It is Labour’s recognition that it has been abandoned by what are now being called ‘C2 voters’, and discussion on how to rectify that uncomfortable fact, that seems to be the narrative taking precedence in the post-election post-mortem. Whilst simplistic caricature needs to be avoided, not least because it risks unleashing the indignant fury of the Guardianistas upon the heads of the caricatured ‘white working class’, nonetheless it is a welcome development – Labour have too long been in thrall to trendy metro-liberalism and dismissive, even disdainful, of the beliefs, culture and needs of the working class communities that once constituted their core-vote.
Looking at newspaper readership can usefully highlight this fact. We all remember how New Labour spat feathers when the Sun switched allegiances to the Tories, how Tony Woodley tore a copy of the paper to shreds, how Mandelson talked ambiguously of ‘losers’ choosing the Sun, how Harriet Harman delivered a broadside focussing on their lack of support for her ‘progressive’ agenda. And, in their own way, these responses were entirely legitimate, and undoubtedly played awfully well to the Guardian-reading ‘progressives’ gathered round the feet of their idols. However, the reaction also contained a hint of that same sneering attitude toward ‘C2s’ that was instrumental in driving these people away from Labour in the first place. It was illustrative of a larger dislocation that had already taken place, and laid bare a deep cultural and ideological division, confirming the impression that, for the ‘progressives’ at the head of the Labour Party, the kind of people who read the Sun are not the kind of people who belong with New Labour. Indeed, the Sun and the Daily Mail have largely been co-opted as terms of abuse by the ‘progressive’ left, thrown at anyone who deviates from their orthodoxies.
And this is an all too common condition in the contemporary Labour Party. As I have blogged before, the self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ attack with intense ferocity the very social-conservatism that is often normative amongst the people that, generally speaking, vote them into power; one can hardly feign shock or surprise, then, when these same people choose to walk away. In short, the Labour Party has ceased to show concern about the same things the ‘C2s’ are concerned about, and have ceased even to speak in the same language that ‘C2s’ speak.
To offer some very superficial support of this argument, one can look to a survey carried out the by the NRS, illustrating the socio-economic status, age and gender of the readership of various newspaper titles between January and December 2009. Now I ought to state from the outset that I am generally suspicious of surveys and polls and whatnot, and try not to set much store by them, and I offer this here only to try and glean some vague and broad patterns that might be helpful, rather than garner any detailed conclusions. That caveat inserted, there are some interesting finds;
For example, amongst ‘C2DE’ group, the market share of the Sun (22%) far eclipsed the Daily Mirror (12.2%) and dwarfs the Guardian (0.6%). Amongst the ABC1 voters the figures change a little, though the Sun (10.6%) remains more popular than the Daily Mirror (6.2%) and the Guardian (3.7%) respectively. I have, of course, picked the Sun and the Daily Mirror as broad market equivalents, but for those who think it unreliable to compare the Sun with the Guardian, in light of the socio-economic status of their intended target audience, then it is also worth noting that the Daily Mail also polls significantly higher than the Guardian amongst C2DE voters (7.7% vs 0.6) and ABC1 voters alike (11.8% vs 3.7%) . On Sundays, the News of the World is the stand out newspaper amongst C2DE voters (21.1% vs the 10.4% of the Sunday Mirror), whilst the Mail on Sunday(8.3%) significantly outpolls the Observer (0.7%), a figure that stands at 12.9% vs 4.1% amongst ABC1s.
As I said, a big pinch of salt is required, and one shouldn’t try and draw anything overly deep and meaningful out of the simplistic figures and caricatures I have offered here. That said, the larger pattern that emerges offers some substance to the overall charge; the kind of voters that New Labour are anguished about having lost prefer to read the kind of newspapers for which New Labour, largely speaking, has a barely-concealed disdain. Of course, no readership entirely reflects or agrees with the editorial line of any particular newspaper, but it is not unreasonable to expect at least a measure of confluence. And if that is the case, then this offers some statistical validification for the charge that Labour has for too long lined itself up as the political wing of the Guardian-reading, Fabianist and metropolitan elites, and all too often against the culture, identities, beliefs and even needs of the wider electorate it wishes to represent. Or, as Anthony Painter has it, writing with far more eloquence and clear-sightenedess than I;
‘…what this election has done in a way that hasn’t previously happened- even in the aftermath of the Iraq War- is that the Guardianrati is becoming separated from the Duffyprols. Labourism is becoming severed from liberalism. The strange thing about the curious case of Mrs Duffy is that the Prime Minister expressed a liberal elitist view when he referred to her as a ‘bigot.’ And yet he is not a liberal elitist which leads me to think that he did genuinely mishear or misunderstand her. What was absolutely clear was her shock when she was told that she had been described as a bigot because she was expressing what seems to her a perfectly reasonable set of arguments.’
I actually think that the split is rather more seismic than Painter allows, not least because the contemporary ‘progressive’ brigade are too authoritarian (and illiberal) for any genuinely pluralistic fusion of labourism and liberalism to be a genuine possibility, at least in the near future. Even so, the central insight is accurate, and one wonders if Labour will face down these uncomfortable truths and, even more courageously, take positive steps to address them. Or to express that a little differently, if Labour really want to win back the ‘C2s’ then it needs to put down the Guardian and, as painful as some might find it, start reading the Sun.
Will it happen? I’m not sure. With Cruddas dropping out of the leadership race, the remaining candidates pretty much all espouse precisely that narrow and closed ideology that has proved so alienating for many outside of the (highly vocal and influential though essentially marginal) liberal establishment. As with all things, only time will tell. Though I, for one, don’t hold out too much hope.
Immigration has all of a sudden become a hot issue for the left. Stung by the mass-abandonment of the Labour Party by ‘C2 voters’, they are grasping around for anything they think could be turned into the totemic issue for the lower socio-economic classes and so, naturally, have stumbled upon immigration. Partly this is to be welcomed; it has brought with it the genuine recognition that the benefits immigration brings for certain sectors of society must not always and necessarily trump the genuine anxiety it can cause amongst others. On the other hand, the danger is that Labour has begun to associate anti-immigration feeling per se with an angry ‘white-working class’, and this only on the basis of resources – predictably, this has enabled the Guardianistas to indulge in their favoured class war, writing off the ‘white-working classes’ as basically racist and bigoted, with nothing more sophisticated than a hunter-gatherer approach to quality of life, whose silence can be bought with a few well-directed resources thrown their way.
Now, I happen to think that the immigration issue is not chiefly about resources, though it is certainly also about that, but primarily concerns something much bigger: the loss of communality, of common concern and common endeavour, of shared identities and shared loyalties, of associative and reciprocal relationships. Aside from the atomistic individualism promoted by social-liberalism, I also think the multiculturalism of the metro-left has contributed to this situation, whilst cultural relativism has created it – after all, one can hardly offer a framework for shared identities if the particularities of the indigenous culture have already been denied as having any sort of authority in these lands. And if ‘British’ (in itself a diverse and multi-layered identity) culture has already had its primacy denigrated thus, so it cannot legitimately claim to be the overarching framework within which the rich and vibrant cultural expressions of various immigrant communities should situate themselves. All that is left is a vacuum, in which self-expression trumps commitment to any larger identity or loyalties – and the creation of endless ‘communities’ with no discernable cultural connection to one another or the place in which they reside.
I was thinking about this yesterday, after having attended Mass. The first thing to say about the Mass in Dundee Cathedral is that it is very beautiful (occasional Kendrickean abuses notwithstanding), but it is also very diverse, multi-aged and especially multi-racial. Yet the diversity and multi-racial element isn’t an end in itself, but rather a wonderful expression of the universality of that which unites us all; in this instance, our common faith, and our common expression of it. Our differences are celebrated under the banner of that which transcends and unites us – and for that reason we embrace the difference, and the genuine value it offers to our collective identity and culture.
Yes yes, all very gushing I know, but I think it illustrates well what I’m trying to articulate. And I’m not sure that the leftist intelligentsia, having debunked patriotic expression for at least a generation, have provided any alternatives that could perform a similar function in uniting diversity under a common banner. Again, cultural relativism has its part to play here, but in my experience this cultural timidity, some would call it self-loathing, is something very much confined to the left-liberal elite – I don’t think it affects the flag-waving working-classes so much (if anything it offends them) and my father-in-law, arriving from Calcutta in his teens, is very proud of this country, his country, what it stands for, and the particularities of its culture and history. And it is that particularity, the concrete expression of shared narratives and ideals (local, regional and national) that vague and fuzzy ideological buzzwords (equality, diversity etc. etc.) have been unable to replicate – as a result, the tribe of one particular ghetto (this in itself a legacy of multiculturalism) too often feel a million miles away from the tribe in the next one.
Of course, this is not easy, and being working-class, northern and Roman Catholic (with an Irish grandfather) means that I will no doubt have a radically different understanding of certain events in British history to, for example, a middle-class, southern Protestant. But this isn’t at all about jingoism, nostalgia, or excessive sentimentalism. It’s about organic connections to, and respect of, the transcending quirks of our culture and history and landscape and myriad other things, not to mention the many-layered identities bestowed through local, regional and national ties. It seems to me that these things are to be celebrated, not scorned upon, and upon them can commonality be founded – if the immigration debate starts talking more in these terms, of Labour’s record of having sown seeds of division in the name of ‘diversity’, then I think it will inch closer to the nub of the problem.
No doubt everyone will have read about Manish Sood today, the Labour Party candidate for North West Norfolk who stuck something of a spoke in the wheels of the election campaign by denouncing Gordon Brown as the worst Prime Minster this country has ever had and maintaining that he ought to apologise to both Queen and country for the mess we find ourselves in.
Now, politically speaking, this chap is clearly bonkers. He has strayed so far from normative procedural practice that he couldn’t realistically expect anything better than to be written off as a hopeless eccentric, or worse. And yet, one cannot help but wonder if this is precisely his strength, even if those increasingly despised robots walking round Westminster rigidly observing the established rules of the political game fail to see it. Undoubtedly, some of the things Sood says appear wholly daft, other things completely absurd, and his proclamation that we should aspire to live back in the 70s, for example, just sounds bizarre. But then, at the same time, by saying such a thing what is Sood really doing but expressing that deep and often buried truth that so many instinctively feel, even if they’re taught from an early age to always think otherwise – that things were better in the past, even the not-so-distant past, the past of our fathers and grandfathers before us. Perhaps then the man should have been a poet rather than a politician – though it is a shame that a politician can no longer be a poet.
So what did he say? Well, amongst various other things, some of them refreshingly bonkers, and for that reason containing an important nugget of truth, his basic argument seemed to be based on nothing more complicated than this: ‘The loss of social values is the basic problem, and this is not what the Labour Party is about’.
To which I would heartily agree. As would many working-class voters who Labour presume to think it still has a moral right to represent, despite it largely despising them nowadays. Of course, such utterances are enough to have one thrown out of the contemporary Labour establishment as a dangerous heretic; the modern Labour Party is no broad church, and anybody who thinks its social programme to be anything other than wholly enlightened must clearly be either a) a Tory dinosaur or b) a bigoted monster, which in New Labour minds is roughly the same thing.
Accordingly, all those people who might have historically been Labour voters have suddenly found themselves unceremoniously dumped, told that they’re dreadfully right wing, most laughably by a cabal of charlatans whose right-wing individualism underpins their social doctrines and whose right-wing Thatcherism underpins their economic doctrines. Mr Sood, as one would expect, immediately suffered precisely this fate, with Sunder Katwala tweeting that he’s a muppet (what, not a ‘bigot’?), and Peter Mandelson describing him as a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. All in all a good response, I would say.
Sood, however is unrepentant, and if anything his views are becoming more robust. He says in the Independent,
‘I will stand by what I say because I know it’s the truth and nothing but the truth… If they are not going to listen, I’m going to carry on saying what I’m saying because they are damaging the country… My motive is to clean up the system, to make Great Britain the best country in the world… People have lost respect for being British and being part of this system and part of this country… What I am saying is the right truth and nothing but the truth and as a result people have become too spoiled, too used to the system and too used to the bureaucracy, the corruption. I’m trying to improve the system… I am a true staunch Labour Party member, my policies fit in very well with the party, it’s just they can’t accept it because they have been too used to the modern-day thinking… I have still got an uphill battle ahead of me but I never give up. I’m a freedom fighter and I will continue because I am proud of being British and I want my country to be the best country in the world.’
‘Proud of being British and I want my country to be the best country in the world.’ For all his evident eccentricity this man has been courageous enough to say those things the political classes absolutely refuse to countenance, even if the public at large speak of little else. From out of nowehere, two days before what could be an era-defining election, one man, claiming to be the true possessor of the Labour ideal, an Asian man, the son of immigrants, standing in Norfolk of all counties, offering a social conservatism that would have been perfectly orthodox only a generation ago, oozing patriotism and a royalist to boot; this man, this Labour man, attacked his metro-masters and did it in the name of his country and his party. He might be a fool, but he’s a patriot. He might be wrongheaded, but he is undoubtedly right-hearted. He may be hated by those in Westminster; but then so was Cobbett.
Or maybe I’m creating a myth of a man. Think of him what you will. Disagree with his ideas (and some of them I really do). Ridicule him, slander him, mock him and despise him. But don’t think he will pass wholly unnoticed. Even if his name never appears again, his influence will already have had an impact, thrusting yet another wedge into an already breached hull, emboldening others to pick up their tools and tear apart this rotting wreckage of a ship, so that another one might be built in its place, a much better one, one more in keeping with the mind of its creators. I mentioned in a previous blog post that maybe, just maybe, this election will prove the high-tide of the pernicious ‘progressive’ influence on the Labour party, and that perhaps a heavy defeat will encourage a return to those roots that have been so systematically abandoned. If it does, then it will win more than it loses. If it does not, it will sink, holed beneath the water line, fatally missing those once loyal and resilient crewmen who would have got below deck, plugged the holes and manned the buckets, all the while cursing the name of their prancing Captain, abandoning them as he did for a passing ship called ‘the LibDem’.
After Mass in Dundee Cathedral yesterday we were given two handouts. The first was from the SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) and the second was a Scottish Bishops’ Election Statement. The SPUC handout was at pains to underline that they had no intention of telling anyone which way to cast their vote, before outlining with admirable sobriety the position of the leading candidates for both Dundee East and Dundee West on the issues of abortion, abortion on minors without parental consent, human-animal hybrid embryos used for research, euthanasia, assisted suicide and ‘living wills’. The Bishops’ Statement was also at pains to underline that they did not seek to tell anybody which way to cast their vote, but were hoping to encourage people to ‘let your faith count at the ballot box’. Which all adds further evidence to the increasingly obvious truth that, under sustained attack, Christians are mobilising in a way that I for one have certainly never experienced before.
Perhaps the most explicitly written section of the Bishops’ Statement came with these words;
The political choices we face today are not the choices your parents and grandparents faced. They would never have voted for any candidate who refused to protect unborn human life, who supported experimentation on human embryos, or planned to assist unfortunate people to commit suicide. They would never have voted for a candidate who would undermine marriage and family in the way that has happened in recent years with cross-party support. They would never have voted for candidates who rejoiced in same-sex unions. They would never have voted for candidates who would stop the Church offering adoption services. They would never have voted for candidates who were clearly hostile to the values they held dear. Your parents and grandparents voted for those they believed shared the fundamental Christian values as they did. It is for us to do likewise to shape a society where they dignity of each individual and life itself is respected.
Now, there’s two interesting things about that. Firstly, the last two sentences, and the general exhortation to ‘make faith count’, illustrates a wider and gradual detachment of the ‘faith vote’ from party tribalism and toward, as with the ‘progressive vote’, a body of floating voters who will vote for anyone who stands for, upholds and defends their moral and/or social values and beliefs (though not always – I know many who still refuse to vote Conservative, though I think even they could be winnable were there a Conservative Party that chose to engage them). This is both encouraging and problematic – as I have noted before, the result could well be the polarisation of society and a pernicious culture war in which only naked power, and those with the most of it, will in the end be victorious.
Secondly, apart from those extreme and reactionary social-liberals who will denounce this statement as being extreme and reactionary, there is plenty in that snippet which will be closer to the opinions of many than are the doctrines of the metro-bourgeoisie. And since Labour has become the political progeny of the ‘social revolution’, and since the Conservatives have historically and successfully offered some sort of counter-balance to the Left’s embrace of post-60s liberalism, then one might expect that the Tories would be willing, nay enthusiastic, about representing, as far as is expedient, precisely those opinions. Interesting, then, that when questionnaires were sent out to candidates in order that they might make clear their own position on a variety of controversial issues, all the main parties agreed to allow their candidates to speak for themselves. Except for one. The Tories.
The Bishops’ Statement ends with words that would have been perfectly well at ease across the political spectrum a generation or so ago.
‘It is our duty to encourage you to engage with the political process and to vote for the candidate who best represents the values we, like our parents and grandparents before us, hold dear’.
Only the political parties of today, all three of them, mock and despise the values our parents and grandparents held dear. As such, this voter remains undecided.