Mad Right-Winger Alex Belfield Calls for the Revival of Working Men’s Clubs

Certain commenters on this blog have described Alex Belfield as my favourite right-winger. Well, he’s not quite that, but I do admit, I watch his videos, which may not be a good thing at all. Belfield is, I’m fairly sure, a working class Tory. He talks about how he comes from a pit estate and inveighs against the way the White working class has been neglected by liberals in the BBC and politics. Who, as he sees it, all read the Guardian, eat oysters like Naga Manchetti, for whom he seems to have a particular dislike, and are determined to push ‘box-tickers’ like gays, the ‘ambivilacious’, by which he means trans and non-binary people, and folks of colour over ordinary working people. His audience is very much the same type of people, who formed UKIP’s constituency: working class Whites in their fifties and over, who feel left behind by the mainstream parties.

There is a genuine issue here. Tony Blair and his successors abandoned the working class in the pursuit of middle class votes and Tory swing voters. At the same time, they retained and promoted minority rights and issues, loudly supporting multiculturalism, feminism and gay rights. The result was that a large section of the working class has become alienated from the Labour party, with many socially conservative older members attracted to right-wing organisations and individuals like the Kippers, Nigel Farage and Belfield. About a decade ago, the BBC put on a series of programmes about race and contemporary racial politics in the UK. One of those was a documentary asking if the White working class was being written out of contemporary politics. The trailer for this showed a man, in stereotypical working class clobber, having words written in black on his face until he gradually became invisible. I think it’s a fair question, and the Labour left is serious about tackling this alienation within an anti-racist framework by working hard for all members of the working class. That’s the best way of fighting Fascism and right-wing populism. But the voices, who are most vocal about defending the White working class are people like Belfield.

And these are people whose political and economic views are actively hostile to working class interests.

Belfield in many ways is a case in point. A few days ago he put up a video lamenting the state of the country. He was particularly concerned about the NHS and the massive waiting lists that have emerged due to Tory maladministration. The Health Service, he declared, was no longer fit for purpose, and would and should be scrapped. He wants it sold off to private administration. In fact, it’s the Tories’ piecemeal privatisation of the NHS that is responsible for waiting lists and poor service, and this will only get worse as they hand over more of it to their noxious backers in the private sector. And if the NHS is sold off completely, it will be transformed into a for-profit service, funded by private medical insurance like America’s. The result will be disastrous. Thousands of people will die and go without the medical care they need because they won’t be able to afford it. Already GPs’ surgeries, that have been handed to private healthcare suppliers, have been closed and their patients left without their traditional doctors, because these surgeries haven’t provided as big a profit to their owners as they’d like.

By championing the NHS’ privatisation, Belfield is most definitely working against, not for, his working class viewers and listeners.

He’s also concerned about the lack of opposition to Boris Johnson from the Labour party. He has a point, although it seems to come from his opposition to the lockdown and frustration that all of the parties are supporting it. Looking at the recent dismal election results for Labour, Belfield had a few suggestions of his own how the party could win back votes. Instead of concentrating on issues no-one’s really interested in, like trans rights, Labour should go back to talking to its traditional working class supporters, and start listening to them and take on board the issues that matter to ordinary people. These are bread and butter issues like healthcare provision, jobs and getting enough money to put food on the table. I agree, although I do think that the debate over trans rights is immensely important, if only because of the massive expansion of the number of young women and girls now self-identifying as trans. Labour should be fighting for better healthcare, combatting unemployment and poverty.

But this means a wholesale rejection of Tory and Blairite neoliberalism, a neoliberalism Belfield supports.

It means kicking the parasites out of the NHS and renationalising it. It means restoring the welfare state, so that the poor, the disabled, the elderly and the unemployed are given enough to live on. It means ending the wretched gig economy, including fire and rehire and zero hours contracts. And it definitely means an end to the wage restraint which has seen working people effectively take a cut in wages, while the salaries of the elite become ever more obscenely bloated.

Belfield also clearly misses the decline of traditional working class communities. And this is where he got really interesting. He wanted the return of the old working men’s clubs.

Now I actually agree with him there. Traditional working and lower middle class communities had a solidarity and ethos of mutual support that has vanished as society has become more individualistic. Thatcherism, and it’s Labour party variety, Blairism, partly drew on the decline of the British working class. As more people moved out of the working class into the lower middle class, taking up white collar jobs and buying their own homes rather than living in council estates, the right became convinced that working people were no longer a political force. A few months ago I found a video from one of the right-wing political sites on YouTube, in which a pundit blandly declared that Labour was doomed when working people moved away from their traditional working conditions. When they stopped living in back-to-back housing, for example. I disagree. More people may have moved into the lower middle class, but very many of them still have the views, aspirations and desires traditionally associated with the working class. It doesn’t matter that many of them are now office workers – working conditions in many offices and call centres is as ruthlessly exploitative as Victorian factories. See books like White Collar Sweatshop. Working people, whether labourers or office clerks, still want job security, protection from zero hours and exploitative short term contracts. They want proper sick and maternity pay. They also want proper wages that will support them and their families. They also want and deserve proper NHS treatment, a working welfare state and public utilities that are owned and operated by the state for the good of the British people, not for private, foreign investors.

Which are all Corbynite policies.

The right in America and Britain has benefited from the decline in traditional working class communities. One book I read attacking the Neocons, Confronting the New Conservatism, argued that the neo-Conservatives had been successful in gaining public support because of the social atomisation that came from the decline of working class institutions. The decimation of the trade unions and other working class institutions meant that many working people only met collectively with others when they went to church. And the ‘White flight’ of White working class people to the suburbs away from Black communities in the urban core meant that Black and White Americans were separate and divided, and so the right could play on White racial fears.

This atomisation would be reversed if working class institutions, like the old working men’s clubs, came back.

I don’t think they could be called ‘working men’s’ clubs, not after the progress of feminism. Working people’s clubs, perhaps? It may not be possible to revive them, as it would mean taking on the aggressive individualism that has advanced over the last century, as well as reviving community entertainment and participation so that it could compete with TV, computer games and the internet. But if it could be done, it could very well lead to a very strong revival in working class consciousness. A working class consciousness that would be shared by the lower middle class.

And that could very well scupper all the Thatcherite and Blairite bilge of the last forty-odd years.

Which would be very upsetting for Tories like Belfield.

Let’s do it!

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20 Responses to “Mad Right-Winger Alex Belfield Calls for the Revival of Working Men’s Clubs”

  1. trev Says:

    WMCs were great in their day but I think their day has probably gone. Our local one when I was a kid used to organize a kids day trip to the seaside, which was great for families who couldn’t necessarily afford a holiday every year. We went to Butlins at Filey for the day, all the kids on one coach with piles of comics and bottles of pop, whilst the mums followed along in another coach. The kids were let loose in Butlins for the day and you all met up with your mums for tea in the dining room before setting off back. Great memories. Saturday night there would be a “turn” on in the club, could be a singer or comedian or a magic act. There was bingo for the adults and us kids had to keep quiet whilst that went on, which we hated. There was a tap room behind the bar that was for men only. The air in both the tap room and the lounge was thick with a cloud of tobacco smoke. Most of the men worked at the local factory, which also had another social club on the council estate with playing fields for the rugby team. Everyone knew each other. But those sorts of communities don’t exist like they did in the 60s/70s, the industry doesn’t exist, the factories and mills have gone, people don’t know all their neighbours. Times have changed. And heavy drinking as a pastime is no longer in vogue like it was 50 or 60 years ago. Mind you, so far as I know there is still a flourishing WMC in Bradford that I know of, in an area/district called Idle, yep you can be a fully paid up member of the Idle Working Men’s Club (Affiliated).

    • beastrabban Says:

      I like that – the Idle Working Men’s Club. It brings to mind Oscar Wilde’s old quip – ‘Work is the curse of the drinking classes.’ Our church used to organise a day trip out to Weston-Super-Mare for the children and their mothers when I was a lad in the ’70s and ’80s. That’s a local seaside resort on the Severn estuary. I say ‘seaside’, but you can’t get to the sea because of the foul mud between the sand and the water. Nevertheless, it was fun going there, getting fish and chips and having rides on the donkeys.

      • gillyflowerblog Says:

        Have been to the Idle working men’s club. At one time camra membership gave you temporary membership. A huge cavernous place as I recall. And oh yes Weston on the mud!
        Gill

      • beastrabban Says:

        I had a friend who was a member of Camra, or at least had a taste for proper real ales. He introduced me to a number of great beers, like Museum Ale and Old Peculiar. I gave up drinking some time ago, and there is a problem with binge drinking in this country. This is a pity, as there are some great beers out there which deserve to be savoured.

      • gillyflowerblog Says:

        I’m not sure where I said I binge drank. Whatever that means. A couple of pints of real ale is hardly a binge. And if you drank old peculiar it must be years ago. Far more lighter, golden beers around these days
        Gill

      • trev Says:

        O.P. is a favourite of mine but I could only drink one, maybe two, pints. People like me wouldn’t keep a WMC going or a pub for that matter though the beer was subsidised and sold cheaper in WMC. My father wasn’t a big drinker either, 3 or 4 pints of Bitter on a Saturday night was his norm, 5 and he was staggering pissed, bur some of the guys I remember would be 10 pints a night men, my own brother-in-law, an avid WMC goer, would down 14 pints on a Saturday night and another 10 on Sunday lunch/afternoon. Thankfully (most) people don’t drink to such excess now but these were hard working men who spent the week sweating it out doing manual labour or machine work in factories, mills,foundries, coal mines all week and boy did they build up a thirst, it was they who kept the WMC going in the days before cheap off-licences and supermarket beer, before multi-channel smart tv or the internet, etc. Times have changed. Craft beers and real ale are all very well but too expensive for the hardened drinker, in comparison to the subsidised John Smiths, Websters, or Tetley bitter they used to sell in WMC.

      • Brian Burden Says:

        Regarding Beastrabban’s Camra friend, there is an interesting link between Socialism and real ales. After Paul Foot displaced Roger Protz as editor of Socialist Worker, Protz, as I recall, subject to correction, took up a job with Camra.

      • trev Says:

        Some of the smaller craft breweries that have sprung up in recent years *could* be run as Workers Co-ops, but I’m not sure if any of them are, just seems to me that the small-scale brewing of beer might be something that could lend itself quite well to such a style of ownership. There’s a small brewery pub just down the road from me (not a CoOp though)and I once applied for a job there but didn’t even get a reply, the workers all seem pretty young when I walk past, 20s/30s, so it may be an age thing. Pity because I could be there in literally 5 minutes! I’ve heard the beer is very expensive, £5/£6 a pint for Stout. It’s a completely different scene, experience, business model, clientele to a WMC.

      • gillyflowerblog Says:

        Keith Flett writes a good blog too. Often on real ale, breweries, as well as socialist history, beards, and cricket!
        Gill

      • beastrabban Says:

        Hi Gilly – you didn’t say you binge drank. I was speaking generally about Britain today – sorry for the confusion! 🙂 Although, actually, young people are actually drinking less, so I’m wrong about that as well.

      • beastrabban Says:

        All the good stuff then, Gilly! But I think you’re right, Trev – a microbrewery could be run by a cooperative. And if it’s any good, it should get some local support, with drinkers taking pride in their local ale.
        It’s been a long time since I drank, but I don’t doubt that beers now are that expensive. I’ve seen such prices when I’ve been out with friends for a pub lunch. Which might be why some of the younger peeps aren’t drinking – not only is it bad for your health, but it’s also too expensive.

      • Brian Burden Says:

        Back in the seventies I bought a plastic dustbin and brewed my own. In those days you could buy kits containing the basic ingredients. I substituted wine-makers yeast for the yeast provided and increased the recommended amount of sugar, and thus greatly increased the alcohol strength. I don’t know if you can still get the kits, but I’m sure some easy-to-follow recipes are available on line.

      • trev Says:

        My ex-wife did something similar in the 80s, she bottled it in large Ben Shaw’s pop bottles with screw tops instead of the recommended safety-corks, and put more sugar than normal in the bottom of the bottles (for the secondary fermentation), then placed them in front of the fire with a blanket wrapped around them! She did quickly slacken & re-tighten each bottle top every day just to let a little gas out to be on the safe side. It was a risky business, pretty dangerous guess work, and a good job for all concerned that the bottles never blew up, but the results were great, strong home-brewed Bitter with a real head on it. We didn’t go out to the village pub for a few months.

      • beastrabban Says:

        I remember the brewing kits, Brian. A friend of mine had one. And yes, come to think of it, they did look like dustbins.

      • Brian Burden Says:

        It didn’t just look like a dustbin. It was an actual plastic dustbin, full size, bought from a local hardware store.

  2. Brian Burden Says:

    As long ago as the nineteen fifties Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell announced that Labour had to lose its “cloth cap image” if it wanted to win General Elections.

    • beastrabban Says:

      And it’s cost Labour votes and damaged the quality of life in this country.,

    • trev Says:

      I wear a cloth cap!

    • beastrabban Says:

      I never used to like cloth caps – I guess it must have been a generational thing when I was growing up. But now I’m definitely warming to them. Perhaps it’s middle age, or just watching too many repeats of the awesome Fred Dibnah!

      • trev Says:

        Yes but on one episode Fred forgot to remove his cap whilst visiting a Cathedral! You would think that someone else on the production team might have noticed and said something but no, how standards have fallen.

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