The Blog

The Demonisation of the Working-Class Shames Our Nation

Something very nasty is happening. A group of people, the most exploited within our society, are under attack. Their marginalisation has been going on for years. But it has accelerated disturbingly since 23 June.

Something very nasty is happening. A group of people, the most exploited within our society, are under attack.

Their marginalisation has been going on for years. But it has accelerated disturbingly since 23 June.

Few among the political class really understand them. These people live in modest homes in the grittier parts of the country. They work in factories, call centres and on building sites, often for low wages. They like football and watch Coronation Street. They sometimes hold old-fashioned views around things such as religion, family and nationhood. Some of them drive white vans.

They are the people who tipped the balance to lead us through the EU's exit door.

They are the new scapegoats.

They are the working-class.

The sneering contempt displayed towards these and all of the seventeen million who voted Leave by the resentful new alliance of metropolitan liberals, know-all academics, no-mark 'celebrities' and know-nothing-yet students should trouble us all.

To these self-appointed guardians of enlightened society, working-class Leave voters are another breed. Certainly borderline racist, if not the real thing. Thick and uneducated, they could hardly be expected to understand the issues at stake in the referendum or appreciate the benefits of a progressive institution like the European Union. So they were easy prey for the Farages and Murdochs who appealed to their base instincts.

And now they are responsible for all things negative that have occurred since the referendum vote, from the initial financial instability, to wrecking the futures of the young, to every racist incident on our streets.

At least that's how the script goes.

Except that the script is patronising and wrong.

The opprobrium heaped on working-class voters post-referendum demonstrates just how little their critics know of their lives and what an estranged section of society they have become from those who run the show.

It isn't hard to work out why they voted Leave. Bitter at having been neglected for so long by a political establishment that was interested only in their votes, working-class England - hitherto always forced to play second fiddle in the minds of politicians to Middle England - revolted. They considered their own lives, the perpetual strains they were under, the financial hardships, the impact of a near-decade-long austerity drive, the lack of affordable housing, the ravages of deindustrialisation, the challenges of mass and unrestricted immigration in their communities and its resultant pressures on wages and local services, and they concluded that the elites in neither Brussels nor Westminster gave a fig for their predicament. No-one listened; no-one cared.

And then they saw the array of forces lining up to tell them not to vote Leave - EU leaders, the government, the main political parties, global finance, big business, liberal commentators, in other words the same establishment that despised them - and they realised that this was a chance to hit back. So they took it.

Treat people like cattle and you'll get kicked, as the man said.

In the days when it was crammed with people like them - MPs, councillors, trade unionists and activists who hailed from their own communities and had done proper blue-collar jobs - the Labour party was the working-class's natural home. But today's Labour party is dominated by those metropolitan liberals and conveyor-belt politicians with whom they have so little in common.

A chasm now exists between Labour and its traditional working-class base. It has little to do with Jeremy Corbyn and instead owes itself to a process begun in the 1980s under Neil Kinnock, which saw Labour ditch its image as an avowedly working-class party. For the sixties revolutionaries - in many ways the early metropolitan liberals - who had taken control behind the scenes, this was the natural order of things. To them, Labour's roots in Christian socialism, trade unionism and the co-operative movement, the quiet patriotism and social conservatism of many of the party's pioneers and its working-class supporters - what they saw as the old faith, flag and family rubbish - were of another world. These things had no place in a modern, socially liberal party.

Combined with the abandonment of any sort of radical economic programme and the adoption of monetarist orthodoxy, they were testing the old working-class's loyalty to breaking point. That the Tories were in disarray for about a decade meant that enough working-class voters stayed with Labour through the Blair years. But the malaise had set in. And when the financial crisis came, and when mass immigration came to their doorsteps, and when Ukip emerged as a populist force, the bonds were broken. They looked back at Labour and saw a party that treated them as some kind of embarrassing elderly relative.

Little wonder that when Labour urged them to vote Remain, so many refused to heed the call. A party that had long treated them with disdain had no right to demand their loyalty.

So the backbone of the nation, the people upon whose labour we all rely, the section of society which creates the wealth, stands condemned, vilified by the pro-EU liberal intelligentsia, voiceless and without a political party it can truly recognise as its own.

Who wants them? Labour has miles to travel to win them round, though the Blue Labour tendency offers some hope. Trade unions have retreated to their comfort zone of the public sector and won't bring the masses back into the party's fold any time soon. The far-Left, which sees everything through the prism of class and thinks workers are only ever one persuasive argument away from abandoning their 'false consciousness', will never be appealing. For many, there will always be a stigma attached to voting Tory.

All of which means that millions of working-class voters will either continue to abstain or drift towards Ukip. Labour's priority now - once it has resolved its internal difficulties - is to stop those things happening and find a way to reconnect with the people it was created to represent. But before it can begin to win them back, it needs to understand why it lost them in the first place.