Socialist Worker

Class—not age—is the key divide in Britain

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2559

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking to supporters in Matlock

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking to supporters in Matlock (Pic: Neil Terry)


Despite the surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn and socialist policies, pundits are claiming that “class is dead”.

We are told the main divide in British politics is now between young and old people and Remain and Leave supporters.

The agenda of both the right wing and liberal newspapers is to downplay the popularity of socialist policies. Underlying it is a patronising view of working class people.

According to the Financial Times (FT) newspaper’s “preliminary results” the Tories “fared better in constituencies where a high share of people report being in poor health”.

People in the poorer D and E social groups tend to have worse health. The FT argues this is a sign the Tories have won new working class supporters.

It doesn’t take long for the real agenda to come out. “Working class voters increasingly make their political moves based on socially conservative rather than economically liberal views,” it claims.

Poorer people have shifted to the right and accept racist ideas about immigration, goes the argument. Pundits argue that working class people are going over to the Tories and Labour’s support is based on “middle class” and “metropolitan” Remain supporters.

Contrast

Taken as a whole, the D and E groups supported Labour by 44 percent compared to the Tories’ 41 percent.

In contrast the AB group, made up largely of top managers, was clearly for the Tories with 46 percent compared to Labour’s 38 percent. A further 10 percent backed the Lib Dems.

According to Lord Ashcroft’s polling the Tories won middle class people’s vote narrowly, which corresponds to overall polling figures. But Labour won working class people’s votes by 15 points.

This is a marked change since 1970, when the class loyalty to parties was starker. But the drop doesn’t mean class is dead.

It is in large part due to “middle class” people being less solidly behind the Tories. The C1 group, which includes “white collar” professionals, backed Labour by 43 and the Tories by 41 percent.

Defined

Part of the problem is with how the “middle class” is defined. The measure is used to lump together head teachers with teachers and health managers with nurses.

But it does point to a trend with people who saw themselves as “professionals”, such as teachers, being less likely to back the Tories as their conditions are driven down.

A section of the working class, roughly a third, has also always supported the Tories.

The Tories, shatteringly denied a majority, still won 13 million votes which will have included some working class people.

There is a deep-seated anger at the people at the top of society, which came to the surface in the Brexit referendum. Corbyn managed to pull some of that anger to the left, but by no means all of it.


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