Posts Tagged ‘Labour Outlook’

Ian Lavery on the Need for Working Class Labour MPs

February 27, 2021

This is another excellent article from Labour Outlook, whose messages I stand solidly behind. Lavery’s a member of the socialist group of Labour MPs. In this piece, he describes how Labour lost its traditional heartlands, the very communities in which the party was born, because it no longer represented them. This was because a professional political class had developed, very few whose of members were working class. It was also because of the attitude within New Labour that the working class could be ignored and taken for granted because they had nowhere else to go. As a result, many of Labour’s traditional supporters either stayed home, or voted for others. They felt betrayed by Labour’s stance on Brexit and alienated by the ’90s socially liberal legislation. I am particularly impressed with the two final paragraphs, which run

But there is more to it that just that. Labour representatives cannot focus group their way to a better society. We need people with the heart and instincts that can only come from the bitter sting of personal experience. Parliament is desperately short of people who have claimed benefits, gone through life with disabilities or struggled day in day out in bad employment. This past year we have seen key workers carry the country on their backs, yet the green benches are sadly lacking in them too. We desperately need people with this experience to rebuild our country.

Labour has a history of promoting positive discrimination and it has an even longer history of championing the cause of working people. It is time that we remember our roots and embrace protected places for working class candidates throughout of our movement. If we do not trust in the power of people from our heartlands, why should they ever again put their trust in us?

I think Lavery is absolutely right. The Tories have been able, unfortunately, to position themselves as the real champions of the working class partly because they are able to reflect genuine working class concerns, though often in a crudely distorted form and with simplistic, deeply unjust solutions. For example, rather than blame unemployment on the cyclical crises of capitalism, they use scapegoats such as immigrants, who they falsely claim are taking away British jobs. They often speak in the language of ordinary people, while New Labour was notorious for its managerial attitude and jargon. Socialism always has had a very strong intellectual tradition because of its roots in the analysis and examination of the failings of the aristocratic and capitalist social orders. But all too often this has meant that socialism could be attacked as elitist, the product and concern of academics and intellectuals with no real experience or interest in real, working class life. This is despite the fact that many of the great intellectual pioneers of socialism were very definitely working class. Extreme right-wing mouthpieces, such as the internet radio host Alex Belfield, play on their working class origins while advocating policies which have hurt and will continue to hurt and exploit the very class from which they claim to come. It’s time this was challenged, and Labour put up their working class candidates.

Here’s the article as a whole:

‘Labour suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Tories in 2019 losing the very working-class communities where we were born as a party. Whilst there has been a meagre upswing in our polling position, the figures behind the headline tell a sorry tale about our position in the places Labour held for decades.

As Jon Trickett, Laura Smith and I have argued for some time the Labour Party has simply lost touch with working class communities. As a professional political class took over the institutions of the party three decades ago, inside Labour a shift took place and in too many instances our elected politicians were no longer representative of the communities that they served. An almost authoritarian level of social liberalism pervaded our party. But the consequences at the time were near non-existent.

That was in part because the New Labour machine tapped into a wildly successful electoral project that was built on the premise that the working-class backbone of the Labour vote had nowhere else to go. But as always short-term gain is built on sand. As the optimism of the 90’s and 2000’s gave way to cynicism, those working people who had felt ignored and even ridiculed by their party begun to stay at home and as time went on if they did come out to vote, it wasn’t for us.

As the party flounders seeking solutions to its current woes, I can say with certainty that “getting the band back together” and trying to emulate New Labour simply will not work. Neither will the current strategy based on following focus groups and repeating confusing messaging. It is Labour’s job to articulate an easily understood vision of a better future based on the principles on which our party was founded, and we need to make people believe we can deliver it.

In 2017 we ended up only a few thousand votes away from a fundamental break with a system which for too many has caused hardship. That the positive aspects of that campaign should never be forgotten is one thing and something that has been extensively covered. But as a party member and elected representative for decades it concerns me greatly that it could be decades until we see a Labour government again. So many of our traditional voters who for so long had not bothered came out to support us, to back a message of hope and to put their trust in us, perhaps one last time. I suspect many will be looking now and wondering what happened.

There is no easy way forward for Labour. Rebuilding long held bonds, severed by a feeling of betrayal over Brexit, will not be an easy task. Standing shoulder to shoulder with workers and communities in their struggles through deep roots is the way we must do this. But there is something else Labour must take seriously.

Whilst in recent decades our party has been at the forefront of diversifying Parliament, fewer and fewer of our senior politicians come from a working-class background with a few notable exceptions. This is a huge issue if we ever again hope to form a government. Labour cannot represent the country it seeks to lead without being representative of it. Winning trust back amongst these voters means selecting deep-rooted candidates with a track record of standing up for their communities. Being the drop off point of a conveyor belt full of “professional” politicians is simply not an option.

But there is more to it that just that. Labour representatives cannot focus group their way to a better society. We need people with the heart and instincts that can only come from the bitter sting of personal experience. Parliament is desperately short of people who have claimed benefits, gone through life with disabilities or struggled day in day out in bad employment. This past year we have seen key workers carry the country on their backs, yet the green benches are sadly lacking in them too. We desperately need people with this experience to rebuild our country.

Labour has a history of promoting positive discrimination and it has an even longer history of championing the cause of working people. It is time that we remember our roots and embrace protected places for working class candidates throughout of our movement. If we do not trust in the power of people from our heartlands, why should they ever again put their trust in us?’

See: Labour cannot focus group the way to a better society – we need working-class MPs. Ian Lavery MP Exclusive. – Labour Outlook