Socialist Worker

Do the election results mean that class is dead?

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2754

Boris Johnson posing as a friend of workers at the Severn Trent training academy last week

Boris Johnson posing as a friend of workers at the Severn Trent training academy last week (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)


Elections in Britain last week have led to announcements of the death of class and the end of a clear divide between “left and right”.

Their demise has been proclaimed several times before, but now the calls grow ever more raucous.

For writer and journalist Paul Mason there is now a significant and electorally decisive section of the working class whose “politics are now dictated primarily by their identity, not their economic interest”.

Others suggest there has been a total transformation of the class structure of Britain.

That’s false, but it’s no help to ignore the reality of what has happened.

The Tories have skilfully used the issue of Brexit to divide working class people.

Boris Johnson falsely posed as the friend of ordinary people who had been belittled and ignored after the 2016 vote to leave the European Union (EU).

He claimed to oppose the elitism and privilege that was squashing their voices.

But he could do this only because there were many forces that were indeed trying to reverse the vote.

These included the Liberal Democrats and big business bosses. But most importantly, under pressure from Keir Starmer as well as some of its left, the Labour Party also embraced the demand for a second referendum.

This was not some passing episode that has been forgotten now that Britain has left the EU. Brexit has become a symbol for all the ways that ordinary people are despised and lied to.

And having Starmer, the man who wanted to reverse Brexit, as Labour leader constantly reminds some workers of the insult he delivered.

In addition electoral loyalties are now far thinner. Last week the Tories were celebrating. Less than two years previously, in the European Parliament elections held across Britain, they received just 8.8 percent of the vote.

Ukip and the Brexit Party soared to huge successes and are now thankfully extinguished.

Labour won 40 percent of the vote in 2017’s general election, and only 32 percent two years later.

Significance

None of this is to underplay the significance of what’s happened. But sections of workers have always voted Tory.

In the 1880s the great majority of workers voted for the openly capitalist Liberal Party. Even after the first battles to set up a Labour Party at the beginning of the twentieth century most workers still voted Tory or Liberal.

The working class was won to more of a sense of class solidarity—and as a by-product voting for Labour—by three waves of struggle. They involved mass strikes, militant protests and socialist agitation.

The first was in the late 1880s and the 1890s. The second was from 1910 to 1926. The third was in the 1930s and during the Second World War.

Direct class battles made more workers think of themselves as people who have common interests—and sharply different ones to the bosses and the Tories.

In the 1950s and 60s the lack of struggle meant some workers drifted back to voting Tory.

And the great struggles of the 1970s had much less of an effect on voting patterns because between 1964 and 1979 Labour was the party in government for 11 of those 15 years.

The decline in struggle after the defeat of the Miners’ Strike in 1984-5 has had a powerful effect on consciousness.

There are two conclusions that derive from this.

The first is that no manipulation of Brexit, racism or fake economic promises can obliterate the reality of a society where a small minority grab huge amounts of wealth, and ordinary people are systematically robbed.

At some point that reality will burst through to far more people.

The second is that we don’t just wait for that but fight every day for what really matters—more resistance, more socialist agitation and more attempts to counter all the rotten, oppressive ideas that divide us.

Perhaps one product of that will be more Labour votes. But the real gain is in the struggle itself, and the place to build that is in a revolutionary organisation, not Labour.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.