A group of statues at Bermondsey on the south Bank of the River Thames in London. An elderly man is depicted waving at a little girl who is playing with a cat.
Dr Alfred Salter was a doctor in Bermondsey in the late Victorian era. He and his wife lost their only child to illness and he dedicated his life to improving living conditions in working class areas of London. He was also a member of the British Labour Party.
It is a familiar enough story. It happened in Bermondsey…in Birmingham…in Belfast….in Berlin….in Boston…in Baltimore. Good-natured people with a potentially comfortable lifestyle, who dedicated their lives to others. Philanthropists. Do-Gooders. ….Middle class people.
The rise of Labour is only in part about the Working Class. The facilitators were the educated, middle class, often fired by Christian or other “faith” conscience.
In Britain, the reformers like Clement Attlee, Michael Foot and Tony Benn (formerly hereditary peer Viscount Stansgate) were from priveleged backgrounds and arguably class traitors. The same might be said of the Milliband brothers. But I doubt if it will be said about Tony B Liar and Peter Mandelson.
Class is not a rigid thing. But Attlee, Foot and Benn are the exceptions to a rule. Other priveleged people like David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson are more typical. They dont extend a helping hand. Their membership of the Bullingdon Club and the Conservative Party are extensions of their own privilege.
Of course it works both ways. There is a lot of aspiration in the working class. I will be blunt. I was born and raised in a West Belfast slum to a father who was chronically ill and usually unfit for work. As he often said, his ambition for me was to have a job where I worked indoors and carried nothing heavier than a pencil. The way out was Education. My father would be delighted with my comfortable existence but even more delighted that I held on to his value system.
Too many left West Belfast for Carryduff, Glengormley and Crumlin and left their values behind. “Fur Coat….no Knickers”. And I am sure thats replicated in Liverpool, Birmingham, London and the rest. Probably true of Chicago, Boston and Detroit.
Of course Gratitude is thin on the ground. The New Testament reckoned that one of ten lepers came back to say “thank you” and (British) Labour struggled with the “ingratitude” that Labour voters preferred to buy and resell the council houses that Labour had provided ….and move to Essex and other leafy middle class areas. Labour has never really recovered from the aspiration that they could not understand.
Likewise the “mutual societies” with members like the Abbey National Building Society and Halifax Building Society changed to being “banks”. Literally millions of members were bribed into abandoning the noble concept with £100 of shares with the near certainty of a quick profit when the shares were bought by corporate investors.
Likewise Labour felt a sense of betrayal when various State utilities were sold off by Thatcher and working class people enthusiastically bought into it.
Thatcher did create a property owning population. She did not quite create a share-owning population. But she certainly did detach the Labour Party from a large part of its natural support.
Had the working class turned on Labour and embraced Thatcher? Well, only to the extent that Labour over-stated Ideology. The rise of the Labour Party in the early and mid 20th century was accompanied by the fall of the Liberal Party. And increasingly the post-war Labour Party is a coalition of socialists and liberals with arguably a cross-over with social democrats.
Realistically Tony B Liar was never a true socialist or even social democrat. He was a neo-liberal and as it turned out, a neo-con…or simply a con.
B Liar in Sedgefield and Mandelson in Hartlepool …unlikely combinations. I excuse the Millibands in South Shields and Doncaster but isnt Tristram Hunt an unlikely MP for Stoke? This Blairite takeover has ruined Labour. They lost Brexit to Farage in the north of England but only because Labour was not listening.
Labour took the north for granted. After Brexit, TV reporters scurried north to interview any elderly person carrying a LIDL shopping bag….elderly, northern and poor….surely meant uneducated and racist? The truth is that the elderly saw little benefit in EU. After all a 58 year old woman might well have thought that she would get a state retirement pension when she reached 60…..now of course she must wait to 67 ….is it any surprise that the working class were unconvinced by REMAIN university students bleating about losing their exchange study programme in Germany and their CV-boosting internships in Brussels.
Ah yes…young REMAIN politicos whine about people like me selling out their futures. But they never notice that those 58 year old women had their futures sold out by Westminster. Any chance of them noticing that older people value our limited futures at least as much as young people value their extensive futures?
Nope….apparently young people cant afford it. The young leftist politicos…the unworthy successors to Dr Salter ….are great at the macro. Holding a university degree in Politics is all very well….but few know or care about the Durham Teaching Assistants….victims of Labour councillors!!!…and no national coverage. Where is Liz Kendall? YVette Cooper? Jess Phillips?…..where are the Labour feminists when it actually matters?
The Durham Teaching Assistants are ….women. Just the wrong kinda “women” for Liz, Yvette and Jess to agonise about in the opinion pages of The Guardian. You may not have noticed that the London-based media is in no hurry to head north to interview Teaching Assistants in Durham.
I declare an interest. The Labour….I repeat LABOUR councillors who sacked their Teaching Assistants are being challenged by local people at next year’s council elections and one is a friend and fellow-blogger, David Lindsay. I declare my support for David’s campaign.
Working class people will find no saviours in the Tory Party…or UKIP….but have they really any champions in the Labour Party except Jeremy Corbyn, vilified by Liz, Yvette and Jess?
Brexit and the US Presidential Election.
The English working class were unconvinced by letters in The Guardian. Letters signed by the Great and the Good who are always writing letters to The Guardian (ooops I wrote this before a letter co-signed by me was published!)
The American blue-collar workers were unconvinced by Hillary Clinton…is it any real surprise that Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Meryl Streep and the assorted Hollywood A-listers who campaigned for the Former First Lady only convinced themselves. A woman whose prime policy was her own sense of entitlement will be an unlikely champion of a people struggling in Wisconsin and Michigan.
There is of course a parallel. The Media….head to Youngstown to grab passers-by to explain themselves. Why did these blue-collar voters turn to Donald Trump? The Media lazily call them stupid and racist.
There IS a fault-line.
Few if any members of the cast of “Saturday Night Live” or the contributors to Stephen Colbert and those other satire shows are Trump supporters but simply insulting and ridiculing half of the voters in the United States is not the way to win friends and influence people.
Likewise in Britain, few if any of the panelists on “QI”, “Have I Got News For You” and “Mock The Week” will have voted for Brexit…but the values of those who did are routinely abused on these shows.
In Norn Iron, we have no comedians….unless at a stretch, you consider Tim McGarry and Jake O’Kane to be comedians. Satire isof course healthy but while we have so much to lampoon, the targets are really the people deemed too stupid to vote the “right way”.
Hillary Clinton’s advisors steered her away from the concerns of blue-collar workers in the “rust belt” and steered her away from the Dakota Standing Rock issue. People were taken for granted.
The Labour Party has turned its back on the north of England. Too many back-benchers feel they will be defeated. They are intent on damaging the Labour Party as much as they can before they go.
There was a time when the prime concern of the Labour Party was the working class. In the world of “Identity Politics”, the working class is just another “minority”.
“Identity Politics” is the very opposite of what people like Dr Salter stood for all those years ago in South London. He was advocating for the rights of others…not himself. And this is what the modern Labour back-bencher does not get….it is all about their rights and their careers.
The British Labour Party, the American Democrat Party….and our very own SDLP …have good track records on advocating the rights of others. Altruism is not something which should embarras people seeking to be involved in Politics.
“Identity Politics” underscores it. Really I am sick of it. If you want to advance working class “rights”, then talk about that. Dont preface your speech with “speaking as a gay man…” Or “as a woman….”. And dont fill my Facebook page with a selfie of you and your mates “wasted” at the latest place to be seen.
Just do it!
Or should I preface every post with “speaking as a wee old fat baldy man…..”