Today in the Guardian John Harris has written an article about the so-called ‘Red Wall’. The Red Wall are people in the north of England, who traditionally voted Labour, but who, in the last election, wanting to see Brexit happen, switched to the Tories. Harris suggests that those who switched, are not, contrary to what some on the left may fear, racist. He reckons they are modern, multicultural and surprisingly liberal.
That may be the case, at least to some extent. After all Johnson himself is pretty liberal, certainly in his personal relationships. Furthermore Johnson does not appear to be a committed ideological racist, although he does seem to enjoy using the odd antediluvian racist term, once in a while because:
- He has always enjoyed conveying the idea that he is some kind of continuation of the great British past of Empire and Churchill and so on.
- It helps contribute to this idea of Johnson being uncaged by social conventions which gives voters a frisson when people vote for him.
But I was also reminded of the fact that trade unions and working class people, have historically, often been very racist, nasty and exclusionary to immigrants. In this way the bond between the trade unions and the more liberal forms of socialism, which talk about equality between people, men and women, people from different cultures and places, was one of convenience rather than convergence. That is to say, many trades union types and working class people accepted socialism because it was a useful political ideology for justifying and articulating the redistribution of wealth and protecting the interests of (white male) working class people. They didn’t believe in equal rights for women, people from different countries and religions and homosexuals.
It reminds me too that Chuka Umunna, reported a few years back, that when he considered competing for the leadership of the Labour Party in 2016…
The team who were helping me organise, were told by quite a few MPs that they weren’t going to support me, because they didn’t think their working-class constituents would ever vote for a black man.
The debate that has followed from John Harris article today triggered a response from someone who calls themself sentimental_22, who claims to be from Worksop. Sentimental 22 had some very interesting things to say about the attitudes of people in Worksop, and how they are formed [my emphasis]:
I am actually from Worksop! And if some of my neighbours are anything to go on, they are – and I ‘m sorry- they are somewhat racist, totally anti EU and anti Corbyn. And for reasons they cannot manage to articulate fully or can barely articulate. Worksop has voted Labour for 90 years and Nottinghamshire gave birth to Arthur Scargill who, lie Corbyn, was assassinated by the rights wing press and endlessly mocked.
For example, when I asked anti Corbyn former Labour supporter on my road why he didn’t vote Corbyn: he replied: he’s an idiot (totally generic phrase that is meaningless and if it has any meaning, it could be aptly be used to describe Johnson. I continued: Have you read anything he’s written, have you read his manifesto? Reply: I ‘ve read the 1st paragraph.
Similarly, a more well travelled lady at an airport in Spain: ‘he’s a dickhead’. Again, a totally generic phrase that is meaningless and again, with no acquittance whatsoever with what Corbyn described in his manifesto – renationalization, free higher education etc.
Harris is too optimistic here. If the red wall is as discerning as he thinks then they would have been able to stop reading the Daily Mail and see through some of the problems with Brexit.
The worksop man’ wife is typical – and I ‘m very sorry here – of marginally educated people in Worksop. The complexities of leaving the Eu was grossly simplified by the Leave campaign and failed to inform people of how many of our institutions and organizations were bound and connected to the EU -aviation health and safety , agricultures, fishing, educational projects, exchange projects, medical and scientific research funded by the EU and the Remain campaign failed to stress how these aspects of the EU benefitted the electorate.
This woman’s reply replicates several conversations I have had in Worksop regarding leaving the EU. Nearly everyone omitted to mention the Good Friday deal and were even ignorant of the fact that the GF peace deal would not be able to sustain a hard border – people did not even understand the importance of this!!!
Why haven’t we left the Eu? I ‘m sick of hearing about this. Why don’t they just get on with ? is the plaintive cry/whining that you hear in this area. They are not even aware that it’s no longer about Leave or Remain but about a hard or soft Brexit, something they are still at sea with. The notion that we still have to trade with Europe has not even entered their thick heads.
An equally serious problem is how little most of the electorate understand governance and government. They barely know how it works – hence all the whining about Brexit not being done quickly enough. Surely, surely, there should be a democracy /governance test for all of us over 18? If a person doesn’t pass it, they don’t vote. They get a chance the next year. All this would be frightening to implement on an administrative level but I believe the alternative is more frightening – an ignorant, marginally educated electorate who have no idea how democracy evolved, how fragile it is, how many sacrifices were made to have representative democracy, the importance of trade unions, social and economic history.
Because most people are too lazy they find the details of government too tedious; democracy takes a long time to understand, how it works – and this is exactly where we are now. The rise of the populist, the rise of the celebrity TV politician who hides in fridges and has six children by three different women, – we can identify with this, with the vulgar, ostentatious Trump, the poor man’s fantasy version of rich with his Botox/surgically enhanced wife – isn’t that what most people want to see?
I apologise to all those in Worksop who are discerning, multicultural and open -minded. There aren’t many.Sentimental_22 on the Guardian Website at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/04/red-wall-labour-heartlands-britain#comment-144262216
In another comment Sentimental_22 said
Corbyn was simply not charismatic enough and did not appeal to the average red wall voter. He was too theoretical but many of the red wall voters are not theoretical enough, Most people vote superficially and who can make them laugh the most, usually by insulting or mocking an adversary or a marginalized group or by hiding in fridges. Or who can get Brexit done in 5 minutes and show them Europeans who’s boss ( I actually heard this in a clothes shop in Worksop form the manageress; Who do they think they are (the EU)? ‘
Corbyn’s personal life was most boring, probably married to the same person for 45 years, Not titillating enough, not corrupt enough. Or maybe they vote according to who can stick the most children in cages? or by how much austerity they can manage? Honestly, we get what we deserve because we can’t be bothered to think critically. Roll on the Daily Mail, the pseudo thinking man’s newspaper!Sentimental_22 on the Guardian Website at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/04/red-wall-labour-heartlands-britain#comment-144262541
There are some interesting points here in the political education of the people of Worksop, at school and then beyond, which I think applies to understanding attitudes throughout the United Kingdom. Let me draw some of them out:
- Children are not educated in governance and government; nor in the processes that underpin politics, political parties and media reporting.
- Children are not educated in the press, who owns it and what there interests and biases are.
- Many adults have an emotional dependency on right wing newspapers and media outlets, and their allegiances to political parties and figures are heavily influenced by how they are portrayed by those outlets, in the same way that children tend to be influenced by their parents.
- Many voters see politics through the lens of entertainment, and are looking to vote for the politician who, when seen through the prism of what is mostly a right wing press, charms and seduces, has wit, looks cool, speaks authoritatively and appears to display resilience. They don’t read about the policies, and therefore do not consider the consequences of those policies for the well-being of the country and themselves.