Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Brendan O'Neill: Jeremy Corbyn isn't hard left, and it's the educated middle classes who almost won it for Labour

I've avoided reading too much analysis of the election results since last Friday. Right-of-centre commentators have been all over the place - it was the manifesto, Mrs. May's unappealing personality, too much Brexit, too little Brexit etc. Despite arithmetic, the Left seem convinced that they won the election. Blairites have either cravenly lined up behind the Dear Leader - or have been snapping and snarling at everyone like angry pitbulls who haven't had their dinner. It's all been a bit hysterical and noisy. So I thought I'd leave it for a bit before re-engaging. I have now done so. As so often in recent years, the most interesting thoughts seem have come from Brendan O'Neill, the Spectator contributor and editor of Spiked Online. First, in The Rise of Labour, the Death of Labourism, he argues (convincingly, I think) that Labour owed its surge more to middle-class voters in better-off areas than to its traditional working class base:
All indicators show Corbyn’s Labour doing well among the non-working-class. So in areas where there are high levels of manufacturing jobs, there were fairly large swings to both the Tories (9.4 per cent) and Labour (9.1 per cent) – this will no doubt be from the collapse of UKIP. But in areas where there are low levels of manufacturing jobs – that is, better-off areas – there was a tiny 1.4 per cent swing to the Tories and a massive 10.8 per cent swing to Labour. In constituencies with high levels of poor health, which of course are poorer constituencies, the Tories fared better relative to Labour. Even in areas where average incomes fell over the past five years, it was the Tories who made greater advances on their 2015 vote, relative to Labour. So in areas hit hardest by austerity, Corbyn’s Labour, the anti-austerity party, did not do relatively as well as the Tories in terms of vote gains...
...Beyond the striking shifts in voting swings and party fortunes, there is also the question of the Corbyn Labour base – its membership, its most active element. These people tend to come, in significant part, from the wealthier sections of society. As the Guardian reported last year, internal party data showed that the surge in members brought about by Corbynism was ‘disproportionately’ among ‘high-status city-dwellers pursing well-paid jobs’. Corbyn’s Labour has struggled to win new members among ‘rural dwellers, elderly people and those struggling to make ends meet’. This led one Telegraph reporter to say, not without justification, that ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is posher than Tony Blair’s’. Labour won back some of the working classes it lost to UKIP, yes, but it belongs, in a very real way, to the professional and well-connected and those who tend towards Remain.
Why did the educated middle-class voters embrace Steptoe? Because, O'Neill asserts, "the kind of anti-austerity pushed by Corbyn’s Labour – which is less a call for meaningful economic growth and more a cry to prop up a public and welfare sector that tends to benefit its middle-class employees more than its working-class charges – appeals primarily to the comfortably off."

Yup - relatively well-paid, virtue-signalling, Guardian-reading, Remain-supporting, public sector troughers who like to feel really good about themselves while boosting their incomes and protecting their jobs (sorry - "protecting public services"). Those Tory public sector wage caps have evidently stirred their social consciences to such a degree that they're prepared to sacrifice the country for 30 pieces of silver. Or an above-inflation salary hike (they have salaries, these people - not plebeian wages): ditto their ring-fenced inflation-proof public sector pensions and state pensions. The compassion - it hurts!

In another article this week (O'Neill's an astonishingly productive Marxist - but then he does describe himself as "a Marxist who defends capitalism"), Everyone, please, stop calling Jeremy Corbyn ‘hard left’. I would take issue with much of what he writes (I am certainly no admirer of Trotsky, for a start) but the theory that Corbyn is just another dreary soft-leftist is one I haven't encountered before:
Corbyn is soft left. He embodies, at best (or worst, if you ask me), a weak and uninspiring form of ‘state socialism’, but far heavier on the state than the socialism, of the kind Labour used to push a lot in the old days. His manifesto is your average Labourite cry for the state to do everything: to jumpstart a bit of investment in infrastructure (£250bn over 10 years, which is nothing) and to protect the ‘vulnerable’ (that word appears often in Corbynista talk) from the sometimes harsh experience of life in capitalist society. It’s charity, not communism. The radicals of old wanted to overthrow capitalism and seize the means of production. A key Corbyn team member says the Corbynistas’ big ambition is to ‘relieve economic insecurity’. People will barely be able to read those three words without falling into a deep sleep, never mind making Molotov cocktails to try to make them a reality. ‘Relieve economic insecurity’ — that captures beautifully the non-radical, non-hard-left nature of Corbynism: it isn’t about changing society or the economy; it’s simply about relieving some of the insecurities they cause. The very softness of Corbynista leftism, its very dearth of daring, its lack of anything that remotely resembles the radical cries of the 19th and 20th centuries, is written into its very terminology. ‘Relieve economic insecurity’ — kill me now.
If O'Neill's right about Corbyn not being that left (I'm not wholly convinced), it might further explain why well-off morally-preening, middle class compassion-addicts are willing to vote for him. The problem in that case - as it always has been - is not IRA/Hamas/ Hezbollah fanboy Corbyn, but Stalin fanboy Seamus Milne and the distinctly sinister Mao fanboy, John McDonnell.

Whatever, the Tories need to figure out how to persuade middle-class public sector types not to support any of these utter blisters next time round. I had intended addressing that issue here - but that'll have wait for a much cooler day (I know you won't be able to sleep until I do).

I'll end with the observation that, despite the general rush to dismiss the power of newspapers to affect election results in our digital age, if the Guardian helped boost Labour's support, it may have been The Sun which dragged the Tories limping and gasping over the finishing line: if the Guardian almost won it, it may very well have been The Sun wot actually won it. Just a thought.

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