Left-over?

Has the intellectual-Left taken leave of the working class? That's the argument of Bo Rothstein (https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/02/long-affair-working-class-intellectual-cultural-left/). Brexit, Trump, the slow death of Social Democracy in Europe, all point to a chasm opening up between the most disadvantaged people in Western societies and those who have, for the past century or more, claimed to champion their cause.

It has been the case for the British Labour Party that those at the top have tended not to come from the bottom - at least not without having gone through a process of gentifrication. And so, the Labour Party has been an active and reasonably successful coalition of interests and ideas, centred around redistribution, social justice and equality. But the cracks are definitely beginning to show.

I grew up on a working class housing estate where most of the men and women had not worked for some time, where most of the kids failed the 11-plus and ended up in ill-resourced secondary schools. There was the added complication of Northern Irish sectarianism, but the major issues were economic. A mixture of educational opportunity and a professional job means I am now very middle-class - I mean I can name at least five different sorts of pasta! And as I a travelled along that gentifrication path, my attitudes have diverged sharply from those I grew up with. Bizarrely, this means I am now considerably more left-wing: more pro-European, more pro-migration, more positive about ethnic, cultural and sexual diversity. I am more committed to the role of government in achieving social change, and I often find myself in a minority when I argue for comprehensive education. This is not a judgement on the opinions of others, but rather a description of where I now find myself and, I think, the dilemma democratic socialism now faces.

On the big political issues of the next twenty years, I will find myself on the opposite side of the debate from many, if not most, people in what were once described as 'Labour heartlands'. Relations with the rest of Europe, the rights of refugees and migrants, support for an equal, diverse, multicultural society, moving to an environmentally sustainable economy, engaging with development in the Global South, handling the threat of extremism - in all these, Labour membership currently embraces polar opposite positions. This is perfectly summarised in the fact that the five constituencies that voted in the highest number for Brexit and the five that were most in favour of Remain are all represented by Labour MPs.

The dilemma Labour confronts is whether it can still maintain a coalition of compromise that allows these polarised and unreconcilable views to be held within one Party. In a political arena increasingly devoid of nuance, is the 'Broad Church' model dead? And if it is, what is to be relaced with? If, as I predict, the era of two grand parties dominating British (and Western) politics is over, and our electoral system must now be reformed to reflect that, then Labour must decide what area of the spectrum it will occupy. It must decide whether it is on the side of immigrants and refugees or not - the current position is mealy-mouthed at best. It must decide whether it is a European party, a party prepared to make difficult decisions about the environment, which will include tax rises, house building, investment in transport infrasturcture. We cannot present a vision of society to the public at large because we are too busy trying to be all things to our membership. It cannot work in the longer term and the sooner we realise it, the better. I fear that the alternative is a hollowing out of support and seepage to the SNP, UKIP, the Greens and the Lib Dems.

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