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To win back the working class we must ditch identity politics

The right has seized on our insistence upon all things woke and have used this to parody our whole movement, says BECK ROBERTSON

THE recent election result was a disappointing one for Labour, and in its wake many leftist political pundits have rushed to cite Brexit as the sole reason for the erosion of the red wall.  

Centrists, in their fervour to wrest control from the hands of socialists and steer it back to a neoliberal economic agenda, have been ardent in their insistence that both the leadership and far-left monetary policy were reasons so many deserted.

Yet though Brexit was undoubtedly important, and Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity may have played a part, there is another long-ignored factor — identity politics and its role in the perception of the party as a vehicle for middle-class Islingtonites. 

In the years preceding the election, some of us on the left voiced our concern over this issue, only to be decried as “fascist” — a charge often levelled at anyone who questions identity politics’ dogmatic doctrine. 

Traditional working-class Labour voters, who in their droves turned away from Labour this election, have long complained the party has become London-centric, middle class and out of touch, with too much focus on liberal identity politics.  

Focusing on issues such as reforming the Gender Recognition Act to allow self-ID for transgender people, charging white people more to hear Corbyn speak in Loughborough or decrying those displaying the English flag as racist, as Emily Thornberry famously did, has not resonated in Great Grimsby, Workington or Bolsover. Nor has it in many of the 59 other regions where Labour lost seats.  

In a great number of these areas, many people feel their problems do not stem from any lack of identity politics but from poverty and the consequences of years of austerity economics.  

There is a dearth of opportunity, a plethora of poverty-related social issues and a serious lack of investment in local infrastructure.

The goal this time around must be to unify the entire working class, instead of falling into the right’s game of polarisation.  

There is no better way to consolidate working-class solidarity than by focusing on the issue of economic inequity, especially when 1 per cent of the country currently owns approximately half of Britain’s wealth.

We must take our message of economic socialism and explain in practical terms the difference it will make to people’s lives and we must do this by engaging with people in their communities, instead of proselytising from lofty platforms.

By holding open policy forums in communities up and down Britain, where residents are invited to give feedback on the direction Labour should take, we will be involving those who have long felt disengaged with politicians, who they feel don’t listen to their real concerns.  

If we can show a willingness to consider the working-class electorate’s social concerns and if we can go further and adapt them into our policies in the future, while emphasising the tangible benefits of our solid socialist economics, we can re-engage with those who turned their backs on Labour in the last election.

Our radical economic policies were not the problem with the sector of the electorate who could, in past years, be depended upon to turn out and vote Labour.  

Aside from the big beast that was Brexit, an arguably more important factor was the perception of the party as decisively middle class.  

This perception was perfectly encapsulated by a phrase chosen to describe Labour in a survey of 2,000 swing voters one year before the election — as a party of “quinoa eaters.”

The right has seized on our insistence upon all things woke and have used this to parody our whole movement. 

While advocates of identity politics have unarguably good intentions, the delivery of the message has been lost, and has often left us defending the liberal status quo.

The idea that capitalism can be made OK if we only make the 10 people sitting around the boardroom table creaming profits from the workers, female, BAME, or LGBTQ+ is a bogus one.  

By ignoring the very real need for sweeping socialist economic reform, we are hurting these groups of people most of all, since oppressed or marginalised groups are hardest hit by capitalism.

It is also a mistake to pit elements of the working class against each other, which identity politicking tends to do.  

Capitalism is a rigged system, set up to ensure that only the elites win.  The worker is oppressed by the jackboot of the capitalist money-machine, and this applies whether they are male, female, straight, gay, white, BAME, or otherwise.  

By uniting the worker, not only will we heal the divisions the far right is currently exploiting but we will also build a movement rooted in grassroots, organic activism, the kind that comes from the bottom up, not the top down.

To do this, we must get involved in real working-class politics, encouraging workers to unionise and establishing centres within the community that can become hubs of activism and political activity.  

For too long, the left has appeared to pay lip service only to the working class, a hangover of neoliberalist politicking.  

This is why liberals, who are capitalists, love identity politics — it doesn’t scare the capitalist to have to shuffle the seats at the table to include more women, gay, or BAME people, providing they are prepared to toe the capitalist line.   

Yet the whole system is rotten, it cannot be reformed, it must be replaced by something better — a system that offers true opportunity for all.  

Free education from birth to the cradle, public services owned and run by the nation, for the people, a humane social welfare provision, and more investment in our precious NHS, are just the tip of the iceberg.

There is, as some on the left are fond of saying, a whole world to win, but to win it we must get back to the root of the labour movement, and the recognition of the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist system. 

By focusing on the solid socialist economics that will improve the lives of so many, junking divisive identity politics and respecting the result of the referendum, we can win the war being waged by the far right, unite people of all races and identities and bring traditional working-class Labour voters back into the fold.


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