I am always wary about comments being taken out of context and equally wary of engaging in a public spat with a colleague, albeit one I have never once spoken to. However, if the remarks being attributed to Paul Mason really do reflect his views, they are deeply offensive and deserve a response.
Mason seems to argue that members of the Shadow Cabinet believe both that migrant workers are not part of modern Britain’s working class, and that they are courting the votes of racists and bigots. This is an outrageous suggestion.
He also appears to suggest that industrial communities across Britain who voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU are full of racists and bigots. He calls on Labour to embark on a “stop Brexit” tour of Britain by organising conventions of “progressive people”.
Voting Leave or Remain does not define whether you are socially or economically conservative or progressive. There were plenty of people who found themselves on both sides of the argument with appalling views on race, sexual orientation, religion and gender. We should not be courting the votes of bigots in either camp.
But most insulting is the insinuation that some in Labour hold a nostalgic view of working class communities and that these voters should be abandoned for supposed “progressives” and “centrists”.
Former mining communities, like those I represent, have a proud history of solidarity and a proud place in the Labour movement. They built the rudimentary social security system, building hospitals, leisure facilities and housing for the elderly, that paved the way for a radical Labour government to create an all-encompassing welfare state. They lived and breathed solidarity and the struggle.
Their union, the National Union of Mineworkers, was proudly internationalist; it built bridges and a deep solidarity with those toiling underground across the globe. The NUM and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community developed a deep affinity during the Miners’ Strike with the union famously delivering the block vote to change Labours outdated stance on LGBT issues at the 1985 party conference.
Insinuating that these communities are worth abandoning because they voted to leave is beyond insulting. In such febrile, divided times, why does Mason choose to divide further?
That some are unable to even try to comprehend why so many in our heartlands, voted leave by large margins, without labelling them as bigots, is hugely problematic. The leave campaign was fronted by charlatans and those seeking to scapegoat migrants. But to pretend there were not deep structural issues inherent in the EU that prompted people to vote leave, is disingenuous at best.
Labour winning a General Election and forming a radical, redistributive government remains our number one goal. Dividing the nation, and the party, based on leave or remain and sneering at those who fell on the opposite side of a binary choice is not the way to deliver the future for the many we so desperately need.
Paul Mason should clarify his comments and apologise.
Ian Lavery is chair of the Labour Party