I'm a member of the Labour Party. I was a Labour councillor in my home town or York for six years, and even stood as a parliamentary candidate for them in 2005. I've been a Labour supporter for the last 20 years. But yes, I'll admit it: though I struggled for years to dispute it, I'm middle class and always have been. Lord Maurice Glasman, former Ed Miliband adviser, says that Labour is now so middle class it no longer appeals to working-class people. Hence the rise of UKIP. But isn't this argument just a tad simplistic?
First, who defines themselves as working class? In the olden days, when the UK was full of coal mines, shipyards, steelworks and mills, you could safely say that we had a thriving working class; millions of people who defined themselves as working class and were defined as that by others. But these days? Putting it simplistically, it appears that calling yourself working class is not quite as desirable, even if you are. And the change has been rapid. In 2007, according the British Social Attitudes survey from the National Centre for Social Research, 57 per cent of us said we were working class. But by 2011, another survey run by BritainThinks, reported that only 24 per cent of us self-define as working class.
Now I know that there are lies, damn lies and statistics and that other surveys dispute this figure. But anecdotally, I think fewer people want to be working class than they did when I was young. In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was cool to be working class. So you had the pitiful sight of young people from very comfortable or wealthy middle-class backgrounds hanging around working-men's clubs in the hope that some of the street cred would rub off. Now we're more aspirational; we see it's possible, and to many, desirable, to move from working class to middle-class.
So, if you believe the surveys, more of us want to be middle class. And more of us think we're middle class. It's quite likely that many people who self-defined as working class at the last election and voted Labour now think of themselves as middle class but might still vote Labour. But according to Lord Glasman, less of us want to vote Labour because the Party is too middle class? You see my problem? And I mean, let's face it, if the reason Labour voters are deserting to UKIP is because Labour is too middle class, then what about Nigel Farage? He is probably the most middle-class human being who ever walked the planet. If you're looking for a political definition of middle class then Nige is it!
No. The reasons self-defined working class people are going off Labour are the same reasons self-defined middle-class people are going off all mainstream political parties. First, they are sick of them. They're sick of the soundbites and unfulfilled promises. They're sick of the fight for the middle ground. They're sick of not being able to put a fag paper between any of them in terms of policies. And they're sick of being told what they believe is wrong. But most of all, they want real change - because, politics is now boring. It's the same Lines To Take, the same arguments and the same soundbites recycled and repeated ad nauseam until our ears bleed. And no matter who gets in next time people fear that it'll just be more of the same.
But is the Labour Party too middle class? Some would say yes. Others like me would say they're not middle class at all. They are upper class, just like all the other political parties. If the definition of upper class is based on earnings then I'm not sure anyone in a senior position in any of the three political parties could be defined as middle class. To most people outside the London/Westminster bubble they earn astronomical amounts of cash. They earn the kind of money and have the kind of lifestyles that no average person can contemplate. Most people in the UK earn less than £24k; and that's probably an overestimate. That means most people cannot contemplate ever owning two houses or sending their kids to private school (pseudo or otherwise). They don't have trust funds or use tax havens. They don't speak the same social language; they don't have the confidence that comes with many thousands of pounds in the bank.
So why do politicians of all types wring their hands in despair: why don't the working class like us anymore? People don't like you because they don't understand you. You have nothing in common; no shared experiences; nothing on which to build a relationship. If you met in a pub you would not be friends. You'd have nothing to talk about. As a politician you'd be the outsider. And until politicians realise that the working class - and very many middle-class people too, feel like the outsider in politics, the sooner politicians can stop blaming others, start blaming themselves and find practical ways to bridge this ever-widening gap.