How Corbyn Lost the Working Class: Robbing Peter to Pay Sebastian

One thing that has gone unnoticed in the braying triumphalism of the Corbynites’ post-election love-in is that Labour lost the working class vote: socioeconomic groups C2DE voted Conservative ahead of Labour by 12 points. Far from being on the cusp of electoral glory, Labour has suffered a historic estrangement from its core constituency which will likely preclude its gaining power for the foreseeable future. 

How could this have happened? How did Labour, who offered so much in the way of benefits, lose among this class? The key to understanding this is to realise that it is both a mistake and a myth to think that Labour offered benefits for everyone: their blandishments were of a distinctly middle class flavour – like an After Eight – and were only made possible by taking away what it could offer the working class. Labour’s politics often get depicted as robbing Peter to pay Paul, though a better way to characterise this would be robbing Peter to pay Sebastian. It is no coincidence that while it lost the working class vote it picked up the middle class vote, socioeconomic groups ABC1, by 12 points.

Consider free tuition. By making tuition free we are compelling someone who has not received the benefit of an education – someone who is more likely to be of humble station if social mobility is anywhere near as bad as we are led to believe (and it is) – subsidise the education of someone who is in most cases of higher social provenance. One could argue that access to higher education being tied to class is a function of increased tuition fees inhibiting participation and so lifting these will benefit poorer people. However, that assumes that the poor would wish to go into higher education – not everyone does – and would actually benefit from going to university. As poorer people are less likely to receive the grades to get into elite higher education institutions, the latter proposition is not at all self-evident. If we were able to make secondary education produce more egalitarian outcomes it would make more sense to make tuition free, but at the moment to do so would lead to a subsidisation of a middle class lifestyle.

The argument is often made that free tuition will benefit society as a whole because the recipient will pay higher taxes. However we know that higher education often does not lead to a higher wages and tax fields. In which case, what would the person who has not gone to university have benefitted from? Why should they pay for the middle class’ roll of the dice? As most of the benefit will accrue to the recipient it is only fair that some contribution be made. After all it is the working class in the form of taxes which will have to pay for the course if the prospective increase in tax yields does not cover it. In other words, the risk is socialised and the profits privatised which is hardly very equitable.

Labour’s opposition to the Dementia Tax was also more on behalf of the middle class than the working class. The mere suggestion that a property owner use their capital over £100,000 to pay for any care they receive – the same as someone with savings – was enough to cause Labour to clutch its collective pearls. Prithee, what other purpose would that money have for someone at such advanced age than to be transferred as unearned income to the next generation thereby solidifying class privilege? And as such does it not make more sense that this be used so that finite NHS resources go towards those who need it? What a strange world when a Conservative government makes a proposal which would have the effect of mitigating the transfer of class privilege – inheritance – and it is Labour who protest this. Instead it is somehow more fair for the tax payer to maintain the inheritance of the middle class.

Now the tone that I have taken could be seen as very stingy. Why begrudge the middle class their share of assistance. I can certainly see the political and strategic benefit in having the middle class as stakeholders in the welfare state. But while plenty of resources were found for the middle class, what was offered for the working class? Slim pickings it turns out. Of the £9 billion in welfare cuts announced in 2015 by then Chancellor George Osbourne, and which were so ardently inveighed against by Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s manifesto undertook to reverse just £2 billion.

We also need to consider the cultural components of this great estrangement. Corbyn’s reflexive anti-patriotism while very right-on for segments of the middle class is simply a non-starter for much of the working class. It is not that he possesses a healthy scepticism of nationalism and does not sing the national anthem, but that he sides against British interests at every opportunity seeing them as imperialistic almost by definition. This is something that he shares in common with his director of communications, Seamus Milne. His stated desire to ultimately cede Northern Ireland is not unreasonable, until you place it alongside his also wanting to share the Falklands with Argentina despite their never having possessed it. Self-determination never enters into the calculation when there is an opportunity to give Britain a bloody nose. When he stated that he would endeavour to keep Gibraltar British, what would otherwise have been an unexceptional statement from virtually any other head of a political party became a legitimate news event: Corbyn standing up for British territorial integrity.

The people whom he puts into positions of authority also do little to endear Labour to the working class. Having politicians like Emily Thornberry in the Shadow Cabinet with multiple roles plays up to the perception that Labour holds them in contempt. Brexit was a cry by the working class for recognition of its culture and identity, the projected baleful economic consequences be damned. National identity may mean nothing more to mobile young professionals who define themselves by sophisticated hobbies and occupations than a dangerous detritus swept up from an arbitrary past, but to parts of the working class it is their touchstone. When Emily Thornberry tweets her disdain for the white van man who puts the St George’s flag up outside his house, she encapsulates why for many Labour no longer speaks for it.

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Labour, spendthrift but not socialist, won over the middle class by proposing that the working class, for which it has ostensibly shown little respect, effectively subsidise its lifestyle. As it turned out the working class had different ideas and decided to dissent.

What is the significance of this, though? After all, in the past parties have become unmoored from their base and shipped themselves to new constituencies. In the United States during the 1960s, for example, the Democrat Party alienated its southern strongholds by implementing civil rights for minorities who they would then rely on instead. The Republicans responded by moving into the old southern Democrat constituencies with their infamous Southern Strategy. Given that the Tories also lost their traditional middle class stronghold maybe what has occurred is a similar swapping of places – think a political Freaky Friday? Unfortunately Labour cannot count on this new base. The Conservative Party will not make the same mistake of allowing itself to be outgunned in its key constituency again. Consider the Dementia Tax an own goal – sure, this is wonderfully convenient but you cannot count on your opponents doing this each game. Also Labour will become a lot less appealing to vote for from a middle class perspective when they are seen as a realistic government in waiting rather than a way to stick it to the Tories. Corbyn to his credit seems aware of this, hence his enforcing the whip on triggering article 50 and leaving the single market to ingratiate himself with the working class in spite of any offence this might give to middle class remainers. This is a start, but not something he will be able to beat the Conservatives on who of course started the process and at least speak roughly the same language as the working class.

Why Corbyn was Right to Enforce the Whip on Leaving the Single Market

Corbyn was right. As a purely political calculation Labour had to snuff out, or been seen to snuff out, any attempts to keep Britain in the single market. There was simply nothing to gain from it and everything to lose.

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It was clear what the Brexit vote signified: the wish for controls on immigration. The very same liberal left who depict Brexit as evidence of monstrous racism and xenophobia cannot then turn around and baldly proclaim it had nothing to do with concerns over immigration. You can have many arguments about whether Brexit strictly speaking meant leaving the single market and getting to self-determine on matters of immigration but doing so is an exercise in semantics when the meaning is clear as far as the British public are concerned, and that is the political reality that Corbyn has to deal with.

When we understand the Geist of Brexit it becomes apparent that arguing to keep Britain in the single market would be seen as a negation of the referendum – and we all know at this point how negation of the referendum will be dealt with. I am alluding to the Lib Dems, of course. This does not seem to me to be the formula for political dynamite, unless you mean to explode your party’s electoral prospects.

In any case, whatever gains can be made by appealing to such obstructionist sentiment have already been tapped into by the Lib Dems. How much could be gained by fine grain tinkering, remains – if you pardon the pun – to be seen.

Not only is it generally unappealing to the country, but it is specifically so to the northern Brexit constituencies which also form Labour’s traditional – and increasingly estranged – base. It was only by enforcing the whip to enact Article 50 that he made sure that Labour held on to the north; it was one of the few things he got correct. Make no mistake: Brexit mattered for the working class, hence the Tories with their more explicit Brexit-means-Brexit platform winning among it, the socioeconomic groups C2DE, by 12 points. Even with this pandering Labour still managed to lose the Leave seats of Derbyshire North East, Mansfield, Middleborough South and Cleveland East, Stoke-on-Trent South and Walsall North to the Tories attesting to the absolute massacre averted by taking into account Leave sensibilities.

What is more, the seats that swung to Labour had little to do with a Remain rebellion. Excluding Scotland where the predominant issue pertained to another referendum, 27 out of the 29 seats gained came from the pro-Brexit Conservatives. But of these seats, just 11 were in Remain constituencies. It is a mainstream media myth that these gains were just in university towns and cities – a confection if I were more cynical I would attribute to a wish to co-opt the General Election result for the Remain camp. The lion share of swung seats then, such as Lincoln and High Peak, would see little reason to rebel against Labour protection of the Brexit mandate.

These are the real, tangible gains that Labour has to protect. Most of the middle class votes would have been piled up in safe, less numerous metropolitan seats – very much analogous to Hillary Clinton’s problems with the Electoral College during the 2016 Presidential Election – and had little effect on wining seats in places like Derby North and Ipswich. As such Labour could easily weather the loss of muddle-headed, middle-class airheads who did not bother to read the Labour manifesto – or else they would have known about the commitment to end freedom of movement.

Of the paltry two that swung over from the Liberal Democrats, it is safe to conclude that these would have had little to do with the anti-Brexit proclivities of their constituents otherwise they would have remained Lib Dem.

When Labour risks losing so many of its seats it had better do so for a sure thing. Lame duck, paper tiger, constipated snake – call it what you want, but the anti-Brexit vote is not that.

Trump vs Sweden

As much as I would love to discuss the pros and cons of different compilations of Swedish crime statistics, I think people are in danger of not seeing the woods for the trees here.

Even if immigration of certain groups leads to more crime – and this is not at all straightforward – this does not necessarily render it a non-starter. There is a principle of compassion at stake here, which does not just stop at some border.

At the very least against any putative increase in crime there must be a consideration of the suffering which has been alleviated. This seems an astoundingly bold thing to say, and I am well aware it goes against the grain, but it is just the basic principle of utilitarianism taken to its logical end point. You may well wish to weigh the interests of your compatriots higher than those of outsiders. There are certain moral imperatives of community, as people understand it. The point is you can factor in for these and still see both sides of the equation.

At the moment we have this myopic focus on just one side. To take one instance, Donald Trump made an executive order on his fifth day tasking his Secretary for Homeland Security to weekly “make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens”. Can we detect the hand of Steve Bannon, whose Breibart website maintains a whole section called “black crime”?

We also have to be realistic that doing the right thing can often bring its own set of difficulties. Principles are like that. What we should not do is what I saw Don Lemon do in his interview with the film maker who inspired President Trump’s “last night in Sweden” comments this week. When confronted with very inconvenient data and asked to make very straightforward inferences on the upward trend of at least of some crime according to some statistics, he shamefully prevaricated in such a way as to play into the hands of those who doubt the sincerity of advocates for refugees. You can disavow the providence of certain statistics, but you cannot disavow statistics.

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And before anyone rebukes me for a presumption to accept risk and difficulty on others’ behalf who may not ask for it, right wingers ask us to tolerate harm all of the time in favour of their principles.

Compare an America where we have sensible – read: any – gun control to the America we have now. But we put up with the America we have now because of the (ridiculous and anachronistic) principle of the Second Amendment. Far more people die from loose gun laws that allow mentally ill people or people on no fly lists to buy guns than from immigration. There were 15,809 homicides by firearm in America in 2015, against the 14 deaths by Islamic terror (and in deathly cross pollination these were killed by legally purchased firearms.) We lose a tremendous amount of life, and we receive no boon in the alleviation of suffering to offset this. In other words it is a massive and unambiguous net suffering, which you cannot say for immigration. There were 15,809 homicides by firearm in America in 2015, against the 14 deaths by Islamic terror (and in deathly cross pollination these were killed by legally purchased firearms.)

It is especially egregious that people tolerate this risk but not the other because America and Britain played a part is destabilising the Middle East with its foreign policy. Why is it that the same Americans who are so quick to take credit for the glories of their country, at the same deny any responsibility at all when it does something bad – and all the while lecture us about “accountability”? I believe its “My Country Right or Wrong”, not “My Country When It Suits Me”. And yet we who would wish to bear the burden are decried as snowflakes, while those who shirk it with hysteria and hyperbole idealise themselves as modern day, rugged frontiersmen.

There is just not enough perspective – on the right – or honesty – on the left – being brought to debates on immigration to begin with. We need to put this aside and ask ourselves what would truly bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people.

Trump, Brexit and the Death of Patriotism

We have really lost our way with immigration. Sad! Forgive my Trumpian flourish but this is an important topic and I need all the attention I can garner.

I totally understand that one can take a principled stance against immigration to a point – and many do – but it has become far too common to hear the motives of immigrants impugned.

Observe the pejorative meaning the phrase “economic migrant” has taken on. As a friend mentioned on Facebook, “economic migrants continue to flood in, let’s face it for their own good, not the good of the country they are (sic) enter”. Why are we are rebuking the insufficient patriotism of those yet to land on our shore? It is a bizarre condition totally divorced from an understanding of human psychology that we seem to be placing on entry and one which is quite antithetical to British and American values.

Anyone who argues that this disdain is solely because economic migrants are taking the place of deserving refugees, has not come to terms with the fact that for large swathes of the right there are no refugees, just economic migrants. As Twitter user Truth_At_Last writes “Invest in so-called ‘refugees’? I wouldn’t piss on one of the criminal economic migrants if they were on fire #NoRefugees

The thing is, emigrating to further your interests and emigrating to further the interests of the country are not mutually exclusive. America as I recall had rather a large number of immigrants who came in the pursuit of happiness and that as we are often reminded turned out quite well. It was called the American Dream.

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This idea had its antecedents in Britain. Our relations with other individuals do not represent some zero sum equation, but rather the potential for prosperity via mutually beneficial economic activity. If I sound unduly Whiggish here, it is because I am simply stating what British values are as they have traditionally been conceived, cant and all.

In fact the whole edifice of Anglophone Liberal Democracy is that by private individuals pursuing their own interests the public good is taken care of – as though by a guiding “invisible hand” if you will forgive the allusion to Adam Smith.

I have to say I find the lack of faith in basic British and American values among the nationalist right to be disturbing. I am reminded of the words of another “Britisher” Samuel Johnson. He made the distinction between patriotism and nationalism, calling the latter the “last refuge of the scoundrel”. Patriotism is a positive love for your country and what it stands for; nationalism stands for little else than empty headed belligerence to the rest of the world. I would go further and suggest that it is mere tribalism, no different to that of the supposed “savages” we supposedly run the risk of being “swamped” by. We have – and I never thought I would see myself type this – too few patriots at the moment. For a love of country unmoored from principle is a truly worrisome thing.

But I am the son of an immigrant so what do I know?