The British working class is a rainbow of diversity: to claim otherwise is dangerous and wrong
It is a fact that is rarely commented on, but until relatively recently, the working class had been widely erased as a social and political category. In the 1990s and 2000s, the dominant mantra in politics and media alike was “we are all middle class now”. The crushing of organised labour, the apparent hegemony of rugged individualism, the end of the Cold War — portrayed as the absolute historical victory of capitalism red in tooth and claw — and New Labour’s surrender to Thatcherite tenets seemed to render class to historical irrelevance. That was Margaret Thatcher’s avowed aim: as she once wrote, “Class is a Communist concept. It groups people as bundles and sets them against one another.”
No-one reads the funeral rites of class anymore, including on the right. After Theresa May become became Prime Minister, her first Conference speech was littered with references to “ordinary working-class people” and “ordinary, working class families.” UKIP and its Brexit Party successor relentlessly trumpet the language of class, with the likes of Nigel Farage claiming that “the Labour Party used to represent the working class. Now they are the party of Remain.”
Apologies for being that guy who quotes back his own work, but this reactionary reformulation of class is something I have longed feared. In 2010, I wrote the following in Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class: “The danger is of a savvy new populist right emerging, one that is comfortable talking about class and offers reactionary solutions to working-class problems. It could denounce the demonisation of the working class and the trashing of its identity. It could claim that the traditional party of working-class people, the Labour party, has turned its back on them.
“Rather than focusing on the deep-seated economic issues that really underpin the grievances of working-class people, it could train its populist guns on immigration and cultural issues. Immigrants could be blamed for economic woes; multiculturalism could be blasted for undermining ‘white’ working-class identity.” This is exactly what happened, of course.
But this formulation of class identity does not only exist on the right. The idea that the emblem of working-class…