Hold onto your (hard) hats

The sight of Grant Shapps (or is it Michael Green?) announcing as part of yet another rebranding exercise the other day that the Tories are now ‘The Workers Party’ led to gales of derisive laughter up and down the land.* For this he should be thanked: these are not good times, and humour makes things easier, doesn’t it?

Obviously the announcement was not supposed to be a joke, so let us consider it seriously (or as seriously as it can be considered) for a moment.

The Conservative Party has had, for a number of years now, the curious idea that it makes electoral sense to attempt to appeal to the sort of voters who make up the base vote of the Labour Party in most of the country.** This has always struck me as an utterly bizarre thing to do: a political party’s base vote is generally loyal for a reason (generally several reasons: Christ, a whole set of them as a rule), and in this case most dislike the Tories because, not being fools, they understand perfectly well who and what the Conservative Party stands for (i.e. not them) and therefore even when voting against type for whatever reason, few plump for the Tories. County Durham, Merseyside and South Yorkshire are not going to turn Tory under any circumstances, no matter the rebranding.***

Do I have a theory or an explanation for this? You will doubtless be pleased to learn that I do.

Have you ever noticed how nervous many (most?) middle class people are around groups of manual workers? I used to be very confused by this (honestly, my Dad isn’t about to attack you: he’s lovely. What’s to be afraid of?) but think I get the issue now, probably. And it links into this.

A lot of upper middle class people, it is my observation, seem to to associate ‘worker’ and ‘working class’ with masculinity. Hyper-masculinity, at that. I’m not really sure why this might be (there are working class women as well, you know), but it does seem to be the case. And, anyway, feel pretty insecure in comparison. Weak. Unmanly. Pathetic. Etc. And that therefore doomed Conservative rebranding ventures aimed at appealing to ‘workers’ are an attempt to assert their masculinity, by seeking approval from the (presumed-to-be) hyper-masculine.**** If this seems a little far fetched, you should note that the Conservative Party is led by a man who uses the word ‘butch’ unironically.

Moreover, the above explains the absurd sight of David Cameron and George Osborne in hard hats and boiler suits whenever the opportunity arises: a sight rendered significantly more absurd by their obvious lack of self-awareness regarding its absurdity…

*Mr Green-Shapps has form on this, of course. During the horsemeat scandal last year he remarked to the audience of the popular BBC political panel/bearpit show Question Time that the reason why people feel queasy about eating horsemeat can be explained by the apparent ‘fact’ that horses are carnivores. This man holds public office.

**Rank idiocy of this sort is, in fairness, not exclusive to the Conservative Party as anyone familiar with the dismally stupid end of the Progress faction in the Labour Party will confirm. No, Labour does not need to win Surrey (or wherever) in order to take power.

***Middle class liberals who hand-ring about how the Tories (or UKIP or the BNP or whatever) are ‘culturally’ ‘in touch’ with all working class people everywhere can go fuck themselves as well.

****While also implementing policies that fuck over working class people completely. Verily, it is true that many politicians do assume that the electorate is as brainless as Mr Green-Shapps. Happily this is not so. Thus the derisive laughter mentioned earlier.

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9 comments

  1. It’s an interesting point and I don’t disagree but I think here you should consider the whole discourse of that most political of constructs the “White Working Class” and their supposed far-right propensities, a propensity I’m sure has played into the minds of Cameron, Osbourne, Shapps and so on. Now why is it, we should ask, does this patently false meme about continue to exist, nay, thrive in political discourse? Why do so many commentators, including those of, say, Comment is free, insist on repeating the canards “Immigration/Labour/The EU have betrayed the white working class” and so on (usually said by a resident of Chichester, Tunbridge Wells and other such places where the working class vibe is obviously ever present)?

    And I think this all ties into the notion of masculinity here as you discussed it. The ‘White Working Class man’ is threatened by liberalism, immigrants and other supposed evils including, of course, the Labour Party*. This is a the sort of typology towards which one can disguise and project one’s own racism, sexism and ‘political incorrectness’ into a large group of rather differing individuals (both media liberals and conservatives do this, and do this in ways usually related to their idea of masculinity). Thus ‘Labour’ is betraying the ‘Working Class’ by its policies which can only be remedied by adopting right-wing ‘solutions’ even if I-myself-might-be-appalled-by-such-a-thing. This campaign in short ends up not being about the ‘working class’ as such in regards to working people, it’s about selling an image or a brand of politics as ‘working class’ to people who are not such but like to use the label for other reasons. That this is a conscious strategy seems to be unlikely, at least Cameron, et al seem unaware of the ridiculousness of their own typologies, as you mentioned yourself.

    “there are working class women as well, you know”

    Well, that’s a rather different cultural trope…

    (* – This ties into another thing I think, the attempt by the Media – and which has been borrowed by all parties in the UK but I think especially the Tories – to insert narratives developed for American Politics into the discourse and politics of the UK. They’ve certainly been successful – at least to some extent – for the first but for the second… well, you can judge the results)

    1. Oh for sure that’s presumably a factor as well: I just thought of it as being (how shall we say) ‘a rant for another day’.

      Anyway, I think you’re absolutely spot on here; probably nobody* who could ever be seriously described as ‘White Working Class’ has ever identified with the term. I.e. I am white and I am working class, but the two things don’t fuse. Why would they, anyway? Actual working class racists, incidentally, do not express their racism in class terms (and not just because their targets are invariably their fellow proletarians). Actual bone fide Working Class Tories are generally not so because they see themselves as being especially white (even if, of course, they are more likely to express racist opinions). And so on.

      This also seems like a useful point to reflect on the Wythenshawe & Sale East by-election: Wythenshawe itself is exactly the sort of place that media idiots tend to associate with ‘White Working Class’ – 80% White British at the last census (I can’t be bothered to check the total white figure right now), extremely high rates of social housing, and a distinctively proletarian labour market profile. And so we see a UKIP campaign based on those very same moronic CiF type stock comments you mention. And various ‘concerned’ media pieces basically arguing ‘well, it’s only natural that… etc.’ Yet the actual result…

      As it happens I think we can extend the general phenomenon that we’re bothing thinkng of into other areas of society: consider, for example, the phenomenon of loutish football supporters who are, in actual fact, frequently middle managers with addresses in post-war private suburbs acting out some bizarre pseudo-proletarian fantasy as a way of asserting their masculinity.** And in terms of patterns of support, football remains a strikingly white sport: the lack of Asian faces is particularly notable.

      *This is a figurative ‘nobody’ rather than a literal one, obviously.

      **It isn’t as though many working class people can actually afford to regularly attend matches these days (which is a fucking disgrace, obviously), and certainly not for away fixtures, so, really, this is one of those phenomenons to which the right response is “ah, but of course…”

  2. Yes. That’s precisely it. It all seems, to my mind anyway, to be tied into a certain notion of ‘authenticity’ where the ‘working class’ as abstraction is tied to a certain notion of a primitive other that is representative as a ‘true Britain’. After all, most reactionary campaigns still use the idea of restoring, in the UK context, a ‘Britain-as-it-was’ before immigration/the-end-of-empire/the-EU/socialism/liberalism/whateverski ruined it. The ‘working class’, as imagined as sort of a down-at-heel hard-working version of Al Murray’s pub landlord*, or an Alf Garrett mixed with stock tropes of 70s/80s football hooliganism, is just another fragment of the this real-essentialist Britain which is disappearing due to the above. Therefore it is basis of many basic right-wing appeals to speak in defense of the ‘working class’, not understood as a promotion of its economic ‘interests’ as such (that is, as a class… who have interests together), but more of a certain social order where its primitiveness otherness could be kept… where it belonged.

    * – Just writing that, I’ve noticed something about all these images: They are rarely explicitly industrial or rarely about work as such… violence and drinking, yes, but not work.

    1. I think you mean Alf Garnett, not Garrett. Played, as everyone knows, by Warren Mitchell, a Jewish Socialist.

      But, yes, I think you are basically right about this. How else can someone claim to be ‘on the side’ (the punishment for that hackneyed turn of phrase should involve mild electrocution at the very least) of ‘workers’ or ‘the working class’ (etc.) while also being extremely against such people in terms of actual policies?

      Thinking a little further, I wonder about the influence of Australian political discourse, all that nonsense about ‘Howard Battlers’ (urgh) and the Division of Lindsey. And I’m not just thinking of that piece of refuse Crosby: the links between political life in Britain and Australia are closer than just one high profile advisor.

      1. Yes, I meant Garnett obvs.

        That’s interesting comment viz. Australia. I wouldn’t have considered that at first but it does now seem rather likely. Although there’s no where in the UK that’s like West Sydney is there? Although I suppose the concept of ‘Essex man’ has that battler overtone.

  3. On that note, I’m now quite curious as to sort of tactics Progress are promoting into an attempt for Labour to win in Surrey.

    1. The (active) members of Progress would never dream of sullying their elevated minds with anything so vulgar as ‘tactics’. Unless by ‘tactics’ you mean droning on about ‘winning in the South’ endlessly ‘because Blair’.

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