UK Politics

What About The Workers ?

Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 ends with the hero, a member of the intelligensia named Winston Smith, capitulating to the state after a brave attempt at living a life at variance with Big Brother’s dogmas.

In the course of rebelling he ventured into the prole-quarters where he witnessed the working class, pretty much ignored by the state, getting on with life much as it always had without much interaction with, or observance of, the state’s official ideology Ingsoc. One of the more memorable scenes in the book, at least for me, has Smith observing a working-class woman whistling a tune while hanging out the washing. Orwell, speaking through Winston Smith, concluded that if there was any hope left for a decent society in future it lay with the overlooked proles as opposed to the co-opted middle-classes.

At the risk of being mistaken for someone else who posts here I do wonder whether Orwell, writing over fifty years ago, didn’t actually have it pretty much right about how things are today.

Who speaks for the working class in Britain today ? I know there are plenty of organisations which pretend to but I would argue that the most-numerous class in the country is almost voiceless.

The Labour Party is an electoral-machine and as such chases the votes of floating voters in middle England. There’s probably not much use complaining about it because it’s the only way to win elections and keep the party in power but it can seem if Labour’s natural working-class constituency in places like South Wales, the industrial areas of England and the Scottish central belt are taken for granted. I suspect there is some truth in that.

Having said that the raison d’etre of the Labour Party is, as it’s name suggests, to help working class representatives to take seats in parliament and, once there, for them to raise the interests of the majority class.

How is it doing ? Well there are a good number of working class people in parliament but there are also a lot of people who like to speak on behalf of them sitting on the same benches. The latter group thinks that because they’ve been to university and swallowed whatever intellectual trend was in fashion when they were there they are therefore better able to articulate what the working class wants than the former group. Often they are career politicians who have never made a living in the real world. This often impacts very seriously on their ability to understand who they claim to represent. I won’t be cruel and name them but you won’t have to go very far into the ranks of the government to come up with examples.

This group is unfortunately still very susceptible to intellectual fads and fashionable dogma. Sometimes I can imagine them as zealots for Ingsoc, twisting what they dimly remember as reality into shape so that it fits their ideology.

Are the other organisations of the left any better ? I would argue that they are not and that is one reason the working class almost completely ignores them. Most cling to intellectual constructs which would have been out of date in the 1950’s and dream up policies which, while seeming radical, would actually impoverish those they seek to win to their side. They think the working class has failed to step up to the challenge of ideas. In reality it’s the other way round.

Is the situation entirely hopeless for working class people whose so-called representatives and champions rarely venture on to housing estates and who just aren’t equipped to understand the real challenges that people there put up with on a daily basis ?

Maybe not if these people have got anything to do with it. From what I can gather they don’t have any ideology other than

to give a political voice to the concerns of those millions of ordinary working class people in London who, unlike the fashionable chattering classes, find their concerns ignored by all the mainstream parties

They’re running a candidate for London mayor too and the above quote is from her. I wish them success in their campaigns and hope to see them grow into an organisation which exposes those who claim to speak on behalf of the working class. More than that I want to see them grow so powerful that the real needs of people won’t be subsumed under shabby intellectual schemas about how people should live.

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