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Confessions of a Corbynista croissant muncher

CroissantWhen a freshly-appointed Baron feels able to devote his maiden speech in the upper house to a condescending de haut en bas attack on commoners for being too damn posh, it’s entirely clear that Britain’s outdated honours system produces some rather rum results. But such was the lack of self-awareness on display when former Labour MP Lord Watts waded into the Corbyn supporters for constituting a “London-centric hard left political class who sit around in their £1m mansions eating their croissants at breakfast and seeking to lay the foundations for a socialist revolution.”

Nor is the he only prominent figure on the Labour right out to depict those of us who back the leadership as effete ineffectual trendies, condemned never to lift anything heavier than a pepper mill as we add condiments to our delicious gluten-free wholemeal vegan pasta and aubergine bake. Take Gary Smith, GMB’s Scottish secretary. Smith argues that the only people behind Jezza on Trident are “professional posers” busy playing “student politics” while “sipping lattes in Islington”.

Because, you know, we denizens of N1 like nothing better than a exquisite organic Kopi Luwak to accompany our morning artisan-baked Viennoiserie. For us, it is as natural a match as bread and dripping is for the sturdy blue collar masses that we are asked to believe make up the natural constituency monopolised by Progress and Labour First.

Those old enough to remember Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen sketch might like to picture it re-enacted by four northern Labour MPs, all keen to stress their impoverished upbringings and impeccable proletarian virility. One of the quartet will almost certainly be Michael Dugher, a man who can’t get through a media interview without making sure that the journalist knows that he was raised int’ pit village, which in terms of horny handed son of toil credentials certainly trumps such inconvenient CV items as a career as a SpAd.

Discussing unskilled labour from eastern Europe is “not something that nice, polite, leftwing people do at dinner parties in North London”, Dugher opinesAnd there was me thinking that the stereotype was that we talk of little else, especially when recommending Polish chappies able to do a spot of cash-in-hand plastering for us. Dugher’s point here is that ‘umble folk can’t be doing with us north Londoners and our fancy Big Smoke ways, and Labour can only avert core vote meltdown by pledging to clamp down on immigrants coming over here, taking our jobs and stealing our women.

Enough of all this nonsense. It is high time that someone came to the defence of the Americano-sipping north London left, and it probably takes a self-professed metrosexual male moisturiser user like me to do the job. For a start, the social composition of constituency Labour Parties in the area in which I live is no different from anywhere else in Britain.

Sure, we have a disproportionate number of teachers and local government workers. But that’s the way it was under Blair and Brown, and from all empirical evidence, it is as true in Darlington as it is in Dalston.

However, the idea that union activists and tenants movement activists run a mile because they are repelled by our airy-fairy middle-class ways is a complete myth. The key point is that thanks to the huge jump in membership under Corbyn, in absolute terms we have many, many more working class and black members than we did a year ago. That wouldn’t have happened had any of the other three candidates had won, and Watts, Smith and Dugher know that full well.

Then there are the house price insinuations. In most of inner London, a “£1m mansion” equates to what would in the rest of the country be seen as “an average terraced house”. Five will get you ten that Lord Watts’ accommodation is somewhat grander.

I don’t live in a mansion myself, having to make do with a mere “£500,000 luxury apartment”, of the type known elsewhere as “a two-bedroom shoebox flat”, roughly in line with what is now the average price of a London home. But Labour Party members who do occupy houses in the main do so because they got on the housing ladder two or three decades ago.

Most young Corbynistas are Generation Rent, and without a radical change in this country’s housing policy, they won’t get a similar chance. That’s why Miliband’s rent-controls-but-not-so-anybody-would-notice stance was one of Labour’s most popular policies in 2015.

Finally, it’s worth noting that for all the sneering, the populations of Camden, Islington and Hackney remain majority working class. Far from being out of touch with their concerns, local CLPs are campaigning hard to get out the vote out for Khan in May, and look set to deliver a Labour victory.

Sneering and childish myth-mongering of the type peddled by Watts, Smith and Dugher is not only inimical to serious discussion.

It’s deliberately insulting to activists in one of our party’s strongholds, and should be no more acceptable than the slurs against Grimsby on offer in the latest Sacha Baron-Cohen film.

If the Labour right wants its arguments to be taken seriously, it might like to try engaging in adult political debate instead of assassination by caricature.

12 Comments

  1. Verity says:

    Yes, but let this not disguise the fact that membership of the Labour Party is so much a smaller proportion of population in the Midlands and both parts of the North of England than it is London. I also suspect the same might be true for Wales and Scotland.

    We do need to try alter this state of affairs by increasing campaigning activities beyond London. As a, for instance, the natural starting point for McDonnell’s Economic evening seminars sites were in London and they are thinner elsewhere (at least this early stage). With Labour having such a clumsy Pro EU position there are plenty of others capitalizing in areas of neglect.

  2. No, whilst the large bulk of the population of those North London boroughs are “working class”, in the Marxist sense, it is silly to compare them to elsewhere such as to outer London or the North of the country.

    As The Centre for London report (INSIDE OUT: THE NEW GEOGRAPHY OF WEALTH
    AND POVERTY IN LONDON) notes http://centreforlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/CFLJ3887-Inside-out-inequality_12.125_WEB.pdf
    the Islington council area has the highest proportion in London of those in “higher-skilled occupations” (Managers, Directors and senior Officials, 2: Professional Occupations, 3: Associate Professions and Tech Occupations) in 2014 with Camden the 7th and Hackney the 8th highest in the list. Barking and Dagenham is at the bottom, Newham one above them and Waltham Forest four from the bottom. The numerical differences are stark.

    This is supported by my observations of LP members; In inner London they are often professional types (or students heading that way) – so some similarity to the local populations

    But it’s worth noting how here in outer east London they are often actually very different from the local population, at least those LP members with influence or power. There are many who are petit-bourgeois: shop owners, restaurateurs and especially landlords – one a councillor who makes the Newham Recorder yesterday because he “‘abused power’ to stifle complaints against him by (his) tenants” and another set from Waltham Forest who made Rotten Boroughs in the latest Private Eye for similar activity.

  3. James Martin says:

    Well I’m a working class GMB member who lives in the NW (former mill town in fact) and who supports Corbyn and opposes Trident. Also, one of the largest political public meetings in my area for some time was last year when Jeremy came and spoke during the leadership campaign. However, I used many years ago to live and work in Merseyside and was active in the party and unions there, so what Dave Watts said while draped in Ermine actually came as no surprise, he always did have a reputation before becoming and MP as a careerist tool, and that dig at the movement that elected Jeremy shows that he just can’t get it that others are motivated by things other than their own career advancement (or ennoblement in Watts’s case).

  4. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

    I am from working class heritage, served a five year engineering apprenticeship, and live in Gloucester, not exactly London is it? Jeremy stands for most everything I have always supported in the Labour Party, but New Labour aren’t Labour are they, they are Neo-Liberal Tory light.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      I completely agree with you and I voted for Corbyn; but for my money, ” “London-centric hard left political class who sit around in their £1m mansions eating their croissants at breakfast…….” or just middle class sums them up perfectly.

      Who can forget just how excruciating Miliband was; a millionaire property speculator, Jewish and American educated, (not the most compelling traits for any labor leader trying to engage a skeptical and cynical British electorate with a large Muslim minority.)

      Or, I’m speaking to all you poor people out there from the servant’s quarters of my multi million pound London mansion and I can promise you that I share your concerns and empathize completely with your pain and hardship.

      1. Jim Denham says:

        Why bring the fact that Miliband’s Jewish into it? Or the fact that there’s a “large Muslim minority”? Are you suggesting that Muslims wouldn’t vote for a Jew?

      2. Karl Stewart says:

        Totally agree with Jim Denham’s comment here, in terms of the comment about Miliband’s jewishness.

        To describe someone’s jewishness as if this were something negative is anti-semitic and that comment should be withdrawn.

  5. Mick Hall says:

    At its best the LP is an amalgamation of the best of the middle classes and the working classes, in the new labour years the party institutions increasingly failed to reflect this, as did parliament when middle class offspring, often spads were often fast tracked into seats.

    As a working class old git the most important thing to me is policies, followed by working class representation in parliament. Corbyn is doing more than fine by me.

    By the way the outdoor scenes in Grimsby were filmed in Tilbury, which is within my local CLP of Thurrock. Which in case some do not know, its is on the rim of east London. And no we no longer keep coal in the bath, central heating has finally reached us.

  6. Susan O'Neill says:

    The shift towards Corbyn was a direct response to the existing Labour Party “Tory Red” policies. Too many of the right wing element are privileged and no longer know how to represent the working class. I am sixty years old was born in a mining town and own my own home because Thatcher rescued this country from the likes of Arthur Scargill and a 13% inflation rate. Hardly the sort who would turn to JC. The fact is that Red Tory do not in fact, represent me or most of my neighbours the majority of whom are in their 70’s and 80’s. We all wan’t to see JC succeed and get rid of “those Blair toffs” and we live eighty miles away from London. We hardly fit the profile Watts describes, so in effect he is talking out of his arse.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      But then of course you would say that wouldn’t you ?

  7. Alan Brooke says:

    So says Lord Watts. What a hypocrite. Another ‘Labour’ peer ready to grab the ermine and help himself from the House of Lords trough. He then has the brass neck to be critical of so-called posers. Zero credibility.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      In fact it’s just the same tired old tactic of, “Don’t look at me look at them,” that Blair was always so fond of; nevertheless despite his own lack of personal credibility he still has a point and one that many of us recognize only too well.

      One which is also recognized either explicitly or implicitly in most of the comments above; in a sense and a very real one it can be argued that Blair, (after Thatcher,) finally manged to turn British socialism and it’s traditions and values into just another cheap middle class racket.

      And that that has been his real, most toxic and most pernicious legacy.

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