The snobbery of the Left
The BBC reports on The New Snobbery, written by centre-right political thinker David Skelton. The snobbery identified “is a form of condescension practised by university-educated ‘progressives’ – directed at people they consider ignorant and bigoted.” Skelton’s book includes a chapter in his book on “wokeism” and “identity politics”, which he argues, is policed by a small, privileged elite.
Elsewhere, the elite described by David Skelton are called “Bo-Bos.” A diminutive of Bohemian Bourgeois, it is a description of those who have come to dominate the political Left. Bo-Bos engage in identity politics rather than class politics. Bo-Bos pursue the politics of gender and sexuality, of race and ethnicity, of single issue groups, rather than looking at the politics of class and wealth and power.
The British Labour Party turned its back on the people amongst whom David Skelton grew up, the people of the “redwall” constituencies who gave Boris Johnson his election victory. Instead, it has has become a party of identity politics. Sometimes, if you are among the disempowered and the marginalised the Labour Party can seem to be a party more concerned with a range of minority groups than with the broad community of poorer people.
The traditional Labour Party symbol of the quill and the spade, intended to represent the party as an alliance of intellectuals and workers, has become increasingly irrelevant in a party dominated by the bohemian and the bourgeois.
The “new snobbery” is not new, it has developed over decades. I remember going to Labour Party meetings more than forty years ago, in the late 1970s, with Arthur, a friend from Birmingham.
Arthur had come from a working class family, had left school before finishing his education, but had worked his way up the pay scale to have his own semi-detached house and a good white collar job at the headquarters of a major retailer. Bourgeois economically, he was still very firmly rooted in the community from which he had come.
At one branch meeting, there was discussion of government policy – the government was still that of Jim Callaghan and the winter of discontent was yet to arrive. A well-spoken middle class lady felt that the government should make spending decisions itself and not put money into the hands of working people, “the problem with many working class people,” she said, “is that they don’t really know what the want.”
Smiling, Arthur stood up, and declared, “This working class man knows what he wants!”
There was laughter in the room, but the words pointed to the real gulf between those who purported to speak for working people and the people themselves.
The 2016 Brexit Referendum confirmed the views of people who thought similarly to the woman at the meeting four decades ago. They decided working class people who voted “Leave” didn’t know what was good for them: they were stupid, uneducated, bigoted. The attitudes are the worst form of snobbery.
Until Labour leaders challenge the bohemian bourgeois, there will be no prospect of recovering working class voters.
The Labour Party in Ireland has much of the same attitude and we saw how it forgot its roots and supposed values when in government between 2011 and 2016. This had disastrous results for the party itself – a reduction from 37 to 7 seats in the 2016 election and to 6 – and, probably, for Ireland as a country because Sinn Féin have occupied the political space vacated by the Labour Party
The present coalition will probably lead to Sinn Fein becoming the biggest party. It will be interesting to see what they do when they have to exercise the responsibility of government