From the Brexit vote, to Labour heartlands, to ‘working Tories’, there has been much talk lately of the ‘working class’ vote. But what do people mean when they say this? Who is a true member of the modern working class?
If asked to conjure up an image of such a typical ‘working class’ voter, we’d imagine a plain-talking, home-owning, retired Sun/daily Mail reader. If asked to picture a typical working class individual, most people – regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum, regardless of their prejudices -would imagine a beetroot-faced, socially-conservative, no-time-for-namby-pambies, plain-speaking older male – basically, your typical ‘Question Time’ audience member!
This demographic – the older, plain-speaking male – does exist, and, if we’re honest, they are the first to proclaim their own ‘working class’ credentials, and the first to deny them to others, seeing themselves as gatekeepers of working class identity. They would be happy to deride most millennials – especially those with more refined tastes – as “poncey, middle-class, student types who’ve never known a hard day’s graft in their lives” etc.etc.etc.
Problem is, this demographic – who have set themselves up as ultimate arbiters of working class identity, actually demonstrate working class attributes such as solidarity and hard work less than the youngsters they so readily deride.
As a broad stereotype, this demographic are much more likely to be home-owners, much more likely to have had that home be cheap to buy, before rapidly inflating in value, much more likely to have enjoyed secure work contracts throughout their lives, much more likely to retire earlier than their kids etc.
Their most common refrain is “I’ve voted Labour all my life, but I csn’t do so anymore with this lot in charge”. The translation of this cliched tirade is basically “When I worked, I voted for the party which protected worker’s rights. . . now I’m about to retire, f**k the workers, I’d like some xenophobia please!”
Whereas the people they deride for ‘not being working class enough’, millennials, actually are working every hour god sends, often in manual, menial, or unskilled roles, paid close to the minimum wage, in insecure work, paying rent to an extorting landlord, and grounded in debt – while the bitching brexiteer bigots who claim that today’s youth are “not real working class” swan off on another 2 month, equity-release-funded cruise!
We live in a weird world where people who aren’t working are claiming the working class moral high ground over those who are! Apparently, if you are young, have a smartphone, and have ever eaten an avocado, you don’t get to be working class – it doesn’t matter if you do a manual job for low pay, because a bunch of property-rich, retired conservatives have decided you can’t identify as working class!
The idea for this blog entry came upon observations of who these stereotypical ‘working class’ Brexit voters idolised – Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Earl of Dartmouth, Jacob Rees Mogg etc. – Privately educated upper-class lords of the manor who’ve never done a day’s manual work in their lives!
But what really hit home was the vitriol I saw expressed towards one particular MP. Angela Raynor. I saw a number of facebook posts on the ‘YourBrexit’ page (one of the dozens of pits of incoherent nationalist rage which fill up facebook) attacking her. This is to be expected – these pages are funded and administered by the upper class.
What followed, however, was truly surprising – dozens of comments from older, anti-Labour, “proudly working class” Leave voters attacking and deriding her for ‘not talking properly’, because of her strong regional accent! Angela Raynor has some of the strongest genuinely working-class credentials of any MP on either side of the house, and here were these people, these self-proclaimed guardians of working-class identity, attacking her for having a working class accent – whilst toadying at the feet of brexiteer aristocracy!
The typical anti-Labour, anti-liberal Brexit voter no longer has any right to claim working class status. They are better off in terms of wealth and representation than the millennials they deride, and are much keener to tug the forelock in the presence of their betters, than to engage in real working-class solidarity.
If you go beyond the stereotypes of avocado on toast, Instagram and eyebrows, and actually think about what it truly means to be working class – the struggle against the elites, landed gentry and aristocrats, the hard work, the community, the camaraderie – we find that indebted, disenfranchised Millennials actually fit the bill much more than the retired brexiteer-bigot-boomers whose house has quadrupled in value, and who only like politicians with proper (i.e. posh) accents