David Skelton: Snobbery against the white working-class is all too common among the “progressive” Left
David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map.
A new snobbery has taken hold within elements of the liberal-Left. This new snobbery is all too often proudly on display across social media and the target of this new snobbery is always the white working-class.
As the Left becomes increasingly middle class, both in their electorate and in their representatives, they have become increasingly detached from those working-class voters that the Labour movement was established to represent.
This means that a sneering attitude towards working-class voters is too often accepted among elements of what Michael Lind described as a “managerialist elite” on the Left, at the same time as those white working-class voters remain economically, culturally and, in many ways, politically, marginalised.
You don’t have to look hard to find examples of the new snobbery. Only last week, parts of social media were alight with self-congratulation about a new work of modern art that had appeared in Bristol. The sculpture was of an overweight man, wearing a string vest. On the wheelie bin itself were the words “spoiler: St George was Turkish.” It was a clear display of neo-snobbery, accompanied by the smug condescension that overflows from Twitter every St George’s Day.
Only a few days earlier, a media producer rightly criticised the behaviour of some far-right thugs in Parliament Square only to also suggest that they looked like they had been “born in a Wetherspoons” – that would be the Wetherspoons that has 900 pubs and employs almost 40,000 people.
The infamous cover of The New European that had the “Jolly Fisherman” mascot of Skegness flipping the “V-sign” while wearing a jumped carrying the slogan “Go Away” is another example of the new snobbery, as were the sneering comments about the lengthy queues outside some Primark stores earlier last week.
In too many cases, the white working-class are ridiculed, stereotyped and portrayed as somewhere between bigoted and racist. Such crude prejudice and stereotyping would be rightly unacceptable for any other group and they should be utterly unacceptable about the white working-class as well.
These attitudes crossed into the mainstream after the Brexit referendum, in which working-class voters propelled the vote to Leave after decades of being economically marginalised and politically ignored. Too many Remainers refused to accept that working-class voters had voted Leave because they had thought through the arguments and had come to their decision logically.
Instead, many middle-class Remain supporters resorted to downright snobbery to explain the fact that working-class voters had overwhelmingly voted to Leave. This attitude was, of course, compounded when many of these voters voted Conservative for the first time, partially in response to condescending overtures from the Left that a second referendum would give them a second chance to give the “right answer”.
Dismissal of working-class voters has been compounded with the rise of what John Gray describes as “woke militants”. Rather than rightly focus on existing injustices faced by the BAME community, such as in criminal justice and economic inequality, the fringe of the “woke” movement is driven by a near Maoist belief that British history is a long trail of unblemished negativity.
Part of this is a belief in “white privilege” – that comes from their division of society into oppressed and oppressor groups, with white working-class males falling firmly into the oppressor category. The idea that the men, like my Grandad, who died young with black lung disease after decades working down the pit were somehow beneficiaries of white privilege is clearly a nonsense.
The idea that those workers the Labour Party was set up to represent were actually beneficiaries of “white privilege” is clearly folly and the fact that some Labour politicians talk about such a concept shows how far Labour has drifted from many working-class voters.
The white working-class became politically, economically and culturally marginalised at just the time when the impact of ignoring or mocking their concerns had become clear. They became squeezed between an economic liberalism that shook up patterns of secure employment and a cultural liberalism that belittled the worldview and marginalised the concerns of many working-class people.
Working-class voters bore the brunt of the economic decline that followed deindustrialisation, with proud and dignified work being replaced with low skilled, often insecure work. The same voters were among the hardest hit by the decade long-wage stagnation that followed the banking crash. Health and social problems continue to be a major issue, with male life expectancy in the most deprived areas being almost a decade lower than in the least deprived areas.
White, working-class boys are the lowest performing demographic group at GCSE level and research has shown that this educational divide becomes entrenched from the age of five.
The same group are also amongst the least represented at university. Indeed, research earlier this year found that more than half of universities had less than five per cent of students from white working-class backgrounds, despite this demographic being the largest proportion of the population.
Bold steps will be needed to tackle these economic, social and educational divides. Focusing education reform on those areas most in need will be one part of this, as will ensuring that this reform also includes a boost to early years education and an ambitious programme of dual-track vocational education.
Education reform must be accompanied with the revival of “post-industrial” towns and cities so that social mobility doesn’t become synonymous with escape for the few and stagnation for the rest. An ambitious programme of industrial renewal could help both revive many towns and make our economy more resilient.
The snobbery about the white working-class is an unacceptable underbelly of much of today’s “progressive” Left. By voting Conservative in record numbers last December, these voters in the “Red Wall” and beyond showed that the sneering attitude from much of the Left hadn’t gone unnoticed.
It’s now incumbent on the Government to ensure that this trust is repaid and living standards are dramatically improved for working-class voters.
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