By Jim Grundy
In a recent debate with a supporter of the Liberal Democrats I was shocked (which I suppose I shouldn’t have been) at the callous dismissal of the problems being experienced by millions of people in this, the seventh largest economy in the world. Cuts to pay, pensions, benefits, care services for the elderly, trebling of tuition fees, removal of disability benefits, the 20% rise in homelessness, the privatisation of the NHS and rationing of healthcare, cuts to the Police, none of it registered. The anger, frustration and despair that all of that and so much more has caused, were dismissed as “phoney” and served no other purpose than to provide a stick to beat Liberal Democrats with.
The attitude on display reminded me of an interview I saw with a violent offender once. He had been sent to prison after an unprovoked attack upon a complete stranger. When asked what he’d do if he ever met the victim again his response was not to offer an apology or show any remorse. Oh no. The man said, “I’d have him!” When questioned why “’Cos he put me here!” In his way of thinking, he was the victim. He had lost his freedom and that was the fault of the person, he’d beaten to unconsciousness, nothing to do with his own actions.
This kind of attitude is only possible because of the constant attacks upon ordinary people seen everyday coming from the Government and its increasingly rabid friends in the right-wing press. Owen Jones performed an important service when he published his excellent book, “Chavs. The Demonisation of the Working Class.” His timely expose of how the attacks upon the livelihoods of millions of people have been justified by the oh so Victorian belief in the deserving and undeserving poor (although it’s hard to detect much belief in the former).
The ability to objectify, the all too genuine suffering, that is being inflicted upon the “the poor” (his expression) by our Liberal Democrat friend was topped off by a positively post-modernist outlook on life. To him, there was no such thing as truth, and all experiences and evidence of the effects of the policies being supported by them in coalition with the Nasty Party were merely texts, only one version of events with no greater validity than anything put out by Tory Central Office.
It was an astonishing display of how millions of people can be dehumanised and any protest about their fate treated as nothing other than a cynical, empty, politically-motivated lie. It could’ve been a case of an individual judging another by their own values (or absence thereof) but it was enlightening in its way. It reminded me of the disconnection between the people and their leaders – and how some of the people come to embrace their own alienation.
There are some within the Labour Party who hold views about the average working class person as being little different to the racist, xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted white van man driver stereotype. Recent polling commissioned by Progress was used to support that view and its case, that the answer to the loss of the last election was not that the Party had for too long ignored its core vote but that there was no such thing as a core vote and a further lurch to the right is required if we stood any chance of forming the next administration.
I suppose it infrequently occurs to your average Progress supporter that it is a poor defence, against the excesses of the right-wing, to become right-wing yourselves.
They have written-off the working class in favour of a middle-income, middle class swing voter; they long abandoned any belief in socialist principles, so no surprise there. But if we wish to gain the support of those who, whilst certainly not Tories, are still to be persuaded that Labour has anything to offer them, we have to do more than taking on each and every, daft idea that comes out of the Daily Mail and its ilk everyday.
Anyone could be forgiven for believing that Progress – and the Lib Dem who started me thinking – view politics as akin to Premiership football. There is only one game – for football read capitalism – the only issue is who is the best manager of the team (and who’s got the most attractive kit)? If we don’t like the current prime minister, offer them another but certainly don’t offer to change the game.
“You’re all the same, politicians,” is heard often, and sometimes it’s not an easy task to dismiss that claim. But if we in Labour have any serious ambition to win with an overall majority, we have to show the clear red water that does exist between us and this, the most rabidly right-wing government in post-war history.
It’s not good enough to spend all our energies chasing after the 100-200,000 voters in key marginal constituencies. We must, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, “Take Care of our Own”. In that song, a number of questions are asked and it’s worth repeating them here:
“Where’re the eyes, the eyes with the will to see?
Where’re the hearts, that run over with mercy?
Where’s the love that has not forsaken me?
Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free?
We have to provide the answers.
But if the answer is to dismiss the pain being inflicted upon millions as regrettable but inevitable, then we have no right to expect them to come to Labour … just because the alternative is so appalling (and incompetent with it). Even with a stick of the size, that is being handed to us, we cannot just bash the Tories and Lib Dems, we have to offer hope of a real alternative to austerity.
The answer is not a charismatic leader (we’ve had enough of those) but a solid commitment to listen to what we know to be true. We’re here, yes to represent the interests of all, in our ‘One Nation’, but, most of all, to protect those who are the most vulnerable in society. If we fail to do that, we won’t just have failed as a party, we will have failed the country as well.
It’s time to move away from the Tory lie of a bankrupt nation, to dealing with the reality inflicted by a morally bankrupt collection of Tory and Liberal millionaires. Our Liberal Democrat friend called this ‘tribalism’ (oh, the irony). I call it justice and, in the truest sense, looking after our own.
Excellent post, Jim, and very true.
Jim, this touched me deeply, I can only reiterate Pam’s comment and Thank You
So obvious. How come the high command doesn’t see this? Can you make them see sense?
they are on an agenda marie. they arent ignorant. they know what they are doing.
There well maybe ‘racist, xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted white van man driver stereotype’ working class members of society. Labour needs to make it clear they don’t belong in the Labour Party and not to use this as an excuse to lurch to the right on Law and Order or Economic failure. Let them join UKIP or the Tories. If it doesn’t then Labour will lose even more members than it has already.
Whilst we’re on the matter of retaining members and appealing to the public it is time for Labour to produce a simple document to support the comments of Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband:
‘How Labour Will Re-build the NHS’ – modelled along the lines (pardon the pun) of the ASLEF document ‘Re-Building the Railways’.
Many people need hope and that can only come from Labour. They must not let people down!
I am someone who until 2011, when a by-election was held in my constituency, had always voted LibDem or Green, because I thought they were the radical choice. I have always hated the Tories and only recently come to fully realise how left wing I am. My natural home is with one of the more radical left wing parties, but I’m so fed up with the in-fighting and fractured nature of the far left. Labour is obviously where I belong, but with a Labour party that IS committed to the redistribution of wealth; that is NOTin bed with big business; that listens to the trade union movement that formed it; that prioritises the needs of everyone ahead of the needs of the individual; and that realises that the green economy is not ‘too expensive’, or ‘a luxury’ but an opportunity for growth and a nettle that must be grasped if our children are have any kind of future.
Grundy is correct to assert that Labour must “represent the interests of all” and “protect those who are the most vulnerable in society”. To achieve this, it must have a long and integrated view that takes into account people, economy and environment.
I think a lot of people are in the same boat. Anyone listening to Nick Clegg pre-GE 2010 was invited to believe that the LDs were more ‘left-wing’ than the LP. Politicians now say what focus groups tell them will be popular and then do whatever they want when elected 😦
As your ‘average Progress voter’ I do not recognise your objectification of us.
The Progress report you speak of makes the claim that there are sharp social attitude differences between ‘working class’ voters of C1 and C2 orientation (based on income). This is, from my experience, not all that objectionable. Unless … of course, you’re one of the radical far left of our party and ideologically oppose anything which undermines the rose-tinted dream of ‘the working class’. They aren’t homogeneous, they don’t all think alike and vote alike. I know this because for a long time I used to live on such low earnings, and came from rough parts of Glasgow.
I do not see any problem with appreciating the nuanced differences in social attitudes between the earning class stratifications. And that is the thing about polling data, it tells us facts we sometimes don’t wish to hear.
Your Average Progress Voter
I think you evidence Jim’s point beautifully. Your focus is on ‘what policies’ will be electorally successful rather than debate what is the best way to implement the moral imperative to protect the ‘vulnerable’.
Doubtless your heart is in the right place, but I would argue that your managerial approach clouds you from seeing the wood from the trees. It is good for society as a whole, regardless of ‘income-based categorisation’ for our elderly and those with disability/long-term illness to know that they will be safe regardless of income. It is good for society as a whole to have the banks regulated and unable to crash the economy. It is good for society as a whole, for everyone to have a living wage so that we don’t subsidise rich landlords through housing benefit.
When you focus on C1 and C2 attitudes, you are measuring the product of their personal experience, the ‘grooming’ of the mainstream media and their rationalisation which may be more or less informed by the facts. It is totally the wrong way around to tailor policies to fit those assumptions! Labour needs to devise the policies which are good for ordinary people first, then you can see if C1 and C2 approve.
One question does come to mind – who has ever voted for ‘Progress’, averagely or otherwise? Just asking.
Whilst some people follow every last poll and media headline, others will prefer to make their case on the basis of the kind of society we wish to see in the country. You do that, not by ducking difficult issues and engaging with those who take a different view and attempt to win the argument. It’s a lot harder than simply going along with the latest prejudice or piece of bile from the right-wing press but if you believe in social justice that’s kind of the thing you do.
The trouble is that not being prepared to challenge prejudices – often prejudices neatly wrapped up for them by the media – means that you run the risk of waking up one morning and realise just how far removed from any kind of principle you once had you have strayed. And then, and here’s the odd thing, the voters seem to gain the impression that there is no difference between the parties and either vote against us or don’t even bother turning out. It’s just a hunch but I think that might have happened quite recently, don’t you?
Great piece, Jim hits the problems bang on the nail.
What a laugh, when it has been the labour party who has led to this point so far, who have whilst in power, instigated the very reforms and laws needed by the ConDems to attack and demonise those who are in the most need, never mind the disatorous financial policies employed by them which has seen the UK bankrupted whist the privilaged have prospered. What a cruel, contemtious laugh.
Ok, I know where you’re coming from and would not dream of dismissing your stance out of hand. But, answer me this, who established the NHS? Next question, whilst falling way short of your own personal standards, who else, other than the Labour Party, has the slightest chance of saving it? As much as you might dislike it, wouldn’t your time be better spent figthing tough battles to save what we all care about, within the wider Labour movement, rather than winning easy wins attacking so soft a target as the right within Labour? It’s not easy and, yes, there’s going to be some individuals we’d all rather not have to do business with but what are we trying to achieve: to challenge what is being done now or to show how pure our own personal interpretation of political events is? I am sure I have no need to remind you that our aim is not to interpret the world but to change it. It’s up to you how you choose to work towards that goal but I’d urge you to contribute to a wider, broad left coalition of opposition rather than standing outside of it, which must, surely, weaken us all. In comradeship, Jim. But you can, naturally, tell me where to go.
‘I am sure I have no need to remind you that our aim is not to interpret the world but to change it. ‘ Great way of putting it Jim!
“…the clear red water that does exist between us and this, the most rabidly right-wing government in post-war history”?
I should have thought that any Tory government since the War was more right-wing than this one, despite the current Tory policies we all know and hate.
The truth is that all the main parties have jostled for a perceived middle ground while trying not to lose their core supporters: stereotypically, the right-wing / employer class in the case of Tories and left-wing / working class in the case of Labour.
But trying to be ‘all things to all men (and women)’ is never a good policy for a number of reasons and that’s obviously one of the main points Jim Grundy is making.
This duplicity and insincerity has now come back to haunt politicians, who are of course perceived as being “all the same”, as Jim says.
However, while Jim broadly has the right idea, in my view the language and tone he uses in his piece still comes across to some extent as party politics and ‘spin’ (an awful word), albeit from a different perspective: “If we in Labour have any serious ambition to win with an overall majority…”, etc. It’s still putting the Party at the centre of things, not the people.
I would far rather see any self-proclaimed party of the people eschew the Punch & Judy nonsense of Parliament, political point-scoring and ‘politicking’ in favour of no-nonsense policies & concrete proposals which have common sense and truth to them. For once, take the focus off power for power’s sake, achieved at all cost to the detriment of all principles… and concentrate upon complete honesty and frankness. Very hard for politicians to do.
Sure, no ‘charismatic leaders’ in the sense that Jim means (Blair, I’m guessing) and certainly not in the mould of Kinnock or Foot who were total disasters, but leaders who have credibility and integrity are still necessary, even if that is called ‘charisma’ by some people.
In other words, ‘build a better mousetrap and people will beat a path to your door’ based on its merits – not because it looks good, smiles often and promises a lot more than it can deliver.
People have now had enough of that and this is where all party politicians fail the people at the moment.
Maybe it’s time to call an end to political parties and vested interests on all sides.
It’s time for a system which is truly democratic and apolitical… but, like proportional representation, I guess that a Labour party isn’t going to vote for that any more than the Tories would.
Jim, I agree with all you say, we need to create a revolution of the mind a whole new way of social thinking. Big task but we have to start at sometime and now seems OK
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great post . being someone who is unemployed and looking for a job what i don’t get is they say they want people to get to work but yet these people are cutting jobs and companys are shutting down nearly every week the country is just run by idiots being honest . plus another thing is i had a part time job at ( a football stadium ) and it was because of the job centre that made me walk away from it as they where trying to make me a lier that i was working more hours and i was not i done everything through the job centre but yet they still sent me letters saying i owe them £180 and £90 this is why i walked away from the job and i said to the job centre when they asked me why did you leave your part time job and i said because of you lot and half of the job centre backed me this was sorted out this is just 1 of meny troubles i have had with the job centre plus i have been going to interveiws and applying for jobs for ages and have had no luck and i am even on some work program ( working links ) and they just don’t help i have just been past about from person to person thats all they do . plus i have a HND in Graphic Design and can i get a job nope 4 years at college . as for all these parties they just think about thereself plus everything we all pay things like road tax council tax morgages etc this all goes to all thes parties so they get there new million pound houses and sports cars and there livinroom painted and there holiday homes in miami etc it just makes me sick we should all get rid of these parties why the country is in such a sorry state
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