WHY THE MIDDLE CLASSES LOVE JEZZA
Radical? Please. Corbyn is the heir to Blair.
After Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party increased its share of the popular vote and its number of MPs at the 2017 General Election, some have argued that radical state socialism has finally found a wide audience in Britain. There is a belief that Labour has returned to its pre-Tony Blair, pre-New Labour days as a socialist rather than centrist party, as demonstrated by its commitment to (minor) re-nationalisation and the scrapping of tuition fees for undergraduates.
Yet alongside this apparent shift back to Old Labour policies, it has also recently been revealed that 77 per cent of Labour’s membership come from the professional middle classes — and 11 per cent are in the top four per cent of earners in Britain. It is on this solidly respectable social base that Corbynmania has arisen and Labour now stands. So forget all the excited blather about ‘for the many, not the few’, or policies on re-nationalising the electricity board. Labour is not returning to its past, for the simple reason that it now represents a new social constituency.
Historically, Labour formed in order to further the material interests of trade unions in parliament. The party was an expression, if a politically limited one, of organised labour — the clue was in the name. But to be accepted into the Westminster establishment, Labour had to ensure that radical working-class demands were contained within a parliamentary form.
The last time Labour helped to constrain working-class militancy was in the early to mid-1980s, a period when the middle-class vote was solidly for the Conservative Party. The sight of rough working-class blokes battling it out with employers and the police tended to repulse the middle classes, with even some radicals denouncing picket-line violence for being ‘too macho’. Indeed, on the 25th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike, the Guardian said it still believed it was ‘right that the government won’ against the National Union of Mineworkers.
It is precisely the demise of such open class struggle that has helped to make Labour appealing to the more respectable sections of society. Tony Blair benefited from this when he took New Labour to power in 1997, and now Jeremy Corbyn is benefiting from it, too.