often enough: for all the talk of segregation, for all the small successes the BNP has in deprived areas and for all the talk of racism and racial tension, the white working class is, in fact, far more integrated than their more mild-mannered middle class superiors. We should give Anthony credit for making it, particularly given his subscription to a brand of liberalism that seeks to dismiss multiculturalism as a failure.

But what this doesn’t explain or excuse is firstly his ridiculous and faintly patronizing allusion to the working class’ lost ‘nobility’, and secondly his decision to take the article down the direction of multiculturalism in the first place. As someone who enthusiastically welcomes a debate on class, poverty and equality in this country, it’s so deeply dispiriting when the emphasis is placed on the quarrels and street skirmishes between different groups of poor people, rather than one of the many more important areas that affect all of these groups: unemployment, crime, education and the barriers erected by segregated religious schools, drugs, social housing, gang culture and our destructive youth, sexual health, health in general.

Over at Southpaw Grammar, the blame for not doing enough about these problems is laid squarely at the feet of the Labour government:

The problem i always find about debates around class is that the working class and the perceived ‘underclass’ are talked about and talked at, but never asked to talk themselves. The disdain for those people has always been apparent in the right wing, but i actually think the development of an underclass is more the fault of the ‘do-good’ liberal left.

The left have for too long allowed behaviour that is unacceptable be justified, it has cut out the working class from becoming Labour MP’s/AM’s and the like, and essentially strangled its voice for fear of being labelled ‘class warriors’ by their political opponents.

More:

I don’t think we need an attempt to target a ‘white’ working class, but the working class full stop. I have always find that class is a bigger divider than race or indeed nationality. That is why i have never been impressed by Plaid Cymru’s pitch even though they are truly centre left, the real divider is the have and the have nots, not the welsh have nots and the english have nots. At a time where increasing representation of all minority groups is thankfully on the agenda across the political parties, it is an outrage that there is no mention of getting ordinary working people of all races and creeds into parliament, for they are probably fast becoming the least represented in parliament at a time where politics is focusing on their plight.

So how can we work to re-enfranchise working people, bring them to the voting booth and make them feel like their voices are represented in Parliament? For me, the main hurdle is the country’s electoral maths. During the 70’s and 80’s Labour’s message seemed to be aimed squarely at its heartlands, but rarely played well in the middle class marginals of the south & midlands. Then during the 90’s, New Labour rightly took the votes of working class constituents as a given, embraced centrism and tailored its agenda to chime with voters in the very constituencies they’d failed to win over.

As a consequence, we now see a Labour Party that may still be doing some good work on behalf of working people, but doesn’t seem to speak to them anymore. Party membership is very low compared to 10 years ago, voter turnouts in working class constituencies keep falling and disgruntled, disaffected working people are still being attracted (though not yet in numbers that might spark panic) to the BNP.

I’ve probably wasted enough blogspace lamenting for one evening, but at some point in the future I’d like to write about two ways in which the Labour Party could revive both itself and its commitment to working families. One is a kind-of ‘Kossification’ of our politics; embracing the internet more as a tool for grassroots fundraising, organization and campaigning in a similar way to how US sites like Daily Kos operate. The other, perhaps controversially for someone who would otherwise align with Labour, would be the introduction of some form of proportional representation in our Parliamentary elections. We need each vote to matter once more, for politicians to tailor their campaigns to the country as a whole rather than the marginal constituencies we need to win. If we do that, we might stand a chance of bringing back some of the people who abandoned the cause, and possibly do more good for them in the process.

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