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UKIP’s surge makes working class Labour candidates more vital than ever

class inequalityThe initial Labour reaction to the success of UKIP at attracting working class voters in many areas has focussed on the right policy response. But as Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford, authors of Revolt on the Right: Explaining Public Support for the Radical Right in Britain, say in tomorrow’s Guardian the voters with “white faces, blue collars and grey hair” who are voting UKIP do so because of the “dominance of a university-educated, professional middle-class elite whose priorities and outlook now define the mainstream“.

Ed Miliband notes in  his speech today that “millions of people now feel that our country does not work for them, politics does not listen to them and cannot answer them“. As he so often does, his only use of the word “class” was in the context of his ever-repeated notion of One Nation where he expressed the aspiration to lead on behalf of people “from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all classes.” Nevertheless, he does speak of:

that part of working Britain who work hard for a living, in tough jobs and seek to provide for their family. People who love our country. But feel left behind by what has happened. Some people who in years gone by would have been Labour till they die.”

He talked about “the industry of our country” which provided with a job that “was not just a job” but was “the foundation of community“. The problem was not immigration, he said. He promised:

A big change in our economy, so we make sure there are good jobs in successful businesses, which are properly paid, and not the insecurity that comes with zero-hours or short-hours that leaves people short-changed.

Building homes again in our country, so that Carol doesn’t feel that a home is out of reach for her grandchildren.

Rebuilding solidarity and a sense of community where people live, because people need to recognise the rules, whether they are on benefits, have just come to Britain, or are at the very top of our society.

And what brings all this together, one thing more important than anything, linking the wealth of our country back again with ordinary family finances, so that we can fight the cost-of-living crisis, and ensure that hard work means that people can build a better future for their family.

This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. It needs to go further, but even the right policies are not sufficient. We need Labour candidates and Labour MPs who are representative of our voters. More women, more black people but above all more working class people.

Whilst I do not buy the claim by Goodwin and Ford that “politics is no longer about economics“, it really matters who is advocating Labour’s policy response. And the sad reality is that, though the candidates selected in the last two years are an improvement, we have much further to go.


  1. Dave Roberts says:

    I agree, but it’s a bit late for Miliband to discover this. What we now have are local Labour parties that are viewed as kindergardens for the new Labour wunderkind straight out of university with a PPE who may have had a job in a charity or three coupled with a spell as a reasearcher/intern/adviser to a trade union, MP or MEP.

    If there has to be positive discrimination then it should be for white working class women, unfortunately they are few and far between in local Labour parties these days. We are back to the old problem. Is the green stuff guacamole or mushy peas?

    1. PoundInYourPocket says:

      I’ll check with the serveants.

      1. Mike Fryer says:

        We also need a broad age range to keep the experience and knowledge of the hardships of life under Capitalism as fresh and personal.

    2. Robert says:

      Sadly even the Unions think working class candidates now means University types..

  2. PoundInYourPocket says:

    I agree that Labour are losing votes as to many voters thay now appear “alien”. But no matter who your local candidate is, those that make it onto the news will continue to be the “alien” higher echelons. There’s also something unsettling about trying to choose a candidate that appeals to a certain demographic. Isn’t that the manipulating artificiality we are trying to avoid. I think if we have the right policies, policies that appeal to that demographic, and expressed by someone that genuinely believes in them. They will come across to the voter as the “right one”. Afterall Lord Benn went down well in northern Chesterfield and he wasn’t “white working class” was he. He was just honest, trustworthy, decent and very comitted to those he represented. candidates need to be “good” candidates like Benn, irrespective of educational background and class.

    1. Dave Roberts says:

      It just shows how loyal the Chesterfield voters were then. Labour central wouldn’t get away with that now.

    2. David Pavett says:

      I agree. The steady decline in MPs of working class origin reflects the fact that Labour policies have less and less to do with representing the interests of working class people. The situation is now that the Party machinery is controlled be a small group of career politicians, policy wonks and apparatchiks. Party members need to stand up against this control and assert their desire for open and properly informed debate. The problem is that so many who would support such a move have given up and either just get on with their local political tasks or have left the Party altogether. Is there a sufficient base for a real challenge to the current stage management of Labour ‘democracy’?

      If Labour had policies that were designed to serve the interests of the working class then the working class might show some interest in it. Short of that the decline in any sense of commitment to Labour will continue.

      Simply insisting on a quota of candidates of working class origin is not a solution. It is no more difficult to find the requisite number of right-wing hacks and time-servers from the working class than from any other. One only has to think back over Labour history for ample evidence of this.

      Also the left has to look to itself on this question. How much of the left itself consists of people of working class origin?

      1. Dave Roberts says:

        An important post Dave Pavett in which you have raised several important points. In reverse order ow many people of working class origin make up the modern left for a start?

        I am generally against quotas especially on racial grounds as that as always played into the hands of the far right but I would make an exception in this case.

        The party is of course run by the kind of people who I described in my first comment. A PPE from somewhere or other and then a series of non jobs before being parachuted in somewhere as a councillor to bolster the CV while doing “research” for an MEP or a trades union.

      2. Robert says:

        That is because words like working class are not labour anymore the fact is today labour is middle class middle of the road. New labour the name is dead New labour the ideology is alive and well.

        If Miliband loses the next election then you will have one mad push to get a Progress right winger to take over with a smiling imagine of Blair.

        the fact is the ideology today is that of the middle class, not the working class yesterday Miliband spoke again about hard working and then he said labour has always been working……. peoples he could not say it, working class.

        Maybe that because Miliband has never worked or never been working class.

      3. Robert says:

        Sadly the fact is we have three parties all so close to each other we may end up interchanging leaders would we know the difference.


  3. John reid says:

    Although 3 of the 7 Ukip council seats in a havering were took from former Labour councillors, and 5 of those seats would be described as working class areas, the other two were above middle class areas where the average price of a house is 650,000′ , If anything in havering Ukips vote destroyed he 4,000 majorities of some Tory councillors resulting in them winning with 350 votes

  4. James Martin says:

    While class origin is not the only problem (given how many right-wingers in the Party and unions come from a working class background, while there have been good socialists like Tony Benn who were from solid middle class stock), the wider issue of the professionalization of politics is a large one. I would guess (or at least wouldn’t be surprised) that there are now far more PPC’s that have risen through the ranks of Labour Students than a trade union for example.

    And look where that leads. Our recent Education shadow ministers for example – Twigg (who rose through the student route), utterly useless embarrassment and now Hunt (middle class academic), a useless strike-breaking scab and an embarrassment. And yet these people are given positions where the most people affected are not the middle classes but working class people in the school system.

    But then look at Miliband. Never done a proper job in his life and it constantly shows. He can neither talk to people properly nor realistically understand basic issues (such as what is so horrible about most jobs, and the reasons trade unions exist), and his politics constantly resemble an extension of a university student union debate.

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