Labour and the Working Class: The Father Who Doesn’t Understand the Son

Funmi Oduniyi discusses why the Labour Party must reconnect with the working class, and its core values of creating a fairer society for all. 

In December 2019, the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn suffered its worst election defeat since 1935, losing 59 seats. What was poignant however, was where Labour lost their seats. Seats which were previously known as Labour heartlands such as north west Durham and Bluth valley had been lost to the conservatives, conjuring up discussions over how Labour had alienated even their most loyal followers. While many justifiably point to Labour’s lack of clarity with Brexit as a major factor, the issue is one which is deeper and dates back before Brexit. The working-class structure in the UK has for a while been evolving and changing, and this is something the Labour party has failed to realise. Like a son coming of age and changing his outlook on life, so has the working class evolved, and like a father unable to come to terms with his sons changing thought processes, the Labour Party is failing to understand it’s modern working class base and what they actually want.

In order to understand why Labour is unable to attune itself with what the working class wants; we have to go back to its roots. The Labour Party roots are embedded in trade unions at a time where society had very little social mobility and where the divisions between the elite and working class were more divisive. Socialism in the early 20th century still saw the working class as a group of people who were in direct conflict with the elites and seeing them as the enemy to be overcome via protesting. While due to the lack of social mobility in the early 20th century making this view understandable back then, the evolution of society has meant that the thought process of today’s working class is completely different. The relative improvement in opportunity for social mobility has meant that the mindset of the working class has changed from ‘revolutionary’ to ‘aspirational’. The term for this is the ‘aspiration of the working class’ – where the working class now aspire to get themselves out of poverty through hard work and opportunities. The key word there is opportunities as ‘aspiration’ isn’t a proxy for cutting taxes for the rich and billionaires but instead in investing in the people. The recent Labour Party has failed to realise that the working class is aspirational and instead of just taxing big businesses and increasing minimum wage, they want to see investments in providing opportunities for people to progress and grow so that they don’t have to rely on minimum wages.

So how do we support the ‘aspirational working class’? Many have tried to deal with this with the idea of ‘aspirational socialism’ as seen with Andrew Burnham and Rebecca Long-Bailey in the recent Labour leadership election. However, the best way to deal with this is to look back to the last time Labour won back parliament from the conservatives – Tony Blair’s Labour. While Blair’s tenure is justifiably critiqued and questioned over his involvement in Iraq and with his relationship with the media, there is a lot to learn from his election campaign. His invention of ‘New Labour’, one which focused on being an enabling state, where opportunities were given for social progress is one which relates to the current working class. The working class aspire to get out of poverty, have greater social mobility opportunities and have a fulfilling lives, so Labour has to react to that and then provide them with the tools to do so. Examples are the windfall tax where tax revenues raised was invested into the welfare to work programme. Another is the regional development agency act which aimed to enhance the development and application of skills relevant to employment for citizens and further local economic regeneration. It is no surprise that when Labour listened to the working class and focused on enabling an aspiration working class, we saw Labour’s largest parliamentary majority ever.

I believe by learning from New Labour, the current Labour Party can, in the long-term, reconnect with the working class and fulfil its aim of creating a fairer society for the working-class person.

Funmi is a recent graduate currently working in the asset management industry with a thirst for politics and in creating a society where a level playing field is central.

His interests include politics and finance led him to rearing a blog page called ‘fosperspectives’ where he writes articles related to politics, finance and economic development. This has grown into an instagram page where he provide regular updates and content related to politics and finance.

He tweets at @fosperspectives 

He also posts on Instagram at @fosperspectives

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