The Labour Party still shows no signs of having learned to stop hating half the country
Earlier this week, this blog looked at Tristram Hunt’s effort to combine feedback from various personalities within the Labour Party into a coherent narrative explaining why they lost the 2015 general election. As we saw, it hasn’t got off to the best of starts.
But quoting extensively from a failed parliamentary candidate who unabashedly declared that there is nothing good about British culture and power (as Tristram Hunt did when he quoted the losing Harlow candidate Suzy Stride) is nothing compared to the latest self-inflicted wound administered to the party by one of its own sitting MPs.
Next to enjoy her moment in the sun is Europhile Labour MP Pat Glass, who while campaigning in Derbyshire for Britain to remain in the European Union had some rather choice words to describe her encounter with a man who raised concerns about immigration.
From the BBC:
A Labour MP campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU has apologised after being recorded calling a voter a “horrible racist”.
Shadow Europe minister Pat Glass made the comments after an interview with BBC Radio Derby in Sawley, Derbyshire.
She said: “The very first person I come to is a horrible racist. I’m never coming back to wherever this is.”
[..] The man Ms Glass is believed to have been referring to said he had spoken to her about to a Polish family in the area who he believed were living on benefits, describing them as “spongers”, but denied being racist.
The North West Durham MP said: “The comments I made were inappropriate and I regret them.
“Concerns about immigration are entirely valid and it’s important that politicians engage with them.
“I apologise to the people living in Sawley for any offence I have caused.”
Let’s be honest – Pat Glass isn’t sorry that she made the remarks. She is sorry that she was caught making the remarks, which is very different. For just as surely as rich Californian donors bankrolling then-candidate Barack Obama understood exactly what he meant when he made his dog-whistle comments about backward Southerners clinging to their guns and religion, so Pat Glass’s intended audience knows exactly what she means when she recoils in mock horror after an everyday encounter with someone sceptical about immigration.
Because like the current Labour Party as a whole, Pat Glass’s audience is not the entire country. Her audience is not even everyone on the Left. And it certainly isn’t the “white working class”, with whom Labour now have such a fractious relationship. Pat Glass’s preferred audience is the same middle-class clerisy which cheered on Ed Miliband, whose sheltered home counties wishy-washy Fabianism renders them utterly capable of identifying with the hopes, fears and dreams of whole swathes of the country.
As is often the case, the initial reflex tells us everything that we need to know. And Pat Glass’s reflex on being confronted with the voter in question was not to attempt to understand their viewpoint and see the world through their eyes, but rather to high-handedly dismiss them as being beneath her dignity. Glass knows that both the EU and high net migration are both unabashed goods, and anybody who deigns to disagree with her is uneducated at best, or “racist” at worst. Why bother to hide it?
(Incidentally, Andrew Neil does a great job skewering Labour apologist Zoe Williams in the Daily Politics clip shown above, taking her to school on the difference between racism, xenophobia and bigotry).
We have seen this story play out before, and we will see it again. Mostly because it is how many Labour Party MPs and activists actually feel, and speaking the truth in an unguarded moment is a perennial occupational hazard in politics. Of course, under Jeremy Corbyn, Pat Glass can comfortably expect to receive no censure. Ed Miliband, obsessed with outward appearances, went too far the other way in the case of the Emily Thornberry St. George’s flag Twitter picture, purging Thornberry from his shadow cabinet.
But whether the Labour Party is breezily ignoring the issue or wildly overreacting out of concern for bad PR, the one thing that the party still shows no inclination for doing is actually reaching out to their scorned working class base and asking – pass the smelling salts – whether they might actually have a point? Until now, the best that Labour have managed to do in this regard is to put up a few spokespeople to say something along the lines of “of course it’s not racist to be concerned about immigration”. But this is then immediately followed by the pivot to “but here’s why they are wrong, and the EU / unlimited immigration is actually great”. In other words, the Labour Party are trying to tackle this gulf between the party leadership and the disaffected working class base as a problem of optics rather than a fundamental disagreement over policy.
Maybe the Labour Party will struggle along all the way through until the next general election without resolving the inherent tension between the multiculturalist direction set by the leadership and the more nativist attitudes held by those of their supporters who drifted away to UKIP or stayed home during the 2015 election. But unless Jeremy Corbyn or someone else steps forward with a concerted act of leadership, effectively “choosing a side” once and for all, the party will continue to be embarrassed in the polls when sneering Labour MPs accidentally reveal their true feelings about the working classes.
As this blog recently put it:
First, Labour must learn simply to tolerate the country again – to look upon the white working class and others of their former supporters not as godless infidels who spurned the One True Faith and threw their lot in with the genocidal Tories and racist Ukippers, but as decent and rational human beings who simply don’t like what the Labour Party is currently selling.
Meanwhile, Labour shadow ministers and the army of activists who knock on doors and deliver leaflets need to dial down the moral sanctimony from 100 to about 50, and accept that maybe they, rather than the electorate, made the mistake on May 7 (and the days leading up to it) last year.
At present, whether it is Pat Glass or the Labour In For Britain crowd in general, the scorn and contempt heaped by major party figures on otherwise natural supporters who fail to toe the correct line on immigration and the EU speaks volumes. The people are not stupid. They know when they are being mocked, and they will not buy the subsequent walkback and fake expressions of contrition.
So perhaps this is a split which needs to happen. Just as the Tories desperately need a cleansing fire to purge their ranks of all the wets and panting europhiles post-referendum, maybe the Labour Party needs to split into two new parties – one comprised of middle class luvvies who think they know best about what the working classes need, and another new party comprised of actual working class people who do not need sanctimonious young Corbynistas, Hampstead dwelling champagne socialists or the likes of Pat Glass to defend their interests.
Right now, this is an open question. But the antics of people like Pat Glass are making it a slightly less difficult one to answer.
Bottom Image: BBC
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