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Too late for Labour to stop the BNP

New Labour’s sudden concern for the wellbeing of the ‘white working class’ is a product solely of the threat they feel from the BNP. Aside from its cynicism, this move is too little, too late. New Labour made the conscious choice to turn its back on the working class once and for all in 1994. They have sowed the wind, now they will reap the whirlwind.

Reviewing the responses to Local Government Minister John Denham’s recent announcement on the race vs. class issue (see BBC News – Labour battles the BNP on class and race), it was noticeable that the right wing press (The Times, the Telegraph and the Financial Times) were able to respond to Denham’s statement in a rational, coherent manner. They were able to conceive that, just perhaps, class is at least as important a social factor as race. This stood in contrast to the reaction of The Guardian, which accused Denham of saying that racism no longer existed (which he didn’t) and pandering to lowest common denominator underclass prejudice.

Take, for instance, the response of Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph, who was able to articulate -as clearly as the IWCA has often done- how many social problems which are normally viewed as racial are in fact class-based:

“Class has always explained far more about Britain than race – and many of the problems we think of as racial are at least as much about class. Take British Pakistanis and British Bangladeshis. Undoubtedly two of the most disadvantaged groups, they are far more likely to be poor or jobless, than the average white person. The traditional liberal explanation was simple – they were the victims of racism. Of course, they did, and do, suffer from racism. But that simple diagnosis cannot explain why British Indians – exactly the same race as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis – are, on average, richer, better educated and more likely to be employed than whites. Nor can it explain why members of Britain’s Chinese community are wealthier than whites. Most Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are Muslim – so perhaps it’s about faith? No – sadly for those ranting about “Islamophobia”, British Arabs, though mostly also Muslim, are almost as wealthy and advantaged as the Indians. The key factor is not race, or faith, but class. British Indians are mainly middle-class, the descendants of merchants and traders. So are Britain’s Arab and Chinese communities. British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are mainly working-class, the descendants of poor villagers brought here for factory work.

“Thirty years ago, there was not a single non-white MP, let alone minister, and it was perfectly acceptable to tell bigoted jokes on prime-time TV. Mixed marriages were almost unknown; the police were openly racist. Racism has undoubtedly diminished, but class discrimination has, in some respects, got worse. A working-class Londoner is more trapped, less likely to advance than he or she was 30 years ago. State education is no longer a force for mobility. Training in non-academic skills has collapsed. Housing is impossibly overpriced. Above all, work itself has become less secure. And though class discrimination affects all races, the largest group of victims is white. White working-class anger has become a force that no politician can ignore. And those politicians who do ignore it – such as Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London – get swept away.” (John Denham’s right: It’s class, not race, that determines Britain’s have-nots – Telegraph).

Even the rabidly right-wing Simon Heffer was able to get his head around the concept of ‘class not race’, though as a good Thatcherite he attributes the travails of the British working class not to the destruction of the productive economy and the triumph of finance capital, but to single mothers and the demise of grammar schools (How to help the white working class – Telegraph).

This stands in contrast to the reaction of the Guardian. To the liberal multiculturalist mindset, it is literally inconceivable that the issue of class might explain more than race; that it may not be the case that all whites have a uniform access to power, opportunity and influence, the type of which is denied to all non-whites; that non-white ethnic groups are not uniform, and significant class cleavages might exist within them. To the liberal multiculturalist, the notion of class unity and class politics across racial lines is a threat not only to their worldview, but also in many cases their paycheques and funding. Home affairs editor Alan Travers worried of Denham’s statement that “such a “sophisticated” message ends up falling between two stools and reassures neither the poorest of the white working class nor inner-city black and Asian “core” Labour voters” (John Denham’s subtler approach to race and class carries new risk | Society | The Guardian, the use of quotation marks around ‘sophisticated’ is Travis’s). But the most revealing reaction, the one truest to multicultural form, came from assistant comment editor Joseph Harker, who had this to say:

“New Labour abolished the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission and shoved all the “isms” into one overbearing, bureaucratic and malfunctioning equalities commission. Now Denham wants to repeat the thinking, merging minorities into an overall “social class” group which will represent all the economically disadvantaged. Well, this just won’t do, because Britain’s racial minorities do not fit neatly into its traditional class structure (emphasis added). Most minorities in Britain are from poor backgrounds, with little or no longstanding family wealth. Even those who have not faced direct or indirect discrimination have had to overcome economic and social obstacles. But do those who have done so, and gained a decent education or a decent job, immediately break free from all-pervasive racism and therefore no longer require any legal or other support?

“Not only that, but no one has yet come up with a decent, all-encompassing description of what “working class” really is. Does a man or woman automatically become middle class the moment they gain an A-level? Or a degree? In which case, class inequality will always be embedded, because the success stories are excluded from the figures – and it will always appear that the working class are worse-off than minority groups. Even if such distinctions were worked out, why would black and Asian people want to join with the white working classes, when some of them are signing up to the British National party and seem only too keen to blame non-whites for their own disadvantages? (emphasis added)” (Labour has not eliminated racism | Joseph Harker | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk). 

So, Harker thinks it’s a bad thing that all the ‘economically disadvantaged’ might be thought of as an ‘overall social class’; disputes the existence of such a concept as ‘the working class’; believes that black and Asian people shouldn’t join with the ‘white working class’; accepts that ‘class inequality will always be embedded’, and believes that minorities ‘who have gained a decent education or a decent job’ are still in need of ‘legal or other support’. So: race over class (class no longer existing), support for political balkanisation and separatism, and the acceptance of existing class/economic hierarchies – not to mention inherent racial differences, at least among the lower orders – alongside continued support for the black middle class, all in the space of 250 words. Quite remarkable, even for the liberal left. It takes some doing to miss the point so spectacularly, but Harker has managed it.

We should finish by pointing out what should be obvious: that Denham’s concern for the ‘white working class’ is purely opportunistic and, in any case, comes years too late. It is motivated solely by the (justified) concern that the BNP have the potential to eat into what is left of Labour’s core vote. While it is not too late for the BNP to be taken on and stopped politically, it is too late for Labour to do the job: that ship has sailed. New Labour made the choice to turn its back on the working class, assuming it had nowhere else to go. That betrayal will not be forgotten or forgiven.

12 Responses to “Too late for Labour to stop the BNP”

  1. Paul B Says:

    It’s also too late for the middle class left too who live on a different planet to the vast majority of the working class.

    Winning trust, building political culture, community, and organisation, it’s all too hard you see. Instead, it’s ‘interventions’ by sending middle class students/teachers etc into working class areas telling people how wrong they are and expecting instant credibility/respect.

    Assuming the BNP don’t achieve a game changing result in 3 months it’s all to play for therefore, but progressive working class politics are at the lowest possible ebb.

  2. HG Says:

    Harker’s analysis sums up all the contradictions, snobbery, hypocrisy of the ‘Guardianistas’ in a single outburst. As the IWCA puts it ‘remarkable’. The fear and hatred of the white working class is palpable. But lets take a moment to consider the implications of the Harker statement.

    If deep down he is representative of liberals generally and there is no reason to suspect he is not, how likely is it that this revulsion is restricted to members of the ‘white’ working class only.

    So what about otherwise died in the wool working class folk who just happen to be other than white? Maybe just off-white? Do we really believe that trace evidence of melanin fundamentallly alters Harker’s world view?

    Rather unlikely. So if Harker admits there is a white working there must be a corresponding black working class. And if the white working class are held responsible for their own ‘disadvantages’ then the same conclusion must be extended to black working class as well.

    Like any instincitive conservative Harker reserves sympathy only for those eager deny, abandon or betray or as he would have it ‘break free’ from their own social backgrounds. Instinctively he argues for this strata to be given a helping hand purely in order to buttress and reinforce his own class against, as he sees it, the lower orders.

    So all the while he argues passionately that race transcends class, it is equally clear that the reverse holds true when he looks to his own class interests. No doubt he also prides himself in thinking his instinct on such matters represent ‘anti-racism’ in its purest form.

    What a dick!

  3. Paul B Says:

    I think Harker’s point is more simple than that. It seems to be essentially the white working class deserve all they get but the black working class are victims of racism and therefore more deserving and need the race relations industry to help them. He also suggests they deserve more resources to help them escape the proles and that building a black middle class should be a priority. The white working class should be left to their shell suits, cheap alco pops and Sky TV.

    I can’t argue with your last point, except to add he is also a pompous, nasty snob.

  4. Jacob Richter Says:

    I think it’s LONG overdue that the IWCA register as a national party, perhaps as the UK Left Party or British Workers Section of the European Left (explicitly affiliated with EUL-NGL). The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition is a joke.

  5. James Says:

    ” …why would black and Asian people want to join with the white working classes, when SOME of them are signing up to the British National party…”.

    That’s a beauty. To be fair, I’ve a feeling that if he looked at that sentence and thought of some of the implications, he might wish to reword it, but then again it’s from an EDITOR in a supposedly left publication. But it’s a mentality we’ve all encountered. There’s a hierarchy of worth in the ‘left/ worker’s movement’(or whatever) based on perceived oppression. The white male protestant is seen as not being oppressed; even the working class are seen as privileged by a perversion of the old Marxist notion (which has some value applied appropriately) of the ‘aristocracy of labour’. So the organisations that supposedly represent the interests of the working class alienate the bulk of the working class, their only source of strength. Brilliant strategic thinking – from the bosses point of view.
    Let’s move away from the abstract to the personal: imagine the average Joe who’s tempted to do something about something; he goes along to a meeting of whatever – union, community/residents association, stop the war, you name it – and encounters all these opportunist chancers who give him the impression that he has to prove he’s not a nazi to justify his right to be heard. Imagine he’s just the sort of person who really exists, who doesn’t even KNOW what is politically correct, never mind agree with it all; and he’s not a natural combative politician – just the average Joe. Is it any wonder if some of those average Joes go off and think ” I’m not wanted here” and maybe start pricking up their ears to the BNP, thinking something like ” I don’t really like their racism, but at least they’re not prejudiced against ME.”

  6. napier Says:

    What about different ethnic groups that dislike and distrust each other because of matters of religion or conflicts from many years ago that took place in their country of origin? How will the IWCA resolve this matter?

  7. napier Says:

    Don’t all answer at once!

  8. Martin Says:

    Try consulting the manifesto: http://www.iwca.info/?page_id=1410#race

  9. napier Says:

    But will the ethnics buy into that? Believe me, ethnics VALUE their culture and identity, and their religions and heritage. They are not going to abandon them in the name of some synthetic homogeneous system. Any attempt to impose such a system on them will be met with hostility.

    Also, how does the IWCA solve the Israel vs Palestine conflict? Muslims overwhelmingly support Palestine but a large fraction of Hindus and Sikhs support Israel, along with the white working class.

  10. Damian Says:

    This napier guys persistant isn’t he?

  11. Paul B Says:

    ‘How does the IWCA solve the Israel vs Palestine conflict’ :-)

  12. Paul B Says:

    Napier, I don’t think anyone is ‘uptight’. The reason I laughed at your question is that the IWCA are not the SWP so probably wouldn’t presume to state how they would solve the Israel v Palestine conflict! The fact that left grouplets set out the ‘solution’ to anything is frankly pathetic. Their time would be better spent understanding why no-one could care less about anything they have to say. The IWCA is going another way – focussed on pilot projects in working class areas and as for where they are going I would suggest re-reading the case for economic democracy article. I’m not an IWCA member btw.

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