As it turns out, they really needn’t have worried. In the 95 years since the Representation of the People Act, the Tories have been in office significantly longer than Labor. A large part of this is, of course, due to the fact that British working-class communities were far more conservative in culture and instinct than the Marxist radicals of the early 20th century could ever have imagined.
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One can never overestimate how much the experience of fighting two world wars against a very obvious (and very obviously evil) enemy bent on destroying one’s way of life must increase one’s sense of patriotism. And even the most optimistic socialist thinkers could not have predicted the rise of mainstream newspapers in British national life and their enormous influence on the political decisions of the working class.
By the late 1960s, millions of newspapers were being sold every day in the world’s most heavily printed country. And almost all of them spread reactionary and conservative propaganda owned by a handful of aristocrats and financiers. This was reinforced by adoration of the royal family and a deeply sentimental attachment to the British armed forces and the empire they fortified.
In this way, common (mostly imaginary) enemies were identified and their level of influence was distorted, especially if they advocated socialism. This was most evident in MI5’s suspicions about Harold Wilson’s Soviet connections and the security services’ infiltration of the National Union of Mineworkers during the 1984-85 strike. More recently, this was highlighted by the fall of Jeremy Corbyn.
The bitter irony, of course, is that this country’s greatest enemies – as before the Second World War – belonged exclusively to the privileged ranks of the British upper class. It seems like they still are.
Nonetheless, the advent of high-quality comprehensive education, free university places and the increase in working-class people entering occupations that had previously excluded them appeared to have led to a level of egalitarianism across the UK that was inspired by Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat’. “Technology” was advanced.
Who cared if many were then moved to vote for the Tories even though it was the reforms pushed by Labor and the unions that had given them opportunities? Wasn’t one of the main goals of socialist activists the destruction of those class barriers that prevented workers’ lives from improving?
In recent years, however, there have been signs of a national regression to early 19th-century politics. The working class, unable to free themselves from their communities, is once again, just as before 1832, speechless.
Worse, the industries that had provided their descendants with an acceptable quality of life for about a century began to disappear, and few of those they thought represented them lifted a finger. Ownership of the white heat of technology has been concentrated in the hands of a handful of unregulated billionaires who channel the influence and preferences of the old press barons.
The Labor Party has long since given up any trace of a preferential option for society’s marginalized groups, having itself been undermined by a clique of apolitical, career-oriented hustlers. Barely the width of a cigarette paper separates their politics and culture from that of their Tory “opponents”; perhaps a decimal here and there on spending priorities and the odd nuance on immigration and housing.
They more or less agree on all important issues: support for NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine; subservience to US foreign policy; appeasement of gangster states like Saudi Arabia; They export weapons to despotic regimes and enable banking cartels to dictate economic policy.
The embodiment of this was evident last week in a breakfast television exchange between former Tory chancellor George Osborne and his former Labor opponent Ed Balls. According to Mr Osborne the two were “enemies”. Mr Balls was also a guest at Mr Osborne’s recent wedding.
These two are now also appearing on one of those buddy podcasts where former political opponents suck each other’s fingers and offer a “grown-up” approach to political discourse. The area where “adult” politics is practiced is, of course, where the Tories like to see their Labor opponents. There can be no room for anything radical or outrageous here. Nothing to scare the horses. Only the political elites get the support to produce these smug, smug and completely callous shows where it seems like the hosts are competing with each other and bragging about how many political connections they still have. There are lighter versions of this in Scotland.
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These shows, and the recent phenomenon of politics as an end-of-pier touring production around book festivals, mock real people and their circumstances.
They have become the epitome of what is now considered political engagement north and south of the border. This forces us all to be more “kind” and “reasonable,” rejecting anything that seems too feverish or strained. It comes from those who can afford to be kind and sensible.
We found that those we elected to fight for social justice were busy being friends with those whose main mission has always been to keep power and money for themselves. “Isn’t it time we retired to the drawing room for brandies and cigars, George? Aren’t we smart? Let’s do a podcast together.”
For them, politics is a game show; a charade; perhaps a means to build a television career. You won’t see those who experienced the ill effects of Osborne and Balls and Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart and their parties appearing on their podcasts or getting the support to produce one of their own. For these people, politics is not a game; It’s literally a matter of life and death and about giving their children a better future and perhaps emerging from the poverty and lack of opportunity that has held them back.