The International Writers Magazine: UK Politics
So, you lost the election and your leader. No doubt you are reviewing your position and your policies in an effort to discover why you lost. I cannot give you the answer, but I can tell you why you lost my vote.
To place that statement in context allow me to tell you a little about myself.
I am a Mancunian in his late seventies who was born and raised in the midst of the old manual working class. Having left school at age 15 I worked in a garage, then spent six years as a coalminer before taking a job as a bus conductor, then driver, with Stockport Corporation. I joined and became active in the Transport & General Workers’ Union and represented my branch on the General Management Committee of Stockport Labour Party. In 1964 I gained a T&GWU scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford. Two years later I won a State Mature Scholarship to study at Hull University. In short, I am the sort of person you could reasonably expect to vote Labour. I didn’t, this time, nor have I done so for many years. Let me explain.
The people with whom I identified in the union and the Party were pragmatists in the main, or small ‘c’ conservatives by inclination. Labour was ‘our’ party, our natural political home. I recall defending the rights of a female colleague in the union branch, and protesting against a comedian’s string of ‘Paki’ jokes in the local Labour Club, but these were not treated as big issues. They were taken up simply on the basis of decency towards fellow workers.
Following graduation from university I pursued a professional career, but continued to actively support the Labour Party, canvassing and observing during counts etc. In the early eighties I went to work for Sheffield City Council, a Labour authority led by David Blunkett. There, for the first time, I encountered a party dominated by ideological zealots, and was shocked by the bigotry that prevailed. I found myself surrounded by people whose claim to being ‘working class’ rested on the occupation of their fathers, or on having once lived on a council estate. Pragmatism had surrendered to an unremitting, ideology best described as pseudo-egalitarianism.
I say ‘pseudo’ because their philosophy was firmly bedded in stereotypes, the most prevalent being that of the ‘white male’. It was an environment in which my previous activities counted for nothing. I was white and male, therefore racist and sexist by definition. Protest was futile. I recall a conversation with a young feminist in which my anecdote about helping a female colleague met with sceptically raised eyebrows and the question ‘So, you think you’re not sexist, Tom?’
However, if supposed sexism was an issue, presumed racism was an obsession. Manual workers from various council departments were compelled to attend ‘racism awareness’ courses run by a young black man from London who was paid £1,000 per day to lecture horny-handed ‘racists’ on their guilt for the Atlantic slave trade. These courses were organised by a female black member of the council’s Race Awareness Unit who was the daughter of a wealthy surgeon in Nigeria. Neither she nor the lecturer would have dreamed of trying to live on the wages earned by those they presumed to ‘educate’.
I left Sheffield after three years, never to return, and never again to vote Labour. The Labour Party I knew and supported many years ago was dominated by pragmatists rather than ideologues. My experience in Sheffield caused me to examine the Party more sceptically than previously, and what I saw displeased me. Not only was it remote from the manual working class, it held that class in contempt. Its leading lights looked down upon the ‘uneducated’ masses, presuming to know, without asking, what was good for them. So, Grammar schools that provided a gateway for many working class kids to ‘social mobility’ were deemed unacceptable by the likes of Williams and Crosland. The likes of Robin Cook decided that ‘Andy Capp’ needed multiculturalism to bring ‘colour into his life’.
I discovered that the illiberalism I witnessed in Sheffield was not peculiar to that council, but had infected the Party generally. Labour had thrown its weight behind the special interests of a group of minorities, and in doing so changed the nature of the country in which I live. There can be no doubt that there exist people who would discriminate against others on grounds of race, sex or sexual orientation, but they are a minority. Generally, they can be changed through education, and where their prejudice affects someone’s welfare, when applying for work for instance, legislation can offer protection. Few would protest against such measures.
However, the Labour Party has been instrumental in creating a climate of fear among decent people. You have contributed significantly to the development of a culture in which someone can lose their job for an overheard remark, a culture in which militant members of the groups you favour can target and entrap people on trivial matters that should never be subject to court proceedings. These groups are now privileged in their illiberal pursuit of people with whom they disagree. If a request from a member of one of these groups is refused, it is presumed that their membership is the reason. They do not have to demonstrate material loss or harm, simply that they are ‘offended’.
The ill-defined terms racist, sexist or homophobic are frequently used to intimidate in cases where those factors are not present. Someone who speaks out against more immigration is called a racist without any justification. There is evidence that the police, social workers and others have not pursued complaints because the presumed offender belonged to a minority.
It would not be too bad if the concern was even handed, but it isn’t. We frequently hear of the need for more women or members of an ethnic minority in institutions, but rarely is a quota for working-class people mentioned. People are nervous of offending Muslims, but not Christians in this biased, illiberal culture your party has done so much to create.
Finally, in the nineties, after decades of ideological self-indulgence, the Party turned to pragmatism, but of a brand every bit as remote from your ‘natural’ constituency. We were presented with the pursuit of ‘middle England’, wherever that is. It appeared not to concern the Labour hierarchy that by shifting to the middle ground they were abandoning their roots. New Labour proceeded to interpret ‘working-class’ as concern for a non-working class, a group to which I have never belonged, and with which I do not identify.
I do not pretend to speak for others, but it is conceivable that others of my background share my alienation from the Party, and for similar reasons. I voted UKIP because I was able to identify with its policies on education and employment, law and order, and on other areas of our life. It suggests a pragmatic approach that embraces my concerns, rather than with the welfare of people with whom I have little empathy. Hence, I became one of nearly four million people who voted for that party. The Labour Party has demonstrated its partiality towards certain groups. My group is not one of them.
© Tom Kilcourse May 2015
kilcoursetom at yahoo.co.uk