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Cosmopolitanism, the ‘white’ working class and other matters… March 9, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Interesting piece here by Robert Yates in the Observer which has some pertinent points, not all of which I’d agree with, about the current discourse around working class voters. I particularly like this:

One might also reflect that the term “white working class” is overused, turning issues of class and economics into ones of race. In the interests of a fuller picture, it’s also worth noting that mixed-race is the fastest growing demographic category, and that the growth is largely among the working class.

But there’s also this:

Then there is the question of values. The “left behind” are, it’s said, profoundly at odds with liberal metropolitan types. In fact, this theory has now hardened into received wisdom if not established fact. So much so that within the Labour party – where any division of this sort could entail serious electoral consequences – a central debate of the past year has been how to reconcile the priorities of these two tribes. Here’s the thing, however. What if these divisions have been overplayed? Brexitland and Remainia, we’ve learned to recite, belong to different tribes, despite the referendum electoral map showing a patchwork quilt of results with most people living in places where the result was close. (And despite many, if not most, Labour supporters in Leave areas having voted Remain.)

That last is profoundly important. There’s a real danger of a misperception of over-reifying the Leave dynamic and ignoring the Remain. In the context of Brexit clearly Brexit will occur. But one would think it easier to pull people back to a position of something akin to EEA/EFTA membership rather than a hard Brexit when most are already sceptical about Brexit.

Yates quotes Robert Ford, who as Ed has noted is problematic, but some of the data is useful, and ironically seems to push against Ford’s thoughts.

I also think this is a good point:

We wonder also about hope, and how fatalism works against hope, especially for those reading about themselves as victims. (Dispatches from “forgotten” places seldom allow, it seems, for the possibility that those forgotten might be reading or watching.)

There’s a real sense of the working class, white or otherwise, as ‘other’ and almost passive – merely there to provide a sort of political ballast for those on one side or another of the argument, and painted in the colours that most suit the arguments being made. But of course the working class, white or otherwise, isn’t homogenous, it doesn’t think as one. Yates himself went to school in Liverpool Walton and had some interesting interactions at his old comprehensive there, in what is one of the most deprived parts of England.

And this thought of his I think is particularly important:

However, as a motif running through this last year of national introspection, the accelerated pace of change and its effect on our poorest areas has tended to be seen as a negative. Talk to the likes of Jonathan Rutherford, one of the leading proponents of communitarian “Blue Labour”, and he will point out that “ultra cosmopolitanism doesn’t recognise that what people want in many areas are rooted lives”. Perhaps he’s right to signal a widespread desire for stability, but there’s a danger that we forget to file the positive changes and lose ourselves in misplaced nostalgia for working-class idylls that never existed, invoking a “dreamt-up peaceful innocence”, in the words of Alan Johnson. Stability often meant stifled lives.

Here it is important to unbundle this. Instability doesn’t equal zero-hour contracts or economic instability. Stability did indeed often mean stifled lives. And change of one sort or another is good as long as it is not too great, too fast, too disruptive. Indeed it is a necessity and an inevitable. And I’m always leery when I hear people on the left using cosmopolitanism, ultra or not, as a negative. There’s a depressing history of that usage that should provide a warning to us.

Perhaps it is different from an Irish perspective. In some respects my life and those of many or most of us, has been shaped by economic dynamics that saw change, movement, travel, as if not an absolute necessity then one that was likely to occur at least once. I traveled to live and work in the UK (and much more briefly in the US) andI can’t help but see that as a positive even if at the time it was not something I particularly wanted to do. And of my own immediate family of three siblings two of us left the state and one never returned. And yet one would hope there would be some degree of choice – that economics wouldn’t necessitate emigration while still embracing some degree of change.

Anyhow, a lot to think about.


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