January 05, 2009

Comment is free: Blears' fears

If anything has fostered the anti-immigrant backlash Hazel Blears warns of, it is Labour's neglect of its core working-class support

Hazel Blears' sudden concern for what she refers to as "the ignored poor" is a little hard to stomach, given that New Labour has continually taken its traditional voters for granted, believing they had nowhere else to go. Now, with a resurgent Conservative party and an election less than 18 months away, they are suddenly in need of core support. The Labour party was founded 100 years ago to represent low-paid workers, and continued to serve that constituency until the 1980s. During its recent period in power, however, New Labour has courted big business in a manner that would disgust the party's founders. As a result, average earners have seen their standard of living remain static, at best, while the incomes of the top 1% have rocketed to unprecedented levels.

Of the 13 million UK citizens who are living below the low-income threshold, just over three million were either unemployed or unavailable for work in 2007. That means there are almost 10 million people out there who are working hard, yet are unable to make ends meet. They are the working poor and Labour, the party that was once their champion, has ignored their plight, leaving them vulnerable to the poisonous racism peddled by the far right. Over the past few years, the British National party has been picking up votes in those places where house prices are lower than average, where local residents have to face a constant influx of people seeking cheap accommodation and casual employment.

While Middle England has felt the benefit of this growing pool of cheap labour, the working poor have faced ever greater competition for scarce resources such as housing and those other vital social services that make it possible, just, to survive on a low income. Is it any surprise that they see immigration as a threat? However, if the vast majority of the working poor are racist, why didn't they vote in greater numbers for the anti-immigrant platform shamefully offered up by the Conservative party in the last two elections?

Could it be they recognise that the real problem is not immigration, but a global market that has no respect for local communities or national borders? That the unimpeded movement of capital is the root cause of their predicament rather than the mass movement of people? That immigrants are merely a convenient scapegoat for the failure of trickle-down economics?

Yes, they do vote for the BNP in worrying numbers, but more out of frustration than in any hope of getting a solution to their problems. Anyone who has seen BNP councillors in action knows that they are an electoral dead end. Yet, at a time when people are fearful of what the future holds, when the ranks of the working poor are about to be swollen as a result of a bafflingly complex breakdown of the free-market system, then the simplicities of bigotry offer an easy explanation for their dire predicament.

If the Labour party wants to combat the BNP, it needs to lay off the anti-immigrant rhetoric and address the real problem that keeps the incomes of working poor below the poverty line – the inequalities that have been created by globalisation.

Billy Bragg
Comment is free


a very public sociologist said...

I fear Billy's going to be waiting a very long time for Labour to take up his sensible suggestions.

Iamskint said...

Since the increase in the gas and Electric I live in one room of the house at the moment in front of the gas fire with the dogs. I am unable to afford to heat the house up and wash the dishes twice a week only when the cylinder goes on.

The last time I was as bad as this was in the 1970's. Considering oil is now at such a low level where are the public outcries from the Labour Party about lowering the electricity and gas rates. As usual that gormless twat Brown is more concerned about bailing the Banks out again than me freezing to death. Roll on the Summer when I can sleep in a bed again instead of on my settee.

iliacus said...

That is a very astute analysis, though I might not go along 100% re the globalisation issue.

But the Government's failure to anticipate the impact of EU enlargement was shameful, and a huge boost for the BNP. On my own patch it's been left to a loose grouping of council officers a few (very few) councillors and voluntary groups to put together a response locally, which has worked (just!).

Sadly, too many local Labour figures have failed to address the misconceptions and urban myths, and as for the local Tories ......

PADDY thurrock said...

Here in Thurrock our councillors are just a bunch of self serving money grabbing arseholes that don't do their jobs properly, playing into the swaggering bnp scumbags hands handing out their shit leaflets, Its just a good thing that a lot of thurrock haven't woken up to this fact because even more, i'm shaw would switch over. Something has to be done about the caliber of standing candidates.

Anonymous said...

Iliacus, would be really interested in knowing more about the response thats been worked on locally to you please.


Anonymous said...

Which shows the flaw in UAFs and searchlight argument in telling people to vote labour or tory to stop the BNP, instead of building a working class alt, Braggs argument is a contradiction, labour do not represent the poor and its policies divide the w/c and various groups, but keep voting for them anyway...to stop the BNP...when infact its policies enpower the BNP.

iliacus said...


I'd be happy to draw up an outline of our response to the migrant worker "issue", perhaps as an article for this esteemed site if that's ok with Ketlan & Denise?

Will have to wait though for my internet connection to be properly restored !!

ili the iliacus !

Antifascist said...

'I'd be happy to draw up an outline of our response to the migrant worker "issue", perhaps as an article for this esteemed site if that's ok with Ketlan & Denise?'

That'd be fine by us. I look forward to reading any Iliacus article.