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The conservative right and the working class. May 28, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. The last week I hovered around Politics.ie checking out broad sentiment. Got to say it was so adrift of the results on the part of some on the socially conservative right that one would perhaps hope some commenters there whose belief in their supposed hot line to the psyche of the Irish people being the last word might think again. Unlikely to happen though.

That said what was very revealing was the way some in that cohort sought to drag the working class into the frame as a touchstone of sensible conservatism. The line was usually that working class areas wouldn’t support the proposals or that TDs didn’t canvass those areas or make statements because they knew that their working class constituents weren’t four square behind the measures.

I also think there’s an echo of this in Breda O’Brien’s article this week where she complained about hypocrisy in relation to certain public services not being funded sufficiently when the marriage equality referendum was going through. As with that the broader interests of the working class get little airing in the generality of discussion from these sources.

And as we’ve seen, the assumption at its heart is rendered absurd by the results. Jane Suiter noted as much in a very useful piece on the respective campaigns of YES and NO in the Irish Times.

The strength of the Yes vote in traditional working class areas was also notable. So what mobilised this vote? A first hunch is that it was a direct appeal from “people like me” asking for support. Yes canvassers were a hugely mixed bunch, young and old, but crucially were local to each area. One campaigner in Simmonscourt on Saturday had knocked on almost every door in his local area of Darndale, for example.

I think a lot of it also came from the following dynamic she notes:

The No posters, on the other hand, engaged in negative campaign tactics, using messages about children that had been found to work in Croatia and Slovenia. In fact it is possible these posters and messages had a negative impact leading to thousands of donations to Yes Equality and a building of resentment in many communities who felt their families were being disrespected.

But in any event the list of constituencies that have large working class populations and that came in as top YES constituencies was notable. Dublin North, Dublin Central, Dublin South Central, Dublin South West, Dublin West, Dublin North West, and on and on. If the working class had any hesitations about what camp it was in it surely didn’t demonstrate them on Friday last. Evidence on a granular level confirms this. It was the leafier older, more wealthy environs which could be more hesitant.

Now let’s note that there can be – shall we say – exaggerated attitudes as regards the working class in other quarters too. Sometimes this is reductive, an argument that the class is only interested in economic issues – despite considerable evidence, and not just from this referendum, to the contrary. Sometimes this can be proscriptive, that the class should only be interested in such issues, and that other issues are a diversion or are only the interest of the middle class. But, that’s a minority flavour on the left.

But what is it that feeds this attitude about the working class on the right? It is the idea that it is a repository of authenticity and legitimacy, that its values are – ironically – meant to be near indistinguishable from the conservative social (and at times economic and political) values held by those making the case. It’s a sort of gross sentimentalisation/projection – an attitude that the working class isn’t radical, isn’t, for want of a better word, open. Or is it a belief that somehow the working class sits aside from modernity, that it is sceptical of such things.

All these things are true in part, as they tend to be about most groups in society, but clearly not true as regards the totality. That’s one outcome from this referendum which is particularly useful to remember.


1. dublinstreams - May 28, 2015

its the internet you can link to the comments you cite, also from IT on class of voters and varying types of family these people live with http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/working-class-areas-embracing-change-faster-campaigners-claim-1.2224352 don’t have detailed enough stats to make all the claims people are making about the young and class type of vote, an exit poll would have useful.


WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2015

I’m not mad keen on calling out individuals on P.ie – the threads are there for those who haven’t read them already. I’m more interested in the overall goes some way to validating the claim though I do agree more analysis of the outcomes is necessary to fully substantiate it: http://adriankavanaghelections.org/2015/05/25/geographical-perspective-on-the-may-2015-referendum-contests/

“On average, the Yes share of the vote was higher in the more working class Dublin constituencies (71.4%) than in the rest of Dublin (70.7%). With the other cities included, the share of the vote won by the Yes side in the more urban constituencies came to 68.1%, while the share of the vote won by the Yes side in the other (more rural) was 58.2%.”

It does seem fair to say that many working class people voted in considerable numbers for YES.


2. shea - May 28, 2015

is marriage what it once was in working class dublin communities. Maybe they are right or wrong to presume conservative sensibilities but conservative about the same thing. Iona where projecting only one type of relationship as normal, for a lot of people that world is long gone.

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