The Blairites and Middle Class Entitlement

Mike today put up a couple of pieces on the latest plans by the Blairites to hold on to power against Jeremy Corbyn and the majority of Labour members. One was to try and resurrect David Miliband as a challenger to Corbyn’s leadership. This is a sick joke, considering how unpopular Miliband was before under the old rules. He’d fare even worse now. And it shows how utterly cynical and manipulative they are about trying to insert him in Jo Cox’s vacant seat as the PLP’s preferred candidate, over the wishes of her constituency.

The other plan is a new, internal Labour party group, called Tomorrow’s Labour, which intends to set up an astroturf – fake grassroots movement – against Corbyn using spambots. This is pretty much against the rules of the internet as it is, and make a mockery of their claim to be fully transparent, and compliant with all existing rules.

I wonder how far the Blairites’ determination to hang on to power, no matter what the cost, is due to their sociological origins. I was talking to a friend of mine the other week, who remarked on the very middle class backgrounds of the Blairite politicians. Old Labour was largely, though not exclusively, working class. Many of its politicians had come into politics as members of their trades unions. These were people like Ernest Bevan, Nye Bevan, and the veteran Labour left-winger, Dennis Skinner. Obviously, there were even then members of the middle class involved in Socialist politics, like Clement Atlee, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and the Fabians. This began to change in the 1960s, as the Labour party deliberately set out to attract a more middle class membership, as advocated by Tony Crosland. In order to attract them, it played down and minimised its advocacy of nationalisation. The Labour leader at the time, Hugh Gaitskell, wanted to drop Clause 4, the section of the Labour party’s constitution which advocated nationalisation. He failed. Despite this move to the Right, the Labour party still remained committed to the national ownership of the utilities and certain other important industries, such as mining and steel. Crosland himself was responsible for the introduction of comprehensive schools. Although this has been very loudly decried, the old system of schooling did reinforce class divisions and prevent children from working class backgrounds rising upwards. The party was also committed to a planned economy, something that also went very much against the principles of free marketeers like Milton Friedman and von Hayek.

All this went out the window with the 1979 election victory of Thatcher and the continued electoral success of the Conservatives. This convinced the Labour Right to adopt all of her policies – privatisation, the destruction of the NHS as a public service, the dismantlement of the welfare state and increasing criminalisation of the poor. They also turned away from the working class, and concentrated on trying to win votes from middle class voters in marginal constituencies.

And the party’s demographics also changed. Many of the New Labour MPs were like Harriet Harman. She’s a millionaire. They tend to be very middle class boys and girls, privately educated, with the advantages that accrue to the members of those classes. They sit on the boards of companies, various quangos and are active in the charities. This is all very well, but it makes me wonder how far the Blairites are motivated by purely ideological convictions, and how much of it comes from instinctive class loyalty? These are people, who have never had to work hard to get into their current position of power. They don’t have much contact with the working class, and apparently share the middle classes’ hatred and fear of them. You can see it in their determination to cut down on welfare benefits for the unemployed and for their support for workfare, as well as the unchallenged belief in the sociological myth of mass pockets of unemployment where nobody in a family has worked for generations. And there’s the instinctive hatred of the privately educated businesspeople for the trade unions.

As a rule, the middle classes uncritically accept that they have a privileged place in society, which is theirs by right. A little while ago Secular Talk did a piece, reporting on a study that found that the richer you are, the more likely you are to believe that the existing state of society was just. I don’t doubt that. Now I don’t deny that some of them are genuinely concerned with enlarging democracy through campaigns against racism and for female empowerment. They may also sincerely believe in Thatcher’s twaddle about making conditions worse for people in order to encourage them to try to rise above their station. But they do so through the middle class assumptions they have inherited as part of their background, including their belief that they have an innate right to rule. This might not be articulated or even conscious, but it seems to be there.

Hence the determination to hang on to power whatever the cost, the wild, stupid denunciations of Corbyn’s supporters as hippy Trots wearing donkey jackets. The great unwashed are trying to take their party back after good, Blairite middle class types have tried to make it respectable. How dare they! And so we come to their attempts to clean out Corbyn’s supporters through denying them a voice, in order to retain their middle class supporters and appeal to a middle class electorate.

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