The far left have always taken the working class vote and support for granted. Where it has not been forthcoming there is the classic ‘false consciousness’ to fall back on. If only people knew where their real interests lie, goes the argument, they would not resist or oppose a socialist agenda or society. The working poor are used to garner sympathy for their ideas of creating a utopian society as well as reviled when they do not act and behave as expected.
One of the greatest issues Labour faced in the 1980s was how to win back the support of the more ambitious and mobile working class voters. This group is usually ignored or treated with contempt (Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney was a typical example of someone from an estate, with no taste, boorish but with cash to flash).
Yet there have always been those members of the working class who have endeavoured to improve their own circumstances using the means they have. Be it learning new skills, adapting to new workplaces, working hard in jobs they may not want while aspiring to those they do, as well as doggedly improving the circumstances of their children. This is what drives an illiterate man like my father to take his children to the library every fortnight for years. It is why my mother never let us of the hook for misbehaving at school or resorted to blaming teachers for our failings.
It would never have occurred to them that their children would fail because of their income. And now, as all three of us head towards our forties, it seems even more absurd. All of us went to university; I went twice. There are diplomas and certificates as a result of further training and education. The one brother who did struggle at university and dropped out, has worked steadily throughout his life, despite times of unemployment. Which is why I find myself baulking at bleeding heart liberals who inform me that poverty needs to be sorted in order for poor children to flourish. Of course, no doubt, they will claim I don’t understand the poor they are talking about, but, coming from people who are basing their ideas on stereotypes, I feel it is prudent to ignore such arguments.
Many don’t fit the narrative of hard-working but down-trodden, unable to make changes to our circumstances, bitter and angry at institutions that have let us down. While the far left were reviling Norman Tebbit (who, to be fair, said some revolting things), there were working class people moving around the country, learning new skills and some even went abroad to work. That is no criticism of those who for one reason or another did not have these options open to them, but it does give a different picture of this group in society than the one that middle class lefties like to portray. It shows how important equality of opportunity really is.
Structures matter, but so does action. Action does not require structures to change first, it is the cause of change in itself. It is the failure to grasp this and the way in which working class people have improved their circumstances that eludes the current Labour Party. Working class people, like all people, do not have to vote according to theories written by middle class revolutionaries. Neither is it true that they have always fared better under socialist or left wing governments. If we really want to win this group back, then we need to learn that being aspirational does not mean being greedy or selfish. Wanting a better life for oneself or one’s children, does not mean that the person is less than someone who can’t or won’t for whatever reason. Ideas alone do not give hope, we need real, pragmatic and realistic proposals in order to ensure that, even if we don’t win back voters from this group, we certainly do not lose them in the next election.
This post was originally published on the Labour Teachers website.