Monday, June 06, 2011

Chavs, Blue Labour and voting: Labour shouldn't be ashamed of its instincts

I've not read Owen Jones' 'Chavs - the demonisation of the working class' book yet, but I'm pleased that someone is bringing the subject up.

Everyone seems to have a different experience of the word being used, but in my case, I've only really seen it used as raw snobbery - often against children - breaking one of the cardinal sins of modern discourse: Criticise people for what they do and not what they are. In this respect, at least, it's every bit as pernicious as racist name-calling.

Anyhoo, one aspect of the discussion around it has intrigued me. This line from Carl Packman's post about it on Liberal Conspiracy.
"Jones reflects upon a staggering 1958 gallup poll showing how 71% of britons were opposed to interracial marriage, however it is today, not the fifties, that the BNP is the most successful far right party in the UK to date (pp.222-23). Now that the New Labour party panders to a ruling metropolitan elite community for its votes and support, the BNP have stepped in to raise people’s legitimate concerns (housing, immigration, schools) framing the debate in racial terms.

By and large, working class communities reject the appeals of the far right (they got a trumping in the last local elections), but the English Defence League are still making ground, tapping into local concerns, and Labour is still doing little to counter this."
This seems to have an odd set of assumptions underlying it; That people have traditionally regarded political parties as things that reflect their prejudices. I don't beleive that people voted Labour in 1958 on the unexamined view that the party shared their views on interracial marriage or on immigration, and it would be hard to demonstrate that this was the factor that led to the collapse of the consensus that shaped elections between 1956 and 1979.

This underestimates the sophistication of voters - then as now. UKIP and the BNP occassionally do OK in local elections or European Parliament votes - precisely because people regard it as a suitable point at which to register a protest. But would you, Mr & Mrs Sendembackhome, really want the clowns from UKIP or the knuckledraggers of the BNP (or latterly, the EDL) running the country?

In most cases, the answer would have, and will continue to be, 'no'. The same is true of hanging. Until very recently, the majority of voters have favoured capital punishment but have resisted voting for hangers. Remember the storm that followed Gordon Brown's "bigotted woman" banana skin? It didn't make any difference to opinion polling results.

The idea that people regard their votes in General Elections as things that they're prepared to barter on individual policies is a hugely over-rated one.

The reason Labour have won elections in the past, is because most people thought they'd be a better government than the alternative. It is a huge and continuing mistake to think that some petty bartering of individual policies will make a difference. Labour will regain power when it convinces the public that it is the most responsible steward of the economy and society at large. That's all.

I'd go further: Labour has traditionally felt a bit wary of discussing issues on which the instincts of it's leadership diverges from the general public - Europe, immigration, hanging, etc. I've argued before in some detail that these issues bring the worst out in the bonehead populists of the Tory right. Cameron certainly knows that these issues shouldn't be dominating the headlines and that they'd ruffle the sangfroid that is defining his premiership so far.

Labour needs to be confident about its own instincts on these subjects and be prepared to put up with being yelled at by bigots - appeasing them is a non-starter anyway.

And on these grounds alone, Blue Labour is largely irrelevant. Can we stop talking about it please?

1 comment:

Paul Anderson said...

Agree completely!