The New Statesman reports on a growing gap in the Labour Party between Britain’s cultural progressives and its working class, or what’s left of it. Excerpts:
On many economic questions the left may represent the interests of the working class more effectively than the right, but, socially, the values of the traditional working class are increasingly at odds with those of the liberal or ‘progressive’ left.
The main divisions one finds are over immigration and welfare. The middle classes tend to associate immigration to the UK with things like fancy restaurants, new music and a Polish cleaning lady who makes a better (not to mention cheaper) fist of cleaning the office than her British counterpart. For the working classes, however, migration is all too often interpreted as meaning stiffer competition for wages and the loss of the sense of community in the places where one grew up. As the authors of the 2012 British Social Attitudes survey put it: “[In recent years] economically comfortable and culturally more cosmopolitan groups show little change in their assessments of economic impacts [of immigration], but economically and socially insecure groups have become dramatically more hostile.”
[T]he chasm in attitudes between the middle class left and the more socially conservative working class has always existed but has been exacerbated in recent times by the popularisation of identity politics – white working class men, however much they are struggling financially, absurdly register as ‘privileged’ on the identity politics totem due to their whiteness and what is between their legs. Meanwhile, positive discrimination and quotas provide a much needed (and justifiable) leg-up for most disadvantaged groups in society, yet by excluding any recognition of class from the process, the same policies leave the white working class falling even further behind – despite the fact that class remains a much greater determinate of a person’s life chances than skin colour or gender.
This is not to say the left should crudely pander to ultra-regressive views on migration and welfare. But nor should it completely ignore the concerns of its so-called core vote. Unfortunately, thanks to identity politics, many progressives appear willing to dismiss the white working class as socially backwards and not worth listening to (notice how those attending English Defence League rallies get almost as much abuse heaped on them for their football shirts and beer bellies as for their racism).
Similarly, on our side of the pond, liberal elites (I’m thinking about Thomas “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” Frank) dun the white working class for voting against its economic interests by choosing Republicans, thinking the GOP better represents its cultural values. Yet well-off white liberals aren’t thought of as betraying their economic interest for voting Democratic because they believe the Democrats better represent their cultural beliefs. In fact, it may be seen as a particularly principled vote, one that puts things like same-sex marriage and abortion rights over “greed.” But when working-class right-wingers make the same call, they’re seen as chumps deluded by false consciousness. Funny how that happens.
Of course, sometimes conservative voters really are chumps. More Louisiana Republicans blame Obama for the botched Katrina response than blame Bush. It was somewhat of a loaded question; maybe most of them blame then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco or then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin instead of Bush or Obama, but they weren’t given that choice. Still, anybody who thinks Obama had more to do with screwing up Katrina than the man who was sitting in the White House at the time, and who had appointed an incompetent political hack as his FEMA director (and memorably praised him post-Katrina!) has drunk the Kool-Aid.