By Ian Silvera
Recently, there’s been much discussion of a new ‘Blue Labour’ movement – a vote winning mix of social conservativism and economic interventionism. However, there’s nothing new or revolutionary about ‘Blue Labour’, in fact it seems some in the Labour Party have recovered from their ideological amnesia and remembered the original core vote for the Labour Party – the working classes. It’s a shame that the phrase ‘Blue Labour’, essentially the generalised views of the working class male, has to be coined to get any considerable attention.
For a long time now working class voters, especially men, have felt isolated by the Labour Party. I live in Coventry, once the proud home of Jaguar, Alvis, Rover, Massie Ferguson and Peugeot factories. Now, Coventry is a desolate shell of a city, where the people are proud and tenacious, but with no industry to be proud and tenacious about. The Specials, Coventry’s second most famous import after Lady Godiva, sum up the social/economic situation eloquently: “Government leaving the youth on the shelf. This place is coming like a ghost town”. Coventry, despite being geographically cantered in the West Midlands, may as well be considered ‘Northern’, at least for those who use a London lexicon.
For all that, Coventry, with all three constituencies’ red, is a ‘Labour town’ and draws in a lot of working class support. Despite this, the working class voter still feels used by the party, his views aren’t listened to since they aren’t fashionable or are branded undesirable – as was the case when Gordon Brown regrettably called Gillian Duffy a ‘bigoted woman’ after presenting sensible concerns about Brown’s immigration policies. In ‘Labour towns’ like Coventry, the main reason that people vote Labour is as an anti-Tory vote – the working classes still feel the scars of Thatcher’s brutalising privatisation experiment. Had David Davis MP become Conservative Party leader in 2005, I sincerely doubt that Coventry South – originally won by Jim Cunningham MP as a swing seat in 1997 – would have stayed Labour after the 2010 general election. My inclinations, although not as sound as social research, I must concede, tell me that Davis’ sensible social conservative stance would have won over those working class voters whom in 2010 and now are deeply disillusioned with the liberal – and let’s not escape away from using the e-word – elite Labour Party hierarchy.
Moreover, other seats in typical ‘Labour towns’ would have felt considerable pressure from a socially conservative position presented by Davis. To some extent, then, give thanks to those in the Conservative parliamentary party who voted in Cameron, whom, despite best intentions, didn’t, and doesn’t now, yield any consistent political ideologies and is grossly out of touch with the “common man” (it’s such a cliché, I felt obliged to use speech marks).
Below I want to outline just two ‘Blue Labour’ policy debating points that can help us win the next general election:
First, All Women Shortlists (AWS). I have, for a long time now, campaigned against All Women Shortlists. ‘Why?’ you may protest, ‘they’re part of a progressive policy?’. I have no doubt that those who support the AWS have sincere intentions, like me they have concerns about the disproportionate amount of middle-class white males in British politics.
Before you label me sexist, chauvinistic or any other similar slurs, I would like to point out I’m on your side, I’m a feminist. However, feminism, at least for me, is a sub-ideology of egalitarianism. What I mean to say by this is that feminism promotes equality among the sexes, in short whether you are male or female you should receive the same rights, pay and working conditions. So when a piece of party policy favours one group over the other, like AWS, I feel this is a scandal. It’s a scandal because males – sometimes working class males – are discriminated against for the sake of middle-class women who have one main biological qualification – they have different genitals.
Of course, there’s a euphemism to cover up such an undemocratic policy that is ‘affirmative action’ and where this euphemism fails to convince, you can replace it with the equally ridiculous ‘positive action’.
Second, immigration. Like issues of sexual equality, immigration can become an extremely heated and emotive subject. Simply put, working class party members want stricter immigration laws because they feel threatened by an influx of immigrants. ‘Labour towns’, which still are bitter about Thatcher’s cruel destruction of manufacturing; don’t want more people competing for an ever more scarce and valuable job. The problem is that liberal members of the party don’t engage in a sensible debate about immigration policy, instead they brand the working class view as ‘reactionary’, ‘racist’ and/or ‘xenophobic’. This is disturbing. By avoiding a serious debate about immigration, the liberals inadvertently push working class voters towards the likes of the BNP and the EDL.
The Labour Party is a broad church and remains the only political party in the country that has the potential to make changes for the good. However, since New Labour’s conception, those fellow party members of the liberal persuasion have held an undemocratic monopoly over Labour’s policy making process. This new revival of ‘Blue Labour’ politics should help re-connect the Labour Party with its roots. What is more, by adopting more socially conservative positions – tougher prisons, tougher on immigration and so on – we will be able to win over those who feel disillusioned with their own party on the right.