Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A touch of class

Around the blogosphere and in various newspapers there are still quite a few people who seem to think that the introduction of the 50p tax rate had something to do with raising revenue. It won't and it wasn't. It was about Labour doing something - anything - that would win them favour with the Old Labour class warriors and, to be fair, from what I've seen and heard it has mostly worked.

Over the last few years, Labour has kind of abandoned their traditional cause of sticking up for the working man - which, at least in part, has allowed the British National Party to flourish - and moved on to pastures new such as discrimination, immigration, multiculturalism, sexual orientation and so on.

There are a couple of reasons for this, in my opinion. First of all, let me say that it wasn't because the class system had been erased and was therefore no longer appropriate for the Labour Party to fight for the working man. The class system is alive and well - just slightly restructured with considerably less movement between social groups. The social mobility that characterised the forties and fifties has not only been frozen - it's been largely reversed and people find themselves entrenched in a social class with little opportunity to move on.

We have also lost the slow improvement in meritocracy that was, gradually, taking place in Britain before the advent of progressive dogma. Although it is true to say that it is less now about having the right school tie, it is now - as much as ever - necessary to belong to the right "club". It's not so much who you know, anymore - it's what you think that opens doors to the institutions of power.

Anyway - the first reason that Labour abandoned their traditional working class roots is that they realised that achieving their aims would effectively mean the end of their raison d'etre. The Labour Party was formed to support the working class man - but once the socialist model had achieved hegemony then working class man no longer mattered. So they had to find other reasons for being and other causes to support - hence the branching out into the areas above.

The other reason is that the Labour Party could not foresee any circumstance whereby their core voter base would vote any other way. Who else was white working man going to vote for? Yes, there were a fair few who switched to supporting Thatcher in 1979 - but given the mess Labour had made of things, who could blame them?

Besides, that disaffection was also driven by the Labour abandonment of social conservatism - pretty soon the electorate would realise that the Tories had also abandoned social conservatism as well and they'd all come back to the fold. They had to - there was no alternative - except not to vote which many many people are increasingly choosing to do.

But the Labour Party didn't reckon with the BNP or the Internet. They thought they could just continually smear the BNP as racist extremists and, with the support of the MSM and various other groups, that would be enough to ensure the BNP would always be seen as "right wing extremists".

Unfortunately for Labour, the BNP publish their views and their policies on the Internet and anyone can go and take a look for themselves what they really say and what their policies are - and when they do, as many thousands are doing every week by all accounts, they find that the policies of the "far right extremists" are actually fairly socialist Old Labour policies which, not that long ago, would have been quite at home in a Labour Party Manifesto.

Unsurprisingly, this has found favour with a considerable number of white working class people who feel abandoned by their traditional party of choice and led to a trickling of support away from Labour and to the BNP - but the trickle keeps getting bigger and soon it may be a stream and then a flood - and that worries Labour.

They've found that continually shouting down the BNP as far-right racist nutters isn't actually putting people off the BNP. Instead, all it is doing is alienating and offending those people who have taken a look for themselves and found themselves in considerable agreement with much of what the BNP say. Labour may have been able to win those people back with reasoned argument - but calling them racist scum isn't going to do it.

So Labour have reverted to their old ways - bash the rich. They would have liked to have done far more than they did, but they realise that too much would scare off many of the floating voters who, now more than ever, are essential to their chances of securing any future role in government.

Hence the 50p tax rate - nothing to do with raising revenue and everything to do with trying to stem the loss of support from the white working class. To be honest, I don't think it will work. Any kudos they regain from the white working class isn't going to be enough to sway the balance in their favour unless they can come up with other ways and means of showing that they mean it without alienating the floating voter into believing that Labour are back to their old tax and spend ways (which they never actually abandoned).

The next General Election isn't winnable for Labour - instead they will have to rely on the Tories to lose it. And I still don't believe that that is beyond the realms of possibility.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree that class is entrenched. My grandfather was solid working class (union convener for Aslef), my father was a policeman (lower middle class) and I am a University Professor (arguably upper middle class) and I can thank (old) Labour for the scholarship that allowed me to progress both academically and socially.

Mind you are right in one sense in that I don't think I'd have the same opportunities under new Labour.

Stan said...

Yeah - but how old are you?

Social mobility was far more active 20-30 years ago than it is now. There are, of course, still opportunites to move around the social class system, but they are far more limited than they once were. And I'm not sure that Upper Middle Class exists any more in any meaningful way. There was a time when those class sub-divisions mattered - for the social class you mixed in - but I don't think they do now and that is, in my opinion, generally a good thing. Damn - I could go on forever about class ....

The entrenchment comes from the easy availability of welfare which tends to breed dependency - and that is passed on from father to son. As Lao Tzu put it - give a man a fish, you feed him for a day - but more than that, if you keep giving him a fish every day he'll become dependent on you giving him fish. His family will see that if you hang around someone gives you a fish - you don't have to work for it. Let someone else do that.

Result - entrenchment.