Socialist Worker

Can Corbyn overcome political disillusion?

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2555

Basildon—a town left behind by austerity and taken for granted by the Tories

Basildon—a town left behind by austerity and taken for granted by the Tories (Pic: Guy Smallman)


According to the pundits working class people are abandoning the Labour Party for the Tories.

A survey last week in the liberal Guardian newspaper found that the Tories were leading among the poorer C2, D and E social groups of manual workers.

For liberals and some left wingers, this shows that working class people have moved right. 

The reality is more complex—and tied up with Brexit. For example, right wingers have held up Basildon as a working class town that supports the Tories’ “aspirational” message.

The Essex town is part of the Basildon and Billericay constituency, represented by Tory MP John Barron with a thumping majority of 12,482. 

But there’s little sign of Theresa May’s “great meritocracy” in the boarded up shops and run?down flats in the town centre.

Many people are angry about how their lives are being wrecked. As Bruce, a Basildon resident, told Socialist Worker, “I’m disabled and couldn’t hear anything in a workplace. But I’ve been put through a lot of interviews for my disability benefits.

Whisker

“I worked all sorts of jobs until my late 40s but now they will stop the money in a whisker.”  

Built after the Second World War as one of the “new towns”, Basildon was supposed to represent progress and modernity. Its palpable decline fuels anger against politicians from all parties.

Robert, also from Basildon, told Socialist Worker, “Politicians are just as bad as each other, they just promise all sorts of things and don’t deliver them.”

People want a better future. For Ellen, a retired health worker, “The NHS and social care are the highest priorities for me. We need more staff and the 1 percent pay increase health workers have been offered is just an insult.”

Working class people don’t automatically blame the Tories or bosses for the problems caused by free market policies.

Contradictory

The anger is contradictory and can be pulled left or right.

It burst to the surface last summer when the overwhelming majority of people in Basildon voted Leave in the European Union (EU) referendum.

The Leave vote represented a deep anger at the base of society, with the majority of the C2, D and E groups backing Leave.

The Tories are working hard to pull that anger and disaffection in a right wing and racist direction.

Partly to do this, they have successfully pitched themselves as the party of Leave voters.

Richard explained, “I supported Leave because I just don’t agree with the EU and its rules. I’ll be voting for the Conservatives because they seem more able to sort out Brexit.”

For the first time in more than a decade there is a substantial difference between what Labour and the Tories are offering. 

But the feeling that “politicians are all the same” won’t be overcome simply by telling people about Labour’s manifesto on the doorstep.

Labour has taken an awful position on Brexit that commits it to defending the EU single market—which would block its renationalisation plans—and dumping freedom of movement.

But putting forward a bold vision for a workers’ Brexit could help to pull the anger leftwards.


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