Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The end of an affair!?

I grew up in a North of England decimated by years of Tory policy, where the hatred of the Conservatives was so intense and consistent, and where, accordingly, the very idea of a Labour government had become an almost mythical, utopian one, destined to bring back the light of dignity and justice to those who had barely survived the long and brutal siege of the conservative lords to the South.

Indeed, when Tony Blair posed with Noel Gallagher, it meant more to some than just ‘Cool Britannia’, it was a symbolic and meaningful gesture. For years, the conventional wisdom had held that, in order to escape the poverty, to break the cycle, we had two choices: Music or Sport. Noel, whether you liked him or not, was coming back for those he had left behind, and Tony Blair was leading the mission.

After thirteen years of utopia however, we aint so fucking convinced.

Many thousands of words have been written on the subject of ‘so-called’ Labour’s abandonment of their core constituency, and I don’t wish to repeat them all here, but, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems fair to say that, at the very least, the more optimistic of us were certainly misguided.

For the reasons outlined above, the ‘working-class’ vote was relatively assured for Labour in ‘97, and the major coup of Tony Blair, and, perhaps his enduring legacy, will be the extent to which he made his ‘New’ Labour project palatable to those who would perhaps, historically have feared the firebrand politics of a powerful Labour government.

Under his guidance, the acceptable, white collar face of a new kind of labour replaced the grey, dour face of the past. Vague notions of a ‘Third Way’ replaced concrete promises of policy, except of course, some shit about fox-hunting, and substance was ultimately replaced with style.

And while the ordinary folk were dazzled and distracted by all the fun of the fair, and the snake-oil salesmen promising eternal ‘social justice for all’, New Labour sounded the dog-whistles to those higher up, those who, unlike many of us, perhaps had something to lose.

The message though was clear. We’re New Labour. We’re acceptable. We’re more of the fucking same. There’s no firebranding – just branding.

And, after those first few years, things seemed to be going well. The working classes played the faithful domestic partner at home, gratefully accepting the scraps thrown to us by our masters, and lapping up the attention given us after so many years of neglect, while New Labour, in reality, continued to court the middle-classes, wining and dining those who had really got them elected, focusing their time and energy on this newer, more exciting relationship.

And eventually our scraps became less frequent, and with more ‘conditions’ attached. We’d lost our right to representation by virtue of being complete fucking morons, and watched helplessly as we became controlled instead.

The dignity of self-determination became the safety of proscription.

And, finally, one day, the ‘attention’ became authority, and the gentle caress was replaced by a warning slap, delivered with just enough force to keep us in place, but enough ambiguity to keep us questioning our own culpability.

Again, the real effort, the gentle, charismatic approach was reserved for the more appealing, more rewarding, sexier, liaison.

By this point, most of us knew this of course, but we pretended we didn't.

We ignored the ‘working late at the office’, and the business trips out of town, and we even looked the other way when we found the receipts in the pockets of the trousers we still faithfully washed and ironed in our ‘new utopia’. Hell, we had our brand new call centre jobs that had made us so much better people, and we really couldn’t rock the boat because of a little infidelity, could we!?

Some even sought to re-ignite the relationship. Seeing the newer, more refined tastes of their beloved, they tried to make themselves more attractive in a similar mould. Using easily obtainable credit some made more of an effort, re-inventing themselves in the image of these newer objects of affection, pushing themselves to the limit, climbing an ever steepening stairway, and refusing to look down, lest the illusion be shattered.

Ironically though, they needn’t have bothered, because now, thirteen years later, it is the (lower to middle) middle-classes who have become the gimps, albeit slightly classier and more eloquent ones.

Where once they provided the opportunity for something new and exciting, a fresh upwardly mobile partnership, they’ve now too become an albatross in much the same way that the lower classes did all those years ago. And consequently, they too have been abandoned in favour of better, more powerful bed-mates.

But, whereas a few extra cans of spam have nearly always been enough to keep the working classes quiet, the middle classes require something a bit more substantial to keep the betrayal unrecognised, and ultimately unpunished.

While they suffer from crashing house prices, the rising cost of credit, failing schools, and shrinking pensions, Labour send out the big guns of identity politics to keep them distracted and placated:

Yeah, you’re struggling a bit now, sorry about that, but them lot, they’re fucking racists/homophobes/misogynists, innit!?

OK, so your pension’s disappeared as a result of the ‘only game in town’, which, by the way, we made a hell of a lot easier to play, and sure, now you’re going to have to work an extra five years while the cock-knocker who fucked it up for you is living it up with his multi-million pound bonus, but remember, you’re black/gay/a woman, and, well, that lot, they don’t like any of the above, do they!!??

And it’s a clever strategy, to be fair. Because after thirteen years of Labour Government, after poverty and hardship have increased throughout the bottom and the middle sections of society, and after the most prolonged and grievous erosion of civil rights and liberties in living memory, we’re all going to vote for Labour anyway, because they’re still better than the other lot.

Because, sure, Labour have beaten the shit out of us, most of us, but they’ve promised they’ll change, and that they won’t do it again. We tell ourselves that they love us, deep down, and that it’ll all be different this time. And besides, we ask, ‘where else are we going to go?’, ‘what other option do we have’?

Well I, for one, am not buying it.
I refuse to vote for Labour because they’re not the Tories, and, likewise, I’m not voting for the Tories because they’re not Labour.

In the UK, we do have another, relatively viable option, and, if now isn’t the time to use it, then when the hell is?


  1. it seems fair to say that, at the very least, the more optimistic of us were certainly misguided.

    I remember that optimism so well. The day of the election was beautiful, warm spring day. I was living in Glasgow at the time, so after I had voted (early and with enthusiasm for Labour). I drove up to the Ardgour peninsular, camped on a beach with the dog and spent the night listening to the results - periodically getting up to have a dance around with joy.

    How grossly mistaken could we have been?

  2. Hey Sheff,

    Yeah, it definitely felt like things were going to get a lot better than they did.

    Still, live and learn, and all that....


  3. "There’s no firebranding – just branding."
    very well put - the whole thing. depressing, but well put.