The UK has recently acquired yet another upper class Etonian, much the same as David Cameron. A man who has no political principles or moral convictions, someone who will say anything to obtain and maintain power. This is a potential gift for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour if they play it right. Unfortunately, I predict this will be another opportunity lost. I suspect the left in the UK might just mimic the Democrats in the US resorting to name calling, hollow allegations and memes.
Already the signs are there, literally, with protests featuring placards with “not my Prime Minister” on them. This eerily reminds me of the bourgeois middle class in the US, who threw a collective tantrum after the defeat of corporate stooge Hilary Clinton in 2016. Rather than reflecting on why people are drawn to such characters as Trump, many in opposition lazily resorted to pointless ad hominem attacks and his alleged actions of the past.
This line of protest may well be considered a valid tactic on Twitter and Facebook, but is it really a pathway to changing the political landscape? I suggest not. Within minutes of any political disagreement on social media vast numbers of people regress to adolescence, often resorting to the petty ‘strategy’ of slinging personal insults at those who dare to disagree. When trying to unite a nation, in particular, attracting the working class back to their traditional parties, these methods only serve to polarise and harden opinion.
In the UK the left historically fought for the working class, but many now feel abandoned, even politically isolated, after decades of blue and later red neoliberalism. Subsequently, many people have voted for change regardless of the outcome. For a left leaning party such as Labour to enter government they need the working class, while the working class require a party or political movement to truly champion their cause.
Labelling whole swathes of a population racist, misogynistic, dumb or simply stupid, won’t endear them to you or promote healthy debate. Brexiteers and corporate Democrats, both who lost recent votes insist on suggesting they are the enlightened ones, while approaching life from an exceptionally myopic and rather advantaged perspective.
For those who struggle for money on a daily basis in areas such as the former industrial heartlands, there is still very much a class war going on, which incidentally they are spectacularly losing. This partly explains why citizens who are financially at the lower end of society in the western world have developed strange bed fellows such as, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and to a certain extent Boris Johnson.
All of these characters are ridiculously privileged, having absolutely no affinity to the very people they pretend to support. Weirdly from the “Rust Belt” in the US to the former industrial north in the UK, right wing parties continue to attract working class voters. All this, despite the Republican’s and Conservative’s open declaration of support for corporations, the rich, low taxation and minimal funding of any state services.
Often the phrase “it’s like turkeys voting for Christmas” does the rounds during election time. This sadly, fails to ask the hard but obvious question…….why? Why are people content to vote against their best interests? Or more reflectively, what have the left done wrong to lose the very group that would benefit the most from traditional left values and when did this start.
A quick and admittedly slightly glib answer to the problem, particularly in the UK could be summed up with one word, Blair. In truth, many leaders of traditional left leaning parties have ignored the plight of the working class, while searching for voters among the middle classes. But Blair even stated in a speech to the centrist think tank Public Policy Research “I want to make you all middle class“, as if this was some sort of aspirational comment. By many, this was seen and with good cause, as an abandonment of the working class. The Labour Party membership not surprisingly dropped from approximately 405,000 in 1997 to 156,000 by 2009.
I’m sure some people who claim to be on the left may suggest that we don’t need the working class, especially those who voted for Brexit. I would argue, that ending neoliberalism, reducing economic inequality, working for a sustainable future, protecting our human rights are all more important issues than the side-show that is Brexit. All these aspirations are heavily dependent on engaging and winning over the working class who largely feel neglected by previous incarnations of so called progressive politics.
Memes inferring a likeness of Boris Johnson to Donald Trump and targeting his repeated gaffs aren’t going to help persuade people to move over and vote for Corbyn’s Labour, for example. We’ve seen the same tactic aimed at Trump in the US having little to no effect. Working class Trump voters often reply with, “but the economy is doing better and unemployment is down”. This is where people in the UK need to deviate from the US strategy by pushing back on the issues, while not focusing on Boris Johnson’s bumbling demeanour, dress sense or hairstyle.
However, if we look back at Trump and his supporters claims, just using GDP as one metric, growth under Trump is admittedly consistent, but Obama had even greater periods at times during his presidency. Regarding unemployment, this has consistently been on the decline since 2011, although primarily due to the rise of the gig economy and other precarious methods of employment. For the left in the UK, finding out why working class voters have switched to right wing parties and challenging their assertions, while offering well thought out answers is better than calling Conservative’s heartless bastards. As true as this may be, it does not help the debate.
The UK is now on to its second upper class former Etonian and Bullingdon Club Prime Minister within 5 years of each other. If this photo isn’t an example of a failed democracy, I’m not sure what is. Johnson’s recently unveiled cabinet is equally disturbing, starting with Chancellor of Exchequer Sajid Javid. Despite his humble Rochdale roots, Javid is a former investment banker in the US, who can hardly be described as a man of the people. Next, the recently appointed Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is even considered a right-winger among his own party. Raab studied at both Oxford and Cambridge University, just like most kids do (1% of the UK population graduate from Oxbridge).
Boris Johnson’s pick for home secretary is Priti Patel. Ms Patel is keen on the death penalty, but not so much on basic human rights. The daughter of Gujarati Indian parents who fled Uganda in the 1960’s, she seems desperate to kick the ladder away, advocating for stricter asylum rules and stronger enforcement of immigration laws. Along with the Prime Minister, this completes the line-up for the country’s top four political jobs, handed to those who have nothing in common with or any interest in the real world.
This is an ideal time to catapult an anti-neoliberal narrative into the minds of working class people. Although some people may not be convinced by Jeremy Corbyn (I’m not one of them), this a perfect opportunity for him. His main problem, however, continues to be elements within his own party who are determined to hamper any concerted effort to deliver discernible change.
Personally I see Jeremy Corbyn, as the first step, someone who can get the UK back on track. This involves moving away from a government that benefits the rich and idolises money, to a system that supports all of humanity. This progress could, therefore, be used as a springboard to promote further radical change in the future. Firstly Labour need to win their traditional base of support back, that of the working class and that will be a huge challenge.