Do this month’s local elections show that working class people are becoming more right wing? There’s a growing consensus that says they did. One version of this saw the media push a “new” report from Joseph Rowntree.
The Guardian claimed that this showed “Labour voters increasingly turning against the poor”. Yet the report actually tells us very little about immediate changes.
It rested on data from the 2011 British Social Attitudes Survey.
This shows that, from the late 1980s until the mid-1990s, around two thirds of people support pro-welfare statements.
But just a third of Labour Party voters saw social injustice as the main cause of poverty in 2011.This is down from 41 percent in 1986.
The number of Labour supporters who blame individuals for their own poverty rose from 13 percent to 21 percent over the same period.
Supporters of New Labour throughout the previous Labour government argued that this showed that a section of society had shifted to the right.
This became a justification for Labour shifting to the right and attacking working class people.
In fact the acceptance of scapegoating welfare claimants was central to the New Labour project.
Attacks on welfare started as soon as Labour came into office with an assault on single parent benefits.
After Labour spent more than a decade attacking benefit claimants, these ideas got some purchase among ordinary people.
But the same survey found that 82 percent saw cutting child poverty as “very important”.Almost three quarters said this was a task for the government.
Politicians are always trying to divide workers on the basis of race, religion, ethnic group, or other differences.
Unsurprisingly a minority of workers accept some right wing ideas. But this doesn’t mean this is permanent or acceptable.
Our rulers recognise that workers are brought together at work and in trade unions.
The Tories are louder at using scapegoating to try and divide us.
But sections of the Labour Party are lobbying to shift the party further rightwards.
Those at the top of the Labour Party think they must get in touch with the “grassroots” as they like to call it.
To them, this means being hard on immigration and pandering to reactionary ideas.
Labour knows it needs the support of workers to fight and win elections.
But pandering to bigotry because you think workers are a reactionary bloc won’t work as a political strategy.
It will encourage rightwingers, not challenge them. Looking to what unites us and fighting together is a far better option.