Centrists have an easy retort. OK, smug radical, if we’re not the answer, let’s hear you list the flourishing leftwing governments, describe how the left bridges its divide? And, of course, they have a point. The style and culture of the radical left is often shaped by university-educated young people (a group that includes me). They are a growing and diverse group; often they hail from modest backgrounds. But their priorities, their rhetoric and their outlook is often radically different to older working-class voters in small town England, France or the US. Both groups are critical to building a victorious electoral coalition, and yet they are, indeed, divided.
That must change. Unless the left is rooted in working-class communities – from the diverse boroughs of London to the ex-mill towns of the north, unless it speaks a language that resonates with those it once saw as its natural constituency, shorn of contempt for working-class values or priorities, then it has no political future.
That’s a hell of a fucking bridge you’ve got to build there Owen. Because the causes dear to your metropolitan heart have no resonance at all to that working class out in the provinces.
The gays rights agenda that sees bakers prosecuted – no one ever gave a toss nor even really mentioned the two blokes who lived in the corner house with their pair of poodles. Well, it’s their life, innit? But there would have been, is, a certain consumer resistance to their frightening the horses with buggery on the back of a truck to some Hi-NRG at the Gay Pride March.
Absolutely every Jamaican chippie who came over following the Windrush has been called Chalkie, something that would quite probably be illegal today, but as long as he stood his round he was as welcome as anyone else in the regulars’ corner.
And that working class values masculinity just as it does that strong femininity of motherhood. Family, not class, matters, place is hugely important. The demand is not for equality of outcome, it’s for a fair go.
And on and on. That working class you need as your vote bank just doesn’t think the same way you do. They’re not, in short, deracinated rootless cosmopolitans. They are the salt of the earth, that’s entirely true, but they’re a hell of a lot more conservative than you seem to realise.
So what next for the left? It clearly cannot compromise in the fight against racism, misogyny and homophobia but it must urgently work out how to do that in a way that connects with the unreached. The working class is increasingly diverse and the left must have a message that resonates with all constituencies. It cannot allow the populist right to portray it as a hater of working-class values.
But your problem is that your basic platform is in conflict with those working class values. No, they’re not all racist women haters who’ll beat up every gay they can find. Very few of them are any of the three in fact, they’re vastly tolerant of all sorts of lifestyles. But they’re tolerant, which is what they should be, rather than the celebratory that you keep demanding.
We need to project an emotionally compelling vision.
Here’s a little hint, for free and gratis. What the working class want, just like everyone else, is that they can see the world getting better around them. To know that their children are going to have better lives than they did, that civilisation marches on. And the essential clue to this is to understand just the basics of how economies work, how they work in order to produce the growth which makes those lives better off into the future. It’s not difficult. Just leave people alone to get on with it except where you must make sure that they don’t just get on with it. And that’s it really. Markets and a bit of judicious regulation and she’ll be fine.
If you could just get this clue crammed into that over educated brain of yours then you’d be able to walk to electoral victory. For we’re British, some of the most tolerant people on the planet. You can play whatever you want over that sound system at the parade, yes even Hi-NRG, as long as we’ve got the economics and freedom bit sorted out and we’re all getting richer.