Not a class act

Submitted by AWL on 17 November, 2020 - 3:49 Author: Jim Denham
Ian Lavery

Last week three former shadow ministers, Laura Smith, John Trickett, and former party chair Ian Lavery, launched a report for their No Holding Back (NHB) initiative.

It purports to be the result of a “listening exercise” amongst Labour members and trade unionists, with the aim of reconnecting Labour with its lost “red wall” voters, but contains few practical proposals beyond unspecified “strengthening trade union and workers’ rights”, taxing firms like Amazon more, creating a “cronyism watchdog” and adopting “progressive patriotism.” On the issue of redundancies NHB says precisely nothing.

On one question, however, NHB has plenty to say. The authors want “A full throated apology” from Labour for not having supported Brexit and seeking a second referendum. That was, they say, a case of “putting liberalism above democracy and that cannot be allowed to happen again.” The election, they say “should have been about putting a fair, hopeful and socialist vision for leaving the EU against a neoliberal Tory Brexit.” What that “socialist” version of Brexit would have been is not explained.

No wonder the pro-Brexit Morning Star loves NHB, and last week sang its praises in an editorial and carried a lengthy and entirely uncritical interview with the three authors, in the course of which Lavery addresses the fact that what he and his friends are really saying is that Labour should have ignored the vast majority of its members on Brexit: “There was a huge difference between what the membership wanted and what the country wanted. This was complicated by the fact that two-thirds of the membership were in the south”. (NHB itself, by the way, describes the “discourse of North versus South” as “unhelpful”).

The report continually counterposes what it calls “hardworking communities in places like Mansfield” with “the urban middle classes in metropolitan centres like London” and the Morning Star described it as a “report on reasons for Labour’s loss of support among working-class communities.”

And yet, when it comes to class, NHB (like the Morning Star) has no clear or consistent definition. At one point, NHB states that the working class is “anyone who relies on a salary to pay their bills”, yet throughout the report, class is defined in the sociological categories developed by marketing industry in the 1950s, with “C2DE voters” described as “working class voters” and “ABC1s” as “remainers, the South (inc London) and middle class voters.”

As a matter of fact, C1s and Bs (for instance teachers, social workers, many civil service and local government workers, indeed many service-sector workers) are the core of the working class in Britain today, 52% of the population, and predominantly the younger sections of the working class. And, by very clear margins, they voted Remain in the 2016 referendum.

Moreover, what NHB and the Morning Star fail to grasp is class has always been politically constituted — the working class is a class in itself, as Marx put it, with the shared experience of capitalist exploitation; but it only becomes a class for itself, to any degree self-conscious and united, with political education, organisation and struggle. At least an important part of the core of the organised working class is certainly C1 and B.

But elementary Marxism is clearly beyond the Morning Star, just as a grasp of what class actually means is beyond the ignorant, philistine, nationalist authors of the wretched little report under the banner No Holding Back.

• For full details of how Lavery abused the funds of the Northumberland Area NUM to pay off his mortgage and trouser a specious “redundancy” payment, together totalling £165,387, see the Certification Officer’s report here.

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