This referendum revealed just how far apart Labour’s elite and its base have become

by Kevin Meagher

So now we know: 37 per cent of Labour supporters went to the polls to vote to leave the European Union.

Despite all but a handful of MPs, the active support of the trade unions, the pleas of every former leader of the party and Alan Johnson’s battlebus, more than a third of the party’s electoral base jumped at the chance to quit the EU.

Motives varied, but the loudest pained roar was clearly against the iniquities of mass migration, the single totemic issue that has fuelled the Leave campaign’s remarkable insurgency against the political and financial elite.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Remain was flattened by a steamroller. It chose to stand in the way of public opinion and got squashed by it. Does it still need pointing out that immigration is a somewhat vexing issue for the British public? Given the chance to do something about it, they did what they said they would do all along.

Nevertheless, the ramifications for the Labour party are now grave. The fissure between the party’s elite and its base, evident for at least a decade, will now grow wider.

The problem is more dangerous than a conventional left/right split. In fact, the assumptions of the Progress types and Corbynistas are remarkably similar: They both think uncontrolled immigration is acceptable and that it isn’t the role of government to do much to prevent it.

The problem is there aren’t enough coddled public sector workers and right-on middle class social liberals who agree with them.

Labour needs its blue collar working class base to stand any chance of ever governing again, but shows no understanding of what makes them tick.  In fact, it doesn’t seem to care what does.

A paradox, then, for a party formed to represent working people.

Immigration is now an unbridgeable dividing line running through the entire party. And it’s cultural. On one side are the confident, educated urbanistas – global citizens who are comfortable on any high street with a vintage fashion shop and Guatamalan café.

They think immigration is great, especially as Pavel and his friends managed to convert their dowdy back yard into a bijou urban garden for £500 cash, while the guy from the Yellow Pages was quoting double that. Its social and identity issues that motivate them. For them, immigration is a battle between the informed and the ignorant.

On the other side are the working class masses who vote Labour because they need a government that will give them the chance of a job, so they can afford a home and bring up their families. They are bothered about economic inequality. Their experience of immigration is entirely negative. They face competition for their jobs, for housing and access to public services. Yes, austerity adds to the problem, but the bottom line is they get the worse of the deal.

And that’s the nub of the party’s problem.

To the many millions of non-professionals working in the private sector, Labour now stands for unbridled market forces. Immigration brings competition and competition is always good.  ‘If Pavel will do my garden for 500 quid, you should do it for less.’

In contrast, no-one – absolutely no-one – in the public sector risks losing their job because a migrant worker is prepared to do it for less.

While the private professions, the trendy think tanks, Medialand and jobs in politics are automatically off-limits to cheaper migrants, thank you very much. When you consider that most Labour MPs come from this milieu the party’s predicament suddenly makes sense.

A case, then, of Keynesianism for the middle class public sector, but neo-liberalism for the non-graduate private sector.

And Labour people wonder why they lost this referendum?

But mass migration is not only unfair in its distributional impacts (and, yes, benefits too); there is plainly no economic need for it.

‘We need immigrants to come here and do the jobs our own people won’t’ is the most pernicious lie.

Despite repeated assertions to the contrary, there are no labour shortages in this country. Last week, the Office of National Statistics reported there are still 1.67 million people unemployed and looking for work.

In addition, there are 8.5 million in part-time work, many of them on zero-hours contracts and desperate for better-paid, more secure full-time work.

It’s not like the post-war boom years when we genuinely did have labour shortages and sucked in much needed migrant workers from Ireland and the Commonwealth.

Of course we have skills shortages, but that’s because, as the Commission for Employment and Skills consistently reports, a third of employers spend nothing whatsoever on training their workforces.

Ironically, it is George Osborne and his apprenticeship levy which is due to come into force next April that will do what the last Labour government should have done and help price migrant labour out of competition by forcing employers to train British workers instead.

So this is why so many Labour voters chose to leave the EU. Their motives were not about race hate, they just wanted to protect what they have.

This is perfectly laudable and entirely reasonable.

My dad is a bricklayer and still working at 71. Fifty-five years of working outdoors, every single day. Like many more, he has no choice. He doesn’t have a cushy public sector pension to fall back on. He’s a victim of the recessions of the 1980s when there simply was no work for people like him in the north of England, rendering the concept of saving for a pension purely academic.

Then he fell foul of New Labour’s bizarre aversion to building houses when it had the chance. The party’s biggest and most shameful failure. Then 2004 came and with it the mass migration of lower cost building workers from Eastern Europe. His wages and the incomes of many more like him have been flat ever since then. Last Thursday he voted to leave the EU, but did so out of rational economic self-interest – and he was entirely right to do so.

So this is the state the Labour party finds itself in.

The impulse – the instinctive belief that Labour has the interests of working people at heart – no longer holds for millions of British workers. A solemn contract has been broken. Not with everyone, of course, but that’s the point.

Yet if you work on a building site, or in a factory, you feel that Labour is no longer on your side.

What should concern Labour strategists is what happens next? Might these risen people follow the logic of their decision and bin-off Labour for good?

Why not? It happened after the Scottish referendum. Labour is now the party of untrammelled immigration and labour market competition. It’s not a good look for a workers’ party.

All the more dangerous as there are 44 seats where UKIP is in second place to Labour. Where will all the Leavers’ momentum go now? Might it turbo-charge UKIP’s efforts in Labour’s neglected northern heartlands, the way it did for the SNP?

One thing is clear. Shorn of millions of ordinary, working class voters, Labour’s electoral coalition is reduced to the public sector, skinny-jeaned hipsters and identity politics bores.

The problem, of course, is there just aren’t enough of them to win elections.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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15 Responses to “This referendum revealed just how far apart Labour’s elite and its base have become”

  1. Jonathan rutherford says:

    That’s a good article. Thanks

  2. Delta victor says:

    The first seriously intelligent article that highlights the reason many of us have sought and successfully begun to exact our revenge.
    No Euopean jobs for you.

    This is just the beginning….I have done my small bit but it always mattered…and that made the difference.

    Real people have died over this while you rightfully mourn for one MP who we all wish was alive today…but we are busy mourning for countless others condemned by you all. The Conservatives can have it all, everything. All the power, all the authority forever if it means we get to see Labour die. It’s a price worth paying.

    All across Europe we see the troubles ahead and are concerned, not one solitary ambitious Labour MP xxxxxx gives a crap about it. Or about their country. They are incredibly locked in their own mad world in the pathetic farce that is the PLP.

    “Lord” Kinnock? Don’t make me laugh. He and his offspring are scrounges. And Labour tells us what to do wi scrounges everyday.

  3. ad says:

    On the bright side – for the Labour Party, not the country – the forthcoming recession should trash the Tories reputation for competence within a year of their gaining their first majority government in decades.

  4. Bob says:

    With planning like this and you wonder why people voted as they did.

    Labour was not listenng to what the voter was and is worried about and Corbyn on the Marr show stating he could see no upper limit for immigration. This is just shades of Brown and the Gillian Duffy incident. Labour have not learnt and its heartlands will soon be all UKIP terrirtory.

    People who have raised the issue for many years have been branded racist, xenophobic, biggoted little Englanders. You sewed the wind now you have just not reaped the whirlwind but fullblown destruction.

  5. Mr Akira Origami says:

    An honest and accurate post-brexit appraisal on the state of affairs for Labour.

    It’s hard to see a way back for Labour in the North of England. The 2020 GE will now just be a damage limitation exercise for the Labour party.

  6. Tafia says:

    Deutsche Bank analysis from earlier today.

    The shockwaves and consequences around Brexit will resonate for years. It’s probably an understatement to say that most in financial markets regret the UK’s decision to leave but we should respect the forces that have been pushing us towards what has always been an inevitable political accident sometime soon. I wasn’t sure whether the Brexit vote was the one but I was pretty convinced one was coming and this is probably not the last. Spain yesterday started a general election cycle (more below but relatively market friendly) of the largest 5 euro-area economies (Spain, Holland, France, Germany and Italy) over the next 18 months or so, not forgetting the US this November. Throw in the crucial senate reform vote in Italy in October and you’ve got plenty of opportunity for rebellion against the establishment that haven’t managed to produce satisfactory enough growth for the lower paid/lower skilled to offset the forces of globalisation and immigration.

    It’s worth looking at the voting split in the UK’s EU referendum based on polls compiled by Lord Ashcroft to get an idea of the disenfranchisement. In terms of socio-economic groups, 57% of ABs (upper/middle class – professional/managers etc) voted remain, 49% of C1s (lower middle class – supervisory/clerical or junior management/administrative), 36% of C2s (skilled working class) and 36% of DEs (Ds – semi & unskilled manual workers. Es – casual/lowest grade worker or state pensioner). So there’s no escaping the fact that this is a class war. Whether its globalisation, immigration, inequality, poor economic growth or a combination of all of them it’s quite clear from this and other anti-establishment movements that the status quo can’t last in a democracy. Eventually you’ll have a reaction. This is one such major reaction and given that the UK growth rate has been ok of late, it would be strange if pressure didn’t continue to build elsewhere where growth has been lower for longer.

  7. Tafia says:

    In other words, what should be Labour’s core vote – the CDE sections, are anti-EU.

  8. Peter Kenny says:

    I thought getting 63% was pretty good compared to how the Tories did with their base.

    I think you’re right about the elite failure but immigration is not the key issue – it’s important in a race to the bottom in a highly marketised economy with shrinking social provision and weak worker’s rights. That’s what we need to change.

    If we buy your rhetoric we accept division, the blaming of the other instead of focussing on the real failures.

    I won’t bore you with my working class credentials but I was raised to believe in things like our common humanity and that our cause knows no borders.

    Pathetic for a grown man to think like that I know! Let’s just pull up the drawbridge, hey?

  9. steve cook says:

    the whole party is disgusting- there are 5 or 10 democratic mps-who don’t hate the electorate and don’t hate the working class and don’t hate white or English people . Gisela stuart and kate hoey and john mann are 3 democratic sounding mps and where on the correct side of the referendum argument-the moral and democratic side-representing the electorate-their voters and the working class white English,
    most labour mps are elitist scum and upper middle class and pro union and pro Scotland over England and pro eu over England and pro muslim or African foreigner over white English .
    in parliament they have all women short lists and are undemocratic to their electorate party members and working class -they also favour black and brown ethnic and religious minority mps-whether they are on short lists I don’t know-but may as well be -no shortlists or favouring for working class mps or disabled mps or elderly or male or white or English or hetrosexual or atheist or republican mps-just black brown muslim or feminist-preferably foreign and lesbian and brown or black and ideally from a religious minority .
    democracy is less available in the labour party than any other party -they have betrayed the poor and working class English -they have sidelined democracy fairness and egalitarian values at every opportunity and I as an ex labour voter all my life hate them far more than my sworn enemy the tories .
    the tories never betrayed the working class or the electorate -they did sadly betray the white English however .
    the labour party are finished -corbyn was a loony left nutter but a decent guy-honest and not a expenses claiming cunt and not a yes man -he didn’t believe in the eu but was forced to lie and say he did and ended up on the wrong side -and behaving like an anti democrat because his own party corrupted him -ironic isn’t it ?
    so if labour are never even in the race for power again unless they say they want zero or less than 100 000 immigrants per year and even preferably adjusted civilised types-maybe white or Christian or English speaking or willing to learn and happy to live under our laws ……. if labour have to say that to be close to electable -then I think they will happily diminish to the smallest size imaginable rather than take into account the electorates views and change their policy and appointment procedures and language and attitude-that’s how anti democratic they have been for decades and are still and show no sign of changing -purely anti democratic and prejudiced against the bulk of the electorate who they call xenophobes and racists all day and every day .
    why on earth would one single working class or poor English white person -who are 70 to 80% of the electorate ever vote for labour ?
    I would rather vote tory -and I am a tory hater all my life and a labour voter all my life -but like I said the labour party have betrayed the entire working class and English population and called them racists endlessly also -unlike the tories who at least always value the vote and thus the electorate to that extent and they don’t shout racist at everything that moves either .
    ukip will hoover up many millions of labour votes and the rest will go to greens and liberals and tories and many will simply not vote-I think whether the election is this year or in 4 years -labour will get less than 10% and maybe much less-like 5% ? it wont be quite as catastrophic as Scotland but it will be similar .
    all the 10 mps I hate most on earth are in the labour party -like Dianne abbot and angela eagle and Yvette cooper and caroline flint and Emily thornberry and keith vaz and harriet Harman Gerald kaufmann etc etc
    tom Watson is sneaky but anti Westminster paedophile hopefully ? andy burnham is bearable and derek skinner likewise john McDonnell and corbyn and woodcock and chuka ian wright and john mann of course and frank field .

    that’s a short selection of the obvious worst cunts and the obvious reasonable democrats -the bulk of the rest of the part like Hilary benn ed miliband steven pound and clive lewis are not worthy of hate or admiration .

    most labour mps are anti democratic and even also corrupt criminal nasty hateful rude prejudiced scum – just like Jacqui smith or jack straw and Gordon brown .

    so they have relied on the tribal loyalty of the white working class English -just as they relied on the working class white scots and white welsh -they have lost Scotland entirely and forever -labour and England are about to abandon labour for generations come the next opportunity .
    labour have to study history and learn about democracy and sack most of their party and enforce pro democratic regimes and slowly prove they believe in democracy and rebuild over decades the tiny number of supporters they have left -if this ever happens ?
    I used to be idealogic -Marxist young -hell bent and happily anti democratic-I was pro muslim and pro immigrant and anti racist and I campaigned for decades on these issues .
    then after 911 the penny dropped and labour got even worse and worse and worse and worse and I realised slowly-that god I love democracy and I love the English and therefore white and I love murderers paedos and terrorists and idiots and racists and criminals rich poor illiterate etc -I love people and I love the English and I love democracy -so even if someone is say openly rudely racist -who cares? they are entitled to an opinion and freedom of speech and a vote and I waste no time hating anyone anymore-I value democracy and beyond that anything goes now for me .
    labour only have 10 or so mps who even are capable of sharing my views and connecting and respecting and they have shown their colours and are about to be consigned to history .
    I am not gloating-I want opposition and a voice for the working class and poor and I am sad -but not sentimental-no one is sentimental about politics-the way labour disappeared over night in Scotland and likewise the liberals did in England shows that .
    labour are the least democratic party in the country and the most harmful of all parties to the working class English white majority .
    when the eu and muslims and international businesses and banks and unions London and the scots all want to exploit the white English working class -then the labour party says ” let us help you ” and then wonders why its victims who they refer to as racists and bigots are disappointed betrayed and let down -the secret deal with the scots they were doing and will do still if given half a chance is the perfect example of why they are the singular worst most anti democratic party .in the uk
    if they gave a shit about democracy and their electorate or the country or the working class they would oppose hs2 and demand an end to the hated Barnett formula and control immigration and fight for an English parliament or evel at the minimum -none of which they are doing of course.

  10. Anon E Mouse says:

    Spot on. Seems this author has taken sensible pills recently.

    Labour in England and Wales are going to go the way of Labour in Scotland if they continue to ignore their core heartlands.

    I never thought I’d say this but we may see the end of the party within the next few years.

    Corbyn should have stuck to his guns and voted Leave.

    As long as the Labour Party continue to support David Cameron & George Osbourne, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, France’s Airbus and Eurostar then don’t expect your core voters to support you.

    The EU is a basket case and won’t be in it’s current form within the next few years so stop supporting it and start acting on behalf of those you are elected to support…

  11. Delta Victor says:

    I have many friends, according to Ken Clarke and many MPs they are racists. They voted to Leave. Two are lesbians who now have their own child and are doing a great job raising him. One is originally from Zimbabwe and served as a medic in the army. Another is currently reading Law and has been accepted into an Inns of Court and is a proud Muslim – he will be a criminal specialist.
    They are bigots how dare they.
    MPs no longer understand the pie they gave made they can no longer narrowly judge people and condemn them for we are now truly a mixed and more tolerant society. On both the remain side and the leave there have been sides of bigotry and reckless behaviour and Parliament has set a very low standard.
    This was not a battle between white racists and the harmonious remainder. It was a battle for democracy against unelected people taking the decisions away from Westminster. It was about representation. But I their highly biased and ignorant ways MPs are in danger of making their situations increasingly worse and adding more support to UKIP etc. More and more non white and non straight people will join the ranks if they are called racists and bigots. Where else will they have to go?
    The best form of revenge against MPs I find is to reap what they themselves sow.

  12. @Kevin Meagher

    Fantastic article, Kevin.

    I’m passionately Remain, but this thread is not the place to say why.

    What your article highlights is the terrible failure of the political class to connect with the real concerns of many ordinary working people. And my own party, the Lib Dems, is of course just as culperable, as are the Tories.

    We need to do more than talk about building more affordable housing, we need to do it. We need to do more than talk about life-long learning for residents whose skills are becoming outdated, we need to make it happen. And we need to do it with seriously-thought through, well-costed policies. Policies that will work, rather than policies just designed to make us feel good, win a few votes, or tick an ideological box.

    I think Brexit will only hurt those who have voted for it out of a cry of despair. But they have good reasons to despair.

  13. Kevin, I have made views on New Labour’s use of the free movement of labour to add flexibility to the labour market clear before. (From John Reid reporting on a cabinet meeting before Blair opened the doors to East European workers.) What I wouldn’t say now though is the leave vote was all down to immigration. I suspect a large part of the vote was more of the worldwide phenomena of the public turning their backs on the political class.

    This makes the PLP’s recent actions and their Hampstead dinner party plotting even more illogical. They don’t like the way the public voted in the referendum so let’s ignore it. They don’t like the way the membership voted in the leadership election, well let’s ignore that too. If they want to blame someone for the leave vote, it’s no use blaming Corbyn. Look in the mirror PLP members. It’s unlikely you will see someone who has done a real job and struggled to live a half-decent life. You most likely see part of the new elite, maybe even a red prince or princess.

  14. Tafia says:

    We need to do more than talk about building more affordable housing, we need to do it.

    I note Sadiq Khan is already back-peddling on his promises and watering them down.

    So can Labour trusted over affordable housing? Not forgetting to mention os that the real need is social housing for rent – not housing association, not poxy little box flats, but proper planned council estates with gardens. And a lot of it, all over the country, all at the same time, imposed from above so that councils and NIMBYs can’t impede it. And by a lot I’m talking 400,000 units, every year, for a minimum of 5 years.

    I don’t believe for one minute Labour has the desire, the capability or the drive to do even half of that.

    If I had to trust anyone to try something like that it would have to be the tories.

    Which is truly shocking.

    Party of social justice my ar$e.

  15. Bob says:

    Blair and Brown started this trend – they took the view the UK blue collar base simply had no where else to turn. Thus the base could be ignored on policy whilst the leadership safely secured their votes. But that was false short term assumption – the rise minor party like UKIP is the direct result, and their role may increase despite clear elite collusion at last general election to stop them.

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