Culture, Class And Loathing: The Establishment’s Distorted Views Of The Working Class

In recent years I have noticed a tendency on the part of mainstream politicians and the media to make blanket generalisations of the working class. For them, the working class is uniformly illiterate, ignorant, racist, xenophobic, eat Big Macs and slob around in tracksuit bottoms that have been purchased from Sports Direct. In reality, these supposed characteristics are nothing less than middle class prejudices that have been projected onto an entire social formation. These views have been helped along by the appearance of ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary series like Channel 4’s Benefits Street, which depict the working classes as feckless and indolent.

Middle class anxieties about the subaltern classes are nothing new.  In the 19th century, Music Hall, which was popular with the urban working classes, was seen as a site of class conflict because it was created from below by the people  (qv. Kift, 1996). Some Music Halls, like Hoxton Hall, were shut down on police advice, while other halls began to appeal to middle class audiences. By the 1920s, Music Hall was dead and had been replaced by the more respectable genre of variety theatre. The working class performers who played the halls were eventually forced out to make way for respectable middle class performers.

We expect the Tories to approach the working class through fictional characters and their view to be informed by a handful of tropes.  This is in spite of their continued claim that there is no class war or that class “doesn’t matter” or “doesn’t exist”.  When John Prescott infamously remarked “we’re all middle class now” he was unconsciously acknowledging his party’s abandonment of the working class. His party leader, Tony Blair, left working class communities to the predations of UKIP and the far-right. Indeed, the party under Blair helped to foster an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred that has now been given a voice in post-EU referendum Britain.  Instead of facing down Michael Howard’s racist dog whistle election campaign in 2005, it started mimicking them by producing its own version in Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers” speech in 2007.

A few years ago, a blog written by Daniel Hannan for the Telegraph used an image of Wayne and Waynetta Slob to provide a visual representation of the working class, who it also suggested were ‘intergenerationally workshy’. This theme, it would appear, has been enthusiastically adopted by the right-wing Labour politicians and their allies in the Murdoch and Rothermere press. They heap trope upon trope by making unsubstantiated claims about working class culture. One such claim is that McDonald’s, the American fast food chain, is universally appreciated by working class people. When Labour banned the chain from its conference last year, the right-wing of the party saw an opportunity to indulge in some slack thinking.

Defending McDonald’s, right-wing Labour MP, Wes Streeting, claimed.

“McDonald’s may not be the trendy falafel bar that some people in politics like to hang out at, but it’s enjoyed by families across the country,”

Streeting would possibly deny that he was referring to the working class in this statement to The S*n (also seen as a working class institution by out of touch parliamentarians) but the signifiers are there for all to see. “Falafel”, for example, is seen as a middle class food by lazy-thinkers, but on what evidence is this view based? None that I can see. Don’t working class people eat falafels? Of course they do. How about middle class people? Don’t they eat McDonald’s burgers too? Yes, they do and they shop at Sports Direct. But who are these “families” of which he speaks? They are no more than line drawings of a group of people who have been observed at a distance through the lens of bourgeois privilege. The mention of “families” is also deployed to add ballast to a weak argument.

But Streeting’s words also dovetail into the notion that working class people don’t support Jeremy Corbyn, who is generally depicted by his detractors as a middle class out-of-touch metropolitan intellectual that fails to “connect” with the working class.  Yet, there is no evidence to support this view and it is likely that the Streetings of this world are projecting their own prejudices onto the working class. They are supported in this by the media, whose lazy-thinking hacks are more than happy to adopt this view uncritically and spread it about like so much muck on a field.

In an article in The New Statesman, Streeting wrote:

First up, a declaration of interest. I used to work in McDonald’s. Serving customers helped me pay my way through my A-levels. I enjoyed it, for the most part.

Unlike those legions of working class people who are forced to accept jobs at McDonald’s by the Jobcentre, Streeting’s time at the food chain was a relatively short one. His path to a political future smoothed by being a middle class young man from a middle class family. Once he completed his ‘A’ Levels, he was off to Cambridge University and eventually the House of Commons via his presidency of the National Union of Students. For those working class people unable to find jobs that pay well or go to university, they were abandoned to the likes of ruthless sweatshop employers like Sports Direct or forced into ‘self-employment’ and other forms of insecure employment. Their condition is blamed on immigrants – regardless of where they come from.

We have been told by the media and politicians that the working class voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the European Union and this was seen, on the one hand, as evidence of their insularity, ignorance and xenophobia and on the other as “two fingers up to the establishment”. This sentiment was uttered,  without a trace of irony, by same establishment that has exploited them for generations. It is true, however, that working class fears were manipulated and exploited by superficial postmodern politicians, but if we look at parts of Southern England, it would be reasonable to suggest that the middle class also voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. So what’s going on?

Postmodern politicians are seeking a mandate to ram through short-sighted policies that propose further cuts to public spending. To do this, they claim that we “must listen to the working class’s fears” and limit immigration numbers. Yet when it comes to demands for more council housing, proper wages, equal access to education and healthcare, a decent standard of living, the working classes are completely ignored. Instead, the politicians play to xenophobic class fractions that buy into the narrative that foreigners are taking jobs and being advanced up council house waiting lists over long-term residents. Only a month ago, Labour right-winger, Rachel Reeves attempted to exploit these fears by channelling Powellite rhetoric. No doubt this middle class woman would claim a ‘mandate’ from the working class too.

Labour politicians like Reeves, Streeting and Woodcock and their friends in the media subscribe to the bourgeois view that the working class en masse are illiterate and ignorant. Yet, there is a long history of an educated working class, who placed great emphasis on reading and study. My own family, for instance, is part of this working class fraction. My grandfather, who worked as a boy miner and joined the army as a young man, was a self-educated historian. My mother was an amateur Egyptologist, while my father was a mostly self-taught linguist. I was the first in my family to go to university. Yet, the very institutions of working class education that my family and those like us took for granted: the public libraries, trades unions and mechanics institutes have been systematically eroded or destroyed. Libraries were actually closed under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. One Tory even claimed (and I paraphrase) that “if you can’t afford to buy books, then why should we provide them for free in public libraries”? The unstated aim of this philistinism is to keep working class people in the perpetual darkness of ignorance and superstition. If people are denied access to knowledge and learning, it makes them easier to manipulate. Hack politicians know this only too well.

For all the talk of a universally ignorant working class, there is no mention of middle class ignorants. The middle class and the aristocracy contains just as many xenophobic, reactionary and anti-intellectual elements as the working class, but no one dares to ascribe these characteristics to those classes as a whole.  It’s past time that the generalisations made of the working class were challenged.


Kift, D. (1996). The Victorian Music Hall: Culture, Class, and Conflict. Cambridge University Press.

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A Typical Conversation Between An Ordinary Citizen And A Labour Right-Winger

Scene: an indoor gathering at which the local Labour MP, a professional politician and former public relations executive is present. An Ordinary Citizen has just asked the MP a question to which comes the following pat reply.

Labour right-winger [smugly]: We have to be a credible party of government.

Ordinary Citizen: But you’re not in government. You’re the official opposition.

Labour right-winger: Yes, but we need to be a credible opposition.

Ordinary Citizen: Make up your mind, I thought you said you had to be a credible party of government.

Labour right-winger [indignantly]: Stop harassing me.

Ordinary Citizen [puzzled expression]: Huh? I’m not harassing you.

Labour right-winger [feigned vexation]: Did you just threaten to kill me? I’m phoning the police!

Ordinary Citizen [rolls eyes and sighs]: I’m going for a pint. Have a nice day.

Labour right-winger: Now you’re threatening my family!

Ordinary Citizen walks off to the sound of the Labour right-winger ranting about ‘Trots’, ‘Militant’ and ‘entryists’. 



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Fact-checking Newsnight on Labour’s ‘antisemitism problem’

This scandal was produced at CCHQ with the connivance of the Blairites. The BBC’s role in this affair is a disgrace to journalism. Newsnight allowed Julia Neuberger to freely slander Militant (now the Socialist Party of England and Wales), an organisation whose founder member, Ted Grant, was a Jew.

Jamie Stern-Weiner

Last night’s Newsnight gave top billing to the suspension of Labour MP Naz Shah for allegedly antisemitic comments.

Presenter Evan Davis opened proceedings as follows:

‘Labour is struggling to deal with the charge that it has an “antisemitic streak”.  Does it?

This is a good question.  As I showed in a recent openDemocracy piece on Labour’s alleged ‘antisemitism problem’, it is one that virtually no mainstream journalist who has reported on the issue has considered worthy of investigation.

In order to find out the answer to this question, Newsnight ran a short introductory film quoting five individuals all of whom agreed that Labour has an antisemitism problem, and that the Corbyn leadership has failed to adequately deal with it.  This was followed by a ‘debate’ between two individuals who also agreed that Labour has an antisemitism problem, and that the Corbyn leadership has failed to adequately deal with it.

Both film and ‘debate’ were…

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Corbyn And The Media (Part 1)

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn announced he was standing as a candidate in last year’s leadership election, the smear stories have been relentless and increasingly shrill in their tone.  This week has seen the absurd ‘List’, which was leaked to The Times and the ratcheting up of a dodgy story about Ian Lavery pocketing loads of union money.  All of this happened, coincidentally, on the back of a good showing in the polls for the Labour Party.

Yet, some of these anti-Corbyn stories are downright hilarious, and others are just plain sloppy. A few days ago, I came across this article in The Independent in which someone called Caitlin Doherty, who says she’s a student, claims to have left the Labour Party because of “Jeremy Corbyn”. Well, that’s what the headline says and who am I to argue? Sod it, I’m going to argue. I’m going to argue that this article is little more than clickbait. Howzat?

I’m a student Labour supporter – but I just quit the party over Jeremy Corbyn

Last summer Young Labour blanketed itself in a sense of euphoria. Yes, our party may have lost the election; our optimism, encouraged by pollsters and the unexpected popularity of the Milifandom, may have been initially destroyed. But it wasn’t the end; it was just the start of a new beginning.

There was a new guy on the Labour scene: a guy who looked oddly like your granddad, wore tweed suits and rode a pushbike through Islington. Jeremy Corbyn was set to change the face of the tired and irrelevant Labour Party, and that hot bed of lefties – the student population of Britain – was understandably excited.

So far, so clichéd.

That euphoria, however, is slowly bringing about the end of the Labour party. According to figures released this week, the tidal wave of support that pushed Corbyn to the opposition front bench is coming to an end. For the first time since the general election of May 2015, more people are leaving the Labour Party than joining. And I am among them.

Caitlin links to this misleading article by Andrew Grice in the same paper (sic) that was published the day before, which makes the bold claim that party membership is “falling”. Predictably, Grice offers no sources for his claim.

The majority of these Labour “deserters” are thought, like me, to be the students that drove him to success: the idealists who were swept up in the hashtags and headlines became quickly bored and have moved on elsewhere, it is said. This sweeping assumption does Labour students a great disservice.

“The majority”? Some numbers would be nice or maybe a link? No chance. “Hashtags and headlines”… don’t you just love alliterations? They’re almost as good as tropes and there’s loads of them in this article.

Students aren’t leaving Labour because it isn’t trendy anymore. Students are leaving Labour because they are fed up. Fed up with the ecstatic reception Corbyn still receives – particularly in UK universities where Labour Societies have become increasingly elite and exclusive to ardent Corbynites, with no room for questioning Our Great Leader – despite very little demonstration of any opposition to the increasingly strident Conservative Government.

Was being a member of the Labour Party ever “trendy”? Notice how she slips in the word “Corbynites” and “Our Great Leader”, the latter of which I often see being used on comments threads beneath pro and anti-Corbyn articles.

Caitlin’s previous effort for The Indy was this article on how to survive ‘A’ Levels.

I traced her to the Huffington Post, which tells us:

Caitlin is a second year English Literature student at the University of East Anglia, the Global Editor of UEA’s ‘Concrete and a writer for several other local and national publications. A passionate writer, committed politics follower, and occasional book reader she can often be found getting very angry about something.

She’s written three articles for them.

However, with a little digging, I discovered that Caitlin also writes for the University of East Anglia’s student rag.  Last September, she wrote this article in which she says:

In a so-called “unity statement” on his campaign website he argues that: “There is no place for personal animosity, negative campaigning, and saying or doing anything now that will damage our ability to work together as one party”. and he urges supporters to add their signatures to this statement of intent. Campaign proclamations aside, whoever finds themselves elected leader in a few weeks’ time will likely have Jeremy Corbyn to thank for an increasingly disunited and fractured Labour Party.

I don’t think she joined Labour because of Corbyn.

I reckon our Caitlin would make a great Progress intern or a Murdoch hack. How about you?


Filed under Free Press Myth, Ideologies, Internet, Media, propaganda, Yellow journalism

The Camerons on Holiday: Another Photo Blooper

Camerons, Lanzarote, Easter 2016

I’ve been rather busy with other matters and therefore haven’t had time to update my blog, but I just had to share this photo with you.

This is from an official Number 10 photo set of the Camerons on their holidays in Lanzarote (it’s all right for some of us, eh?). For a former PR man, you’d think he’d have some clue about how these things work but, sadly, no. He’s just as clueless about photo-shoots as he is running the country.

But this photo isn’t what it first appears to be, and as Denis Norden might have said in It’ll Be Alright on the Night “take a look at the man in the upper right hand corner”.

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The Independent Healthcare Commission’s Report: public meeting

Last night I attended a public meeting called by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to report on the findings of the Independent Healthcare Commission, which was chaired by Michael Mansfield QC.  The main findings were reported in the mainstream media in December and now it was the public’s chance to hear about the findings. It was a well-attended meeting with many people standing, and an overflow room had been made available for those who couldn’t squeeze into the limited space in the Town Hall’s small hall.

The meeting was chaired by Cllr. Vivienne Lukey, the cabinet member for health and adult social care. Her opposite number, Conservative councillor, Andrew Brown, was also present in the audience. I had been told that Brown was a doctor, but it turns out that he didn’t qualify and, in the middle of his training, transferred to the BSc Medical Sciences with Management course at Imperial College instead. He currently owns and runs a, guess what? A PR company that specialises in communications in the healthcare sector.

Council Leader, Stephen Cowan, was first to address the audience. He told us that his life had been saved by the NHS at least five times during his childhood and for this, he would always be grateful to them. Cowan also remarked on how upon taking office, he was finally able to see the confidential papers relating to local hospital closures, which confirmed his worst suspicions. During the 2014 Local Government elections, the local Tories claimed that Labour and the Save Our Hospitals campaign was “scaremongering”. They have been rudely exposed as liars. Brown was silent.

Cowan also claimed that Shaping a Healthier Future (SaHF), a group established to provide public relations for the cuts, has literally spent billions churning out propaganda and little else. SaHF’s website trumpets what it calls “joined up care” and announces “7 day services”, which itself hinges on Jeremy Hunt’s tissue of lies about the NHS not having a 7 day service. Cowan also warned the government that the council wouldn’t hesitate to take them to court and a Judicial Review would be the possible next step. Brown said nothing.

After Cllr Cowan’s address, a film was screened that outlined the findings of the Independent Healthcare Commission was screened. Brown was unmoved.

Dr. Stephen Hirst, a former GP and a health commissioner explained how all the hospitals in which he’d worked had all closed. He then went on to claim that SaHF affects areas of high deprivation more than other areas and any attempt to define Urgent Care Centres, such as that proposed for the Charing Cross Hospital site, was difficult. As for the proposal to move most of Charing Cross’s functions to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, he asked “Why can’t St Mary’s move to Ealing”? Ealing Hospital’s maternity unit and Accident and Emergency department has recently been closed. Brown offered no response.

Next to speak was Dr. John Lister, who told us the commission took written depositions from both sides. However, the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) saw fit only to provide witnesses after the elections. The commission also sought a meeting with NHS England but its Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, was being obstructive. Stevens, according to his Wikipedia entry is former Labour councillor on Lambeth Council. But that wasn’t all: the business case for closures was constantly delayed and it seemed to me that NHS England was dragging its feet because it has something to hide. Lister, who was witty and humorous in his assessment, also added that the commission recommended that the closed A&Es be reopened. “How many nurses do you have to sack to save £75 million”, he demanded to know. Brown stood there impassively.

It struck me that, once again, the government and its lackeys were manipulating statistics to make some rather boastful and dishonest claims. It was also clear that the CCGs were not standing up for patients or the needs of hospitals and were solely concerned with cost-cutting. This is ironic given the amount of money being spent on management consultants and PR companies like Saatchi.  Dr. Lister concluded that “Urgent Care Centres have a place as long as they’re alongside A&Es”. Brown said nothing and fiddled with his phone.

Save Our Hospitals (SOH) chairman, Patrick Barron gave an emotional and passionate speech, telling the room that “They’re trying to shaft the community”. He reminded us of the junior doctor’s strike and how the government has ended the nursing bursaries, which begs the question: how do we attract more people into nursing? Surely, the possibility of a crippling debt is enough to deter anyone from entering the profession? Barron said that Northwick Park Hospital couldn’t cope with the sheer volume of patients who had been displaced by the closure of A&Es elsewhere in North West London. However, when Barron claimed that SOH helped to get Labour into power in the borough and repeated the earlier claim made by Cllr Cowan regarding the Tories lying over hospital closures,. Cllr Brown finally felt emboldened enough to speak. “It’s not true”, he interjected. The Cat thinks that Brown’s sense of entitlement compelled him to interrupt Patrick Barron, because he was neither a doctor, nor a councillor, nor a person of the same class as Cllr Brown. A typical Tory bully.

The Q&A session began with Dr. Sean Morris, a junior doctor who explained the situation on the ground. Brown looked uncomfortable (he was asked to give up his seat to someone who was less mobile and was standing) but interested. Dr. Morris told the audience how he had worked in four local hospitals and that the review was not “clinician-led”. He also told us how, on more than one occasion, he’d worked 56 hours straight. The last strike by junior doctors was 40 years ago, yet the Tory government has cast the British Medical Association as a militant trade union in the mould of the National Union of Mineworkers. How’s that for melodrama?

Speaker after speaker gave their views, one of whom reminded us of the European Union’s working time directive, which will no doubt be scrapped if Britain leaves the EU. A former SOH chair, Merril Hammer, was pleased that Cllr Cowan had indicated the possibility of a judicial review and asked what the council was doing with regards to challenging the business case adding “Save Our Hospitals is not going away”! Cowan said that he’d met with a QC about the case and said “the last thing we want to do is sue the government” but “if we have to, we will”. He then reminded us that £35 million had already been spent on management consultants. A shocking waste of money that could have been spent on the NHS instead.

Local MP, Andy Slaughter arrived late after voting against the government’s welfare bill and further cuts to disability payments. He reminds us of the Tories’ “black propaganda” when they were running the council. There isn’t a peep from Brown. However, Dr. Hirst assured us that the review is not party political and says that “no one knows his politics”. This is issue “isn’t about Labour or Conservative” he claims. Brown nods.

Actress, Vanessa Redgrave, whom I’d last seen at a production of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf nearly 10 years ago at the now demolished Riverside Studios, spoke passionately about how the NHS saved her life and said “what the government is doing to junior doctors is illegal”. Interestingly, she reminded us that if all else fails, there was always the option of taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Jim Grealy also of SOH wanted to know where the team goes from this point on. Finally Dr Sandhu told a harrowing story about what he had to deal with over the Christmas period, while working at Ealing Hospital. He finishes by telling us how expensive MRI scanners that have been installed at The Shard, which is visible from the hospital. A private healthcare company having taken over three floors of the building in November 2013. It was obscene. “The Shard” he tells us “sticks out like a knife” cutting out the heart of the NHS. It’s a potent mental image to be sure.

The meeting was encouraging but it’s clear that there’s a great deal of work to do. The struggle goes on!


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Let’s Talk About: ‘Labour Maquis’

This week a friend tipped me off about a Twitter account purportedly belonging to a group calling itself the ‘Labour Maquis’. Those of you familiar with the history of World War 2 will know that the Maquis were the French resistance. Some Maquis cells were as small as 5 members and others could boast as many as a thousand members. As I write this, the ersatz Maquis has 1,176 followers, which means absolutely nothing at all. They may call themselves a “resistance” movement but they’re more Vichy than Maquis.

This Tweet is a hoot.

I like the way it talks about “core values” by reeling off a list of words that could easily have come from so-called ‘Corbynistas’, whom they despise and oppose. Yet it’s the way the word “democracy” has been deployed as a weapon in this Tweet.  It makes the claim that Corbyn and his supporters are freedom hating anti-democrats.  Hell, they may as well be called ‘Commies’. Although Dan and his friends would disagree, it is they who hold the democratic process by which  Corbyn was elected  as leader in contempt. Democracy? They don’t know the meaning of the word.

But have a look at the icon. That isn’t the logo of the Maquis (they didn’t have one), that’s the logo of the Maquis in Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is a fictional Maquis, and like their bitter enemies, the Cardassians, they don’t exist. The imitation of reality in the Star Trek series, although set in the distant future, is very much anchored in the present and is influenced by contemporary discourses. But it is not real; it is only a representation of the real. It is, as Baudrillard would describe it, a simulation.

So whose  Twitter account is this?  The Cat thinks it belongs to ‘Desperate’ Dan Hodges, the self-styled “Blairite cuckoo in the Labour nest” and embittered Torygraph hack. For only a couple of months ago, Hodges wrote a column titled “Labour members are now preparing to go underground to resist the Corbyn regime”. I hardly think any of them have gone “underground” as our Dan would have us believe. Danczuk? Mann? Umunna? They’re what you might call ‘out and proud’.  I digress but here’s the crux of the article:

Over the past few days two different strategies have emerged, which have been dubbed the “Free French” and the “Maquis” strategies.

Really? Do tell us what these “strategies” are.

The Free French strategy involves effectively withdrawing all support from Corbyn. MPs will not serve in his shadow cabinet, they will not observe the whip, they will not be bound by any sense of collective responsibility to the official party line. Those advocating that strategy are being compared to De Gaulle and those French forces that retreated into exile in Britain, then returned to the French continent on D-Day to liberate their homeland.

The Maquis strategy involves “staying behind enemy lines and fighting”, according to one MP. Existing members of the shadow cabinet will organise slates, and stand for election in the shadow cabinet elections Corbyn has pledged to reintroduce. From here they will oppose Corbyn’s more radical policy initiatives and start to construct an independent base from within the PLP and the wider Labour party, which they will use to strike out against him when they judge the time is right.

I find his use of war language crass, and the comparison of Labour right-wingers to the French resistance also tells us that he’s no student of the history of WW2 (except in the sense he’s probably watched The Great Escape a million times). This ignorance also extends to recent history, because those with whom he shares an ideological kinship, still believe they are uniquely capable of winning elections… and this is in spite of the fact that the Labour Party under a  right-wing leadership lost two elections in a row!  And here’s something else: the Labour right is only concerned about elections and can’t quite understand that politics is about more than fighting elections, which themselves happen once every five years. It’s about relating to what’s happening everyday in the lives of real people between those elections, rather that relating to fictional characters from a Star Trek story arc.

Comparisons to the Maquis are not only over-dramatic: they insult the memories of those who fought against the Nazi occupation of France. But the use of a logo that belongs to a fictional resistance militia from a television series set in space, shows us that whoever owns this Twitter account is representative of the Labour right’s weak grip on reality.




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