Class is never far from the surface in UK politics and culture. This isn’t another piece about the ever fluid interpretations of “class”, but 2 class based expressions in common use that really need a going over.
i) “Middle Class Leftie”
I’ve long meant to write on this, and was finally spurred by a TV spat last week.
It featured Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, whose votes in the commons have been known to be coincidentally in keeping with hospitality from the tobacco industry. I would not make any suggestion that he is corrupt.
In a discussion on BBC’s “Daily Politics” he was toeing his party line by defending the philosophy of the other large tory party.
Against him was Owen Jones, a good and popular young orator who makes a solid anti-right wing case. Jones is also a Labour supporter – but the type who likes to think that “New Labour” is a separate entity from the party he backs, except it isn’t, because what it has always said on the ballot paper is “Labour”. Cocks crowing thrice and all that…
Danczuk was so reactionary that David Blunkett, 3rd Labour-ite in the piece, looked reasonable by comparison. In digesting that, recall that Blunkett wanted us all eye scanned, finger printed and monitored for life via 40 categories of data for the bonkers ID Card scheme.
Danczuk’s howler came when he berated Jones for having grown up in a nice part of Stockport, as if that disqualifies him from speaking up for people who had just lost their jobs. Danczuk got a fair bit of detail in, so it looks like a deliberately chosen strategy for the debate. Daft as it is, it’s not uncommon.
Days later, Mark Steel did a great job, even by his standards, of laying into this totally absurd notion.
“Middle Class Leftie” is more often used by middle class right wingers as a pejorative, but isn’t rare in being heard from socialists (or faux socialists) as a dismissive either.
The implicit assumption is that being of relative good fortune precludes someone from standing up too much for those who are not, and in fact have no option but to be conservative / reactionary or face sneering ridicule.
“Middle class liberal” is used in similar fashion, often alongside accusations of “not living in the real world”, as if a considerable number of folk inhabit an enormous hologram.
All this is bigoted and stupid, doffing the cap to the power of class in ruling, in that it should govern political opinion.
From the right it may stem from a view that it’s some form of class treachery to speak up for the “lower” classes – a sense of class solidarity far from restricted to those towards the bottom of the socio-economic pile.
The expression, conveying the idea that “middle class” people really ought not to be left wing comes out the mouths of a fair few left wingers too. You’d think they would take all the help they can get instead of falling into right wing traps. And you’d think their obsession with history would remind them of the parade of great non-prole lefties who have gone before.
Marx and Engels are just the start of the list, and if you think the most revered leftie alive in Britain today, Tony Benn, is a son of the soil, you might want to research a little further. Further left, we have key anarchist theorists Bakunin (descended from aristocracy) and Kropotkin (a chuffin’ prince!)
A caveat for the left on this : When I put all this to a comrade recently he said “ah yes, but we’re talking about middle class attitudes” i.e those of the reformist bourgeoisie who will ultimately defend the system of capitalist exploitation, but perhaps tinker with it. Yet this is a question of actual political attitude not of the happen-stance of background or economic position. So if that’s what is meant it is far better to say it than be sucked into a lazy stereotype that should be the preserve of backwards entities such as The Daily Mail and Mr Danczuk.
(ii) “The White Working Class”.
Littered with problems, I think this phrase sprang from well meaning liberals and centre leftists trying to isolate a specific demographic within the fields of academia and social policy.
But it has long since been taken up by the right and far right to insipidly bolster a martyrdom case that white people are victims of systemic race-based prejudice. It is now used to divide the class on the basis of ethnicity.
Why is a 3rd or 4th generation descendent of Indian or Caribean migrants significantly different in their political/class/economic interests from people of a longer heritage on these islands?
The phrase increasingly uses working class interests as a false and nefarious mask for stoking acrimony. Far rightists often cite “working class” credentials, they indulge the “middle class leftie” canard a great deal in doing so. But I’ve never seen them on a demo against cuts, or campaigning against a hospital or library closure (there have been non effective attempts to infiltrate Bedroom Tax campaigning, but they tend to be too unsubtle, getting called out quite quickly).
The economic right defend the current system, so have little care for advancing the interest of the working class. The far right don’t like to say it, but is essentially pro the same establishment, and historically used by that establishment when the crunch comes.
Class knows no colour. When the UK white working class have a hard time it’s because they are working class, not because they are white. The 2 reasons for wanting to downplay one by up-playing the other are obvious – they suit the economic right and the far right, with significant overlap.
The insipid use of the phrase draws on sympathy for the working class while inferring that non whites somehow have it easier – a classic racist myth.
I am not talking about all usage of the phrase, or that the insipid use embodies intent. Perhaps the lack of intent makes it worse, because the emerging signals are still there and over time can dupe the user into a rightward drift. So many may use the phrase with better intent (perhaps patronising middle class lefties LOL), but still convey the inaccurate and divisive notions entailed.
Finally, it is a stupid expression because I’m pretty sure those using it don’t have Eastern European, Australians or other pink skinned immigrants in mind when they say it, but the group is generally included in the expression. People who barely know what they are saying or why they are saying it eh?
What’s above are only my thoughts of course. I hope they’re of interest and spur debate via comments if people have quibbles.