Diane Abbott writes an article in support of her leadership bid here, in which she makes two statements that I think give an insight into the ways in which the modern political classes really do get the common ground rather wrong.
Firstly, she states that, with regards immigration,
[W]e need to reject the notion, which virtually every other leadership candidate seems to be pushing, that somehow immigration lost us the election. By all means address the underlying reasons why (black and white) working-class people grumble about recent immigrants. Chief amongst these was New Labour’s ideologically driven insistence that the market could somehow provide housing for all, when we should have been promoting a building drive of high quality, well-managed public housing.
But we also need to address job insecurity and the rise of the agency worker. And we need to recognise that the way in which New Labour chipped away at the welfare state in the name of “choice” has left ordinary people frightened of the future. Above all we should be wary of appearing to collude with making immigrants the “scapegoat” in the middle of a recession. History teaches us where that can lead.
This would seem to suggest that Diane Abbott thinks, consistent with her generally patronising view of the lower socio-economic classes, that unrest over immigration is solely a question of resources, and that if you throw the malcontents a few more crusts of bread then they’ll retreat back to their caves and realise that the enlightened clique that imposed such radical and unrequested change upon them were actually right all along. That is, for Abbott, and for many others in her party too, the lower socio-economic classes are incapable of having anything other than a hunter-gatherer approach to the question societal change – and on this they are entirely wrong.*
For in approaching the problem from this direction, Abbott completely ignores the deep unpopularity of the identity politics the metro-left have embraced, and which the BNP have very much exploited to their favour (Labour claims to have beaten them off, but their vote doubled this election – though they admittedly stood in more seats – and they got double the votes of the Green Party). Or, to express that in relation to the immigration debate, it is the scale of change in a cultural sense that often lies at the root of anti-immigration feeling, and this cultural change has been both underpinned and actively promoted by the approach of the metro-left to cultural identity; which, in the broadest terms, essentially consists in portraying traditional and historical patriotic expression as A Bad Thing (they deny it of course, and maintain they have been patriotic all along, for at least as long, in fact, as we’ve been at war with Eurasia).
Thus, unlikely as some might think it, cultural relativism and the obsession with identity politics are genuine factors at play here – and really are related to the success of the BNP. In fact, I’d go further, and say that a very large part of the ideological framework that frames the contemporary left is unpopular amongst the wider electorate, particularly those lower socio-economic classes that have abandoned Labour so resoundingly. As such, the threat of the BNP isn’t solely situated in the lack of housing or jobs, though there is certainly an important element of that – it also lies in exploiting discontent with what appears to be the unfair and/or discriminatory elements of metro-liberal ideology, of which identity politics is a central part.
Thus, when Nick Griffin asks why it is perfectly legitimate to talk of the indigenous aboriginees but not the indigenous Brits, people are struck by that; when he asks why there can be a Black Police Association but not a white police association, people are struck by that; when he asks why people feel sneered and jeered at by the metro-left for waving the Cross of St. George (this is, in fact, an incredibly potent issue that could do with much more unpacking), people are struck by that. And so on and so forth. In short, Griffin plays upon a very real feeling of injustice which, crucially, goes much further than access to and allocation of various resources.
Which leads to the second statement,
Britain needs a Labour party renewed for the 21st century with a genuinely diverse leadership which looks like modern Britain.
Which, to any one of those lost Labour voters that have either become politically dormant or else actively BNP, sounds very much like the same identity politics that causes them to think Labour has abandoned them in the first place. Because historically when statements like these are made, the solution has all too often been to tilt the field in favour of preferred ‘diversity’ candidates which, obviously, means tilting it away from others. And as ‘diversity’ nearly always means skin colour or sexuality – very rarely does it encompass class – you can see why such statements might fail to win back the working-class white male voter who is, by and large, the chief defector from the Labour movement, particularly in the South.
To make the point, one might also quote Mehdi Hasan, who in considering Abbott’s candidacy said,
‘Could no suitable female or non-white candidates be found among the 258-strong parliamentary Labour party? Perhaps the party needed to appoint itself a diversity czar.’
In its own way this is both racist and chauvinist, and contrary to what many, brought up on the doctrine of meritocracy, would thinks constitutes either ‘equality’ or ‘fairness’. One could point out, and legitimately, that these groups are under-represented and so special meaures should be made for them, but then the white-working class male sat in his rented bedsit might also feel he could do with a helping hand too, and could certainly could do without anymore obstacles being placed in front of him, particularly ones he can do absolutely nothing about. One could hardly be surprised that there has thus arisen a deep feeling of unfairness, a feeling that the Labour Party has ‘abandoned people like us’ (perhaps the most common complaint), and indeed has actually set itself actively against them: ask these people what they think about the equal opportunities form found at the back of job applications, and you’ll get a good idea of the sentiment I’m trying to describe.
Pointing this out will, of course, bring out all the usual slurs from the metro-liberals, of offering the Daily Mail perspective, of being racist, of being a ‘bigot’ (funnily enough, the left have stopped using this word so much just recently, though a plucky few do carry on regardless). That is the collateral one must accept should ever one choose to challenge the ‘progressive’ consensus on, well, anything really. Even so, the points remain valid, and the left has some uncomfortable questions to ask itself about what it has become – I hope, for the sake of restoring some legitimacy to the notion of ‘representative democracy’, that they choose to engage in that process.
* David Goodhart stands out here, and though perhaps going further than I would comfortably go, he does touch upon an important theme that really needs to be talked about – the management of immigration in relation to core concepts of the common good, common identity, and common endeavour.