Who are the working class in Britain, who speaks up for them thus how are they inclined to vote? Years ago it felt fairly simple and obvious with a party, strongly aligned with trade unions, who’s key aims were to improve workers rights, make their lives more comfortable and really made society that bit fairer.
So apart from this, what were Labour like at that time? Well, while they were “opposing the communist party“, there was also a stronger sense of patriotism which appealed to traditional working class voters. And while they have remained “the” party of opposition, we know that much has changed within the party and within wider society.
Who were “Old Labour”?
So let’s advance on the brief history of the Labour party which I spoke about in the first post in this series. So in the 1930s and the 1940s Labour were committed to “stressed national planning, using nationalization of industry as a tool” while being affiliated to the trade unions. A strong legacy was made by Clement Atlee’s government between 1945 and 1951, where the NHS was founded, numbers of services including electricity, coal and railways were nationalized and free secondary education became a right. Though Atlee, according to Roy Jenkins, was said to be “profoundly conservative in everything except politics”, was “strongly family orientated” and “felt no revulsion against his class and background” (being upper middle class).
This somewhat made their lives more comfortable, stable while it did give them a sense of respect, making Labour almost the obvious preferred party. Yet over the past 2 elections, “average house price in seats gained by Labour from the Conservatives” was 200,000 while “average house price in seats gained by Conservatives from Labour is £143,000.” So how has this notably changed to make these voters now feel out on a limb?
How and when did this Change?
Obviously this has got to be to do with the effects of deindustrialisation, as the working class as a group became less distinctive, which eventually lead to a divide between factions of the working class.
However let’s see what happened to “old Labour” during this time. So in 1951, Labour faced a massive defeat due to difficulties the government faced including “economic crisis’s” as well as the fuel crisis leading to a lack in voter confidence. This was also at a time where there was growing conflict amongst the party and government significantly reducing the confidence.. Though in 1964 Labour under Harold Wilson formed a government, however when James Callengham took over as Prime Minister, once again there were significant problems which him and his government faced including famously the Winter of Discontent. However probably more significantly there were growing divisions between the left and the right within the party. Subsequently the huge defeat against Thatcher in 1979 on top of increasing tensions within the party and a seemingly diminishing working class led to an increasing demand for Labour to adopt a more right wing approach. Many MPs supported this cause and believed it was the only way forward. And one could argue that they were right, because it is true that since Harold Wilson, it has only been Tony Blair who won not one but three elections for Labour, while the more left wing leaders following Blair didn’t have this success. Yet though many feel this turning point was inevitable, it has possibly lead to Labour having a different audience for good…
Even the guardian argue that “Labour’s lost their working class support for good” for many reasons, as Labour saw a large increase in middle class votes under Blair as the working class vote were no longer enough to secure them a victory. However it goes further repeating what Labour MP Cruddas said, that “the Corbyn revolution in the Labour party has narrowed its social base even further, making it the party of young, middle-class southerners, popular in London and some prosperous university towns.” This way we see how Labour have gradually moved away from it’s traditional policies of “constitutional indifference and economic radicalism; reformism and conservativism; patriotism and internationalism”.
Instead taking a very brief analysis we have seen Blair’s Labour removing it’s radical economic policies and instead adapting to the liberal mainstream meanwhile under Corbyn, though they certainly had more of “old Labour’s” economic values, the lack of patriotism. Which may not be such a bad thing, depending on your point of view, though as many voters of the working class living up North tend to have this strong sense of patriotism, then is it such a good move? Or alternatively does it not matter as these kinds of voters are dying out?
Where we are at Now?
Personally I feel social media has played a significant role in leading a caring, open but very smart and passionate generation into being more politically aligned. Therefore in the future it may mean alternative policies may need to be made increasingly inclusive to satisfy the needs of the young. While as human nature dictates, we still enjoy a good moan about ourselves, and as it becomes increasingly more difficult to get on the property ladder, and while the prospect of job security, even with a strong degree, seems to weaken- perhaps the future battle may not be about class. But rather it will have to be about a more socially mobile society, especially geared toward the young- which will quite rightly not allow for leaving anyone out.
I probably delved into a bit of a naïve fantacy, so feel free to tell me what you think… but regardless of this, the poor in Britain is not going to die away. And over these years there has been a brewing complacence. As it is now true that in the most deprived factions of England, more people voted leave. Within the three areas with the highest proportion of Brexit votes Boston near Manchester, South Holland near Birmingham and Castle point within Essex, with 75.6%, 73.6% and 72.7% of the people voting leave, the former two towns have been heavily effected by deindustrialization and have above average rates of child poverty. While the latter has a proportionately higher “Old Age Dependency Ratio than most other areas with an estimated rate of 431.1 people age 65+ to every 1000 working age” compared to England’s average of 286.8.
Most likely this reflects the feelings of negligence, anxiety and possibly bitterness within these areas, causing the people to choose to vote for something which they think will mean that help will be directed further toward them… Which also sadly but understandably suggests that some are going to be less willing for a party which now stands up for minorities within society more so than Britain’s main party does… With the same kind of essence that this party is not going to work for them any longer due to the lingering effect Tony Blair’s government has had on the country… Part of this has manifested into the increased support for far right parties in the past and more recently such as the BNP, the National front and Britain first. Though these parties didn’t have too much real success, the success of the “more respectable” UKIP and the Brexit Party have proven the extent of how the divide between the working class and policies has changed.
So who are the New Working Class?
Well once again we are going to need to look at different groups within the “working class”, in order to answer this question. Now the meaning of what it means to be working class feels more intuitive compared to what it once was, but those who have been victims of deindustrialisation, those who are young and working in low skilled employment while still in education and those who have migrated to the UK who tend to work long hours on low wages tend to be part of this.
Now each group are obviously going to have differing aspirations and will generally have different political views. And while you can understand the sympathy toward “the white working class” due to once having more lets say stability we need to be open minded toward anyone who is less financially fortunate. Because anyone working in hope of achieving a better life and anyone who works extremely hard in order to simply live and hope for their children to have a better future who may have nothing to lose needs to be treated with the same sense of compassion compared to someone who has lost it all. With an enormous amount of misunderstanding towards either group, with superficial feelings that all of the former are “lazy, dirty racists” and the latter being “stealing, greedy and already very privileged” it leaves too much room for criticism by and toward both sides, when what we need is unity.
Read the next post to find out more about the media’s role in the demoralization of the working class, to decide the extent of this for yourself!
Sources: Gov.UK, Wikipedia, Britannia.com, Socialist worker, Spiked, The New Statesman, The Guardian