In response to the political events of this bleak week, the editors at the Everyday Analysis Collective will be offering their reflections, putting their individual viewpoints into conversation within this serialised report. Here, Jaice Sara Titus reflects.
Hot takes about what the northern leave-voting working class want and what they need are proliferating rapidly. We need to be careful when indulging in these often-unhelpful forms of identification. Contrarian and socially conservative groups like Blue Labour and Spiked argue that lots of Labour voters switched to Tories this time. This is a tactic aimed at dividing the working class and our diverse identities. In this election, it is not that Labour voters switched to Conservative in droves, but rather the data shows that Labour voters in many Labour constituencies did not go out and vote. Turnout was down 1.5 percent overall, falling to 67.3 percent. But sharper falls were recorded in many northern constituencies, such as Bolsover (down 2.2 percentage points) and Great Grimsby (down 3.7 percentage points) to just 61.1 and 57.7 percent respectively. There has been a long process of political disengagement that needs to be reckoned with.
Within the structures of capitalist society and the state, race, gender and sexuality are often weaponised for political purposes to weaken our collective class struggle. I have seen the far-right use identity politics within the Indian community during the election. The attacks on a Corbyn-led Labour party of being anti-Hindu and anti-India by the far-right Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata party UK group, which supports the government of Narendra Modi. Many of us on the left of the South Asian community came together and canvassed in Harrow East as a way to combat this. While there are practical limitations to door knocking such as the cold weather, people not being in the house or undecided voters often not wanting to talk at all, canvassing has been helpful in understanding how Indian identity is interchangeably used with Hindu identity and how Kashmir is used as a political tool to create divisions within the diaspora. Furthermore, dividing up the diaspora into religious and ethnic identities is an attempt to individualise such identities and break down our capacity for collective resistance.
“Come out of EU may then squeeze the politicians in the future to deal with one ‘government control’ independent of the EU.
So the first task is to get Brexit done irrespective of the Party leaders personalities.
Only Tory party is willing to make UK independent of EU.”
This was one of the WhatsApp messages sent out to the Indian community during the election. A lot of us are still not clear on the make-up of the Indian community that were targeted during the election, but the message is clear that they would also want a party that will “Get Brexit Done”. Of course, it wasn’t just Indians saying this but also poor white voters in places I canvassed like Thurrock. I am not saying that Leave won or Remain lost in this election because we cannot speculate what could have been different. What was clear from many doorstep conversations was that people wanted someone that promised a way out of their problems, which were represented by the EU, or being stuck in the EU after voting to leave. What was different about 2017 was that canvassers and voters could come together to embrace a socialist manifesto while at the same time accepting that there could be a “People’s Brexit” plan. What was also different then was that the establishment had no faith or understanding of our potential and were content to let the Corbyn project fail on its own terms – a mistake they would not repeat in the run up to 2019.
The machinery of the right-wing establishment began to drown the left through the establishment media, social media and, a liberal favourite, through ‘identity politics’. A key form of identity politics that disorganised the left was the leave/remain dichotomy as an organising principle. The one that dominated the last few years, was the campaign for a People’s Vote, campaigned for by the likes of Alistair Campbell, Michael Heseltine and other repugnant figures. By the middle of this year Corbyn found himself at a crossroads with not enough people in the PLP and shadow cabinet backing his position for a Labour Leave platform, weakening his leadership position, and leading to the adoption of a wishy-washy position. This was difficult to endorse on the doorstep. While Momentum had sent canvassers in their thousands, it became increasingly clear that having a piece of both sides on the Brexit issue created more mistrust amongst working class votes who rightly so have had enough of 40 years of political dissembling, characteristic of neoliberalism. Walking around neglected areas and meeting people, I felt I had a lot more in common with white working-class voters than I did with middle-class Indian voters. In previously Labour areas, it was difficult to win arguments for Labour because of shoddy Labour MPs who did nothing in the area they had served and councils that were hotbeds of clientelism.
The Labour manifesto program was again very successful on the doorstep. Many people who are often caricatured by liberals as ‘white working-class racists’ would on the doorstep tell me that they wanted me to do well and they wanted all the young people to do well. They were worried about climate change, jobs and universal credit. These were important to them and their neighbours. What we crucially missed was connecting the manifesto with a transformative, left-Brexit program, one that respected the 2016 referendum result but radically reinterpreted it in a way very different to the Hard Brexit/Soft Brexit/No Deal formulations that came to dominate after the 2017 election. One that could appeal to both Labour-inclined leave voters and Corbynism’s main urban bases. Politics had moved fast in the last two years and instead of creating a strong narrative that moved with the politics, the manifesto pledges were popular but felt disjointed from their main concern. As the great saying goes, ‘politics moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it’.
Jaice Sara Titus is a Marxist and a PhD researcher with an interest in psychoanalysis, comedy and politics.