Something I’ve spoken about before is the prominence of middle class voices behind the anti-austerity movement and the Labour Leadership debate. Such, of course, also extends to journalism -which of course dictates the terms of debate.
All of these have tried to speak of what ‘the poor people want’. Blairites like to think they speak for such people that ‘need a Labour government’. Of course, as working class voters splinter to the SNP and UKIP (but no, not the Greens), they tend to have a different opinion on the necessity of Labour in their lives.
The Left, having much more in common with paternalistic Blairites than they’d like to think, think they speak for working class dissafected or non-voters. They think that to ‘inspire’ people to vote, and to vote Labour, we must offer an ‘alternative’ instead of ‘Tory lite’. True, turns out ‘Lazy Labour voters’ distorted the polls by not turning out, but such a phenomenon was multi-faceted and can’t simply be explained as ‘Ed was Tory Lite’ or a lack of the ‘politics of hope’.
Both such opinions come from the mouths of middle class people. They are not ill-intended opinions. A lot of good movements have middle class origins. But the lack of a platform for working class commentators distorts debate.
So, in the absence of working class voices being given access to the debate, I thought I’d endulge in what I know of actual working class non-voters or non-loyal voters, or just the working class people in my life. I come from a working class background, but as a Politics student at bloody Durham and an apparent newfound member of le Metropolitan Elite, I don’t think I’m particularly representative. So here goes:
My dad, a cockney Turkish immigrant industrial worker, never voted. What I knew of his opinion was that he hated our Russian neighbours (yes, immigrants who have been settled here for a while sometimes dislike immigrants), hated taxes and hated when his union (RMT) staged strikes.
My mum, a public sector worker and low-income single mother, first voted in 1979 -for Thatcher! She has since, nevertheless, regretted the vote and voted Labour ever since, albeit not tribally. She has bemoaned ‘scroungers’ and council tax, and I don’t think she’s ever uttered the word ‘socialist’.
My mum’s partner, a public sector worker and single father…well, I don’t know much about him. He reads the Express and says worrying things.
My mum’s mate, a public sector, low income single mother, votes Tory. She thinks Labour ruined the economy. She yells at me a lot about it.
My mum’s other mate, a low income mother, also votes Tory. Her daughter is about to go uni, and will -I think- be affected by the grant cut. She has traditional views on marriage and other social issues.
And to counter the idealistic ‘young people’ that flock to Jeremy, some insight into how inner city kids actually think, from what I know and remember of my peers: They have no affection for politics, no matter who’s saying it. Some actually liked Ed, but hold no strong socialist views. Inner city comp students are not the same as the graduates being quoted by Buzzfeed articles, joining Labour to vote for the revolution after having voted Green in May.
True, this small sample of people from my community is not representative. I don’t intend to say that I speak for working class people. I don’t. But these are the voices that are not given inches in The Guardian.
Now a possible reaction to this is that tabloids influence the minds of my peers and family. I have argued that, to the contrary of some, the Murdoch and Dacre media does still have power. I don’t think ‘the electorate is always right’. My mum’s friends’ belief that Labour caused the crash is of course untrue, as is the scrounger rhetoric from some people I know. But that’s still largely redundant. It’s equally that actual working class people I know simply have very little time or money to spend. We need money in our pockets and it is very quickly spent. Taxes are a big burden. So when studies show that working class people are much less likely to support redistribution, it comes as little surprise. No one I know spends enormous amounts of time pondering the neoliberal consensus (though I do), whether it affects us or not. My community doesn’t attend marches to Parliament Square en masse, go to CLP meetings, or attend rallies. To borrow a quote about Foot, the people I know are the ones outside the hall, thinking they’re all crackers.
So no, the assumptions that there’s a hidden socialism just waiting to explode in working class communities is not true and hasn’t ever really been true, as historians of 1945 would know. It’s paternalistic.
Perhaps Corbyn’s straight talking, Farage-esque style would be encouraging, perhaps other factors would turn people out. Perhaps Corbyn might be better than the otherwise technocratic Cooper or Burnham (though polls suggest Andy is well ahead.) Who knows? That’s not for anyone to assume.
But for so long that the debate about Labour’s path to Number 10 going through non-voting communities is dominated by middle class voices, so long as said voices make asumptions without evidence, I will remain unconvinced.