Labour has a chance to return to its roots and win back the working class of Swindon alongside others
“We’ve got to be winning in a place like Swindon.” These are the words of Chuka Umunna in the video that launched his very brief bid for the Labour leadership. At no point in the video does he attempt to clarify what he means by “a place like Swindon,” but it seems fairly implicit.
The name Swindon, or Suindune, is said to be derived from the Old English words ‘swine’ and ‘dun’, meaning ‘pig hill.’ Despite essentially being christened a shit heap, time has somehow still seen Swindon’s image decline further. Now more commonly known as The Arsehole of England, Swindon is full of inbred chavs and filthy moshers: the former contributing to the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe for eight years running, and the latter contributing to nothing. It has the highest percentage of people without a passport in Britain, as well as the highest ratio of McDonald’s eaten to inhabitants in Europe. You can also buy cocaine from a five-year-old.
These facts are imaginatively told in pubs across the south of England, and then unimaginatively regurgitated to the nation with a complete lack of comic ability on Mock The “Weak”. We begin to understand what Chuka means by “a place like Swindon”. He has been accepting as gospel the words of Jack Whitehall, and that little bald guy who looks like a sexually avaricious conquistador.
Swindon is an industrial town hosting many large corporations such as the Honda and BMW factories, as well as HQs for the likes of WHSmiths, Nationwide and Intel. In short, it is a town full to the brim with the very working class, who can never prosper under a Conservative government, and was inextricably linked to the Labour party from its very genesis. The working class should be the bedrock of Labour party support in the south of England, but it voted Tory in the last two general elections (North and South Swindon saw 59.6 per cent and 56 per cent increases in Conservative leads over Labour).
Essentially, Chuka was right to point out that Labour have “got to be winning in a place like Swindon,” but in looking for the reasons why Labour lost the votes of working class people, one needs look no further than the condescending, patronising language and tone in which he said it. It is representative of a snobbery that has emanated from the Labour party since the rise of Tony Blair, and which tainted Ed Miliband’s general election campaign from the beginning.
Miliband’s manifesto championed a renewed focus on equality: raising the minimum wage to above £8 an hour, abolishing zero-hour contracts, freezing energy bills and raising the top tax rate to 50p. These policies were planned meticulously so as to guarantee that all would be paid for “without a single penny of extra borrowing,” and designed to raise confidence in Labour’s often questioned economic competence.
However, very few people sitting in Swindon’s pubs, Greasy Spoons or BMW factory canteens were reading his very-well-accounted-for policies in his very intelligent manifesto. Perhaps that’s a shame, but regardless, it’s a reality. A reality that Miliband chose not to address. He told Jeremy Paxman, “I don’t care what the newspapers write about me… The bloke on the tube can say what he likes. I don’t care, because I care about the British people and what happens to them.” He forgot that the British people are The Bloke on The Tube, and that they are reading the newspapers. Not the Guardian (it’s too big to read on the overcrowded tube), but the Sun and the Daily Mail, and those newspapers will not mention that he cares about the British people, just that he doesn’t care about the opinions of The Bloke on The Tube. He refused to speak the language of the less well-educated than himself because he saw it as cheapening his complex policies. But, by refusing to have a dialogue with The Bloke on The Tube, he reduced his audience to a Guardian-reading, well-educated, well-off, liberal middle class.
Cameron always recognised that to appeal to the widest audience possible you must alter how you present yourself. He has political jargon and figures ready to back him up when he needs it, but he is also loaded with short snappy soundbites for television and tabloids. He speaks like a tabloid, and therefore he writes his own headlines. In doing so, he has memes and ‘Thug Life’ videos, and the Facebook walls of my old Swindon school friends pay tribute to pro-Tory and anti-Labour slogans. These old school friends are not the ones that went onto university to become lawyers or architects or financial advisers, these are the ones who are now window cleaners and plumbers and Tesco delivery drivers. I now see them almost exclusively on Christmas Eve at the King & Queen Inn, but they are still friends and good people, even if they didn’t go off to the University of London to become Guardian readers. They couldn’t care less about the technicalities of politics – they just worry about why it’s so difficult to get work, and why they can barely feed their kids and still afford a pint when they work so hard. And there’s only one person giving them any answers at all. Cameron speaks to them, not because his policies represent them or benefit them in any way, but simply because he is actually speaking to them.
While David Cameron and George Osborne try to grab the attention of anyone and everyone by any means, the Labour party have exclusive little soirées with the Guardian and the well-educated, well-off middle class, all patting each other on the back for holding onto their broad-minded, liberal views. Round and round goes the praise in an endless, self-congratulatory circle-jerk.
Corbynmania is a reaction to the snobbish elitism that has poisoned the Labour party ever since Tony Blair’s era. Whatever one thinks of Corbyn’s policies, at least everyone knows what these policies are. Rent controls, railway renationalisation, government spending, scrapping tuition fees: he repeats them over and over, crystal clear, straight and unpretentious, to anyone who will listen to him. He ignores no one. Meanwhile, the other three Labour leadership candidates ignore everyone. They bicker between themselves, use fear tactics and patronise Jeremy Corbyn, disregarding his policies as idiotic rather than telling us why they are idiotic or what they can offer instead.
When the four candidates were asked on LBC Radio if they would give Ed Miliband a job in their shadow cabinet, Jeremy Corbyn said he would want him as Environment Secretary. Easy. The other three hedged the question and refused to give anything like a direct answer. The decision to hide from this question is a decision to hide their plans from the people who are expected to vote for them, because they feel that they should decide what’s best for the public, and that they should choose what the public should know about their decisions. This can only be based on the assumption that they are above their voters.
The other leadership candidates, and the Labour party as a whole, must learn from both Corbyn and Cameron if they are to win back the votes of the working class. Labour must stop patronising the man on the tube who reads the Sun or the Daily Mail, stop disregarding him as a helpless idiot, and try to win back his support instead. They must shed the snobbery with which they have been infected for too long by acting for, and vitally, talking to normal people again.
Image from: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/3190748/images/o-JEREMY-CORBYN-facebook.jpg
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