Friday, 24 June 2016

The 'progressive left' still not learning how to be King of the North

Echo chambers. My timeline this morning is full of Remainers shouting abuse as the 'stupid','racist' leavers who have taken us (eventually) out of the EU. I get the anger, I feel it of course, but the left are not going to win any influence and power if they carry on like this.

Take Scotland out of the results and the pattern is obvious. The rest of the country hates London. They hate London because they feel it drives an agenda that doesn't give a fuck about them, that welcomes cheap Eastern European labour into the UK to drive the profits of the city, that sits on their stupid house prices and uses that equity to draw up the ladder of oppoprtunity for them and their children and deny it to others, that looks down their noses at their provincial concerns about immigration and dirty jobs and England flags. It's not even necessarily about race anymore, plenty of media have found black and Asian voices that are pro leave. They also hate Leeds and Manchester but not quite as much, although Manchester is getting there fast. Blame the BBC effect and gentrification of Didsbury, the London effect writ small.

And be under no illusion. Labour is now the party of the metropolis. In Wales, the North West, the North East and increasingly the Midlands, Labour is dying.

These people's concerns are totally distinct and, at times, opposite to those of Labour as these people see it. Plenty of non London Labour MPs have been sounding warning bells about the shift in attitude outside the capital amongst previously staunch left support. Little or nothing has been done to help them.

I get it. In 1989 I was on the other side of this fence. The North had been ravaged by Thatcher and, for cereal cafe cretins and artisan bread substitute yuppies with brick phones and champagne flutes. We wanted their world raised as ours had already been. We wanted them to taste the pain and poverty that we suffered. When the gales hit the South East we were, I am ashamed to say, happy. Any discomfort to them was a kind of victory for us.

To an extent, we who class ourselves under the left banner are all complicate in this. The commentators who write sneering pieces that accuse all Leavers as racists, that ignore the simple fact that if you have nothing, voting for supposed cataclysm isn't a negative and, if you're angry with the 'elite' (and that means all us middle class professional types in major conurbations and the Fabians of London Labour) crashing 'our' world is a revenge strike that tastes sweet. This is only the first blow.

Now we can either move forward or continue to stand in opposition to the rest of the UK. We should be sensible, reasonable people. We claim that our superiority to the Remainers is that we believe in facts and debate and compromise and conversion and understanding. To do that we need to move on from disbelief that what we saw as a straightforward choice has been denied by so many of our fellow citizens. We need to really start to understand the destruction that has been visited on their communities. We need to stop belittling those who talk in coarser language than us and start to find a way to talk with them, to ascertain which of their concerns are real, which contestable, and find a language that engages with them and makes their voices heard. If we don't, far darker forces will.

What does that mean for Labour?

It means accepting that Scotland is lost. To imagine that the Scots will simply put up with another denial of their democratic will in the face of English numerical superiority is fanciful. Even if they don't leave the SNP will continue to wipe Labour out.

It means a recalibration of Labour's core message to what should be its core concerns. Less Trident debate and more hammering of fake austerity. It means attacking as hard as the other side attack. It means using PMQ's to nail the executive, not conduct a Radio 5 phone in. It means real, unified leadership that understands that this is not about class struggle but about what have too often been seen as mundane concerns about ordinary jobs and prospects or difficult concerns about immigration and national identity. It means not sneering at someone putting up a cross of St George when the football is on, about accepting that real people talk in language that isn't pretty and that sometimes you need to put aside righteousness to walk a longer path to real progress. It means being honest that big business is necessary and that tax and spend is not a panacea for the perfect world and that nothing can be achieved with one sweeping moment of revolution. It means leadership that is at the front, confident and unified. It means more as well but that would do for starters.

It means letting people in Hartlepool and Doncaster and Tonypandy and Portsmouth and Dover and everywhere else that we are on their side. That we are the force that will make their life better and protect their rights and provide a future for them and their children and that, crucially, we respect them and value them as citizens of our country.

If not Labour will wither and with it the progressive left. And it starts with all of us that travel under that banner from the hardline socialist to the social democrat. This is not the time to shut the door and talk and fight amongst ourselves; hard as it may be this is the time to do the opposite. To go into the places where we have failed and listen and talk and achieve the change that we all want on terms that benefit all.

No comments:

Post a Comment