Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Old Labour"

Ian Dale's 100 Best Blogs (and thanks, Ian - 71st in the Tory section and 84th in the non-aligned !) describes West Bromwich councillor Bob Piper as "not just Old Labour, but the Tyrannosaurus Rex of Labour Blogs", a quote which Mr P's now got on the masthead.

But Bob's not 100% keen on the label.

"I do not consider myself to be Old Labour. The whole concept of Old Labour was based around a sexism, often racism and more often than not male, homophobic right wing agenda."

Always thought Ian had got that one awry. He's mistaking the Labour left of the 80s with "old Labour" proper. Maybe he's just too young to remember the real thing.

The party of Ernie Bevin and Major Attlee was patriotic, for a start. Bevin was a key player in the 40s and 50s battles against communist influence in the party and unions, as he'd been key to industrial production in WWII.

The Attlee government were quite confortable with the death penalty, homosexuality being illegal, and the sex-based division of labour in the family. A "family wage" meant a wage on which a working man, with a wife at home raising the children, could live.

All anathema to the late 60s and 70s student brigade. Our generation knew better. We promoted the politics of a 1970s/80s campus - 'alternative' politics of race, sex, sexuality. To us the naive, politically incorrect, unreconstructed views of actual working men and women were something of an embarrassment (mea culpa - memories of talking with my steelworker uncles during holidays, the first member of the family ever to go to university, wondering why they weren't better socialists - like me). But the old working class was fast disappearing as the Thatcher years saw the disappearance of so much of our industry - a process which has continued unchanged under the Blair regime.

This process was gradual, not sudden. But when Clause 4 went, so did the Old Labour soul and morality.

Now when Labour supporters talk about 'working class' or 'working people' - they are most often referring to NON-working people - the underclass - unemployed and unemployable despite the boom years.

The idea (and ideal) of the nation vanished around the same time as the idea (and ideal) of nationalisation. After all, there's no such thing as a British nation any more, is there ?

And the family ? Once the working class home was idealised as the co-operative socialist society in miniature. Physical poverty could be overcome - but moral poverty was shameful. Now Roy Hattersley pitches for the Williams sisters.

As Norman Dennis puts it :

"The family as an institution was a concern of English ethical socialists, not prominently discussed only because its virtues were taken so much for granted. It is clear from what they assumed about the family, and from their explicit obiter dicta, that rightly or wrongly, English ethical socialists of the Tawney type, Old Labour properly so-called, saw each successful, decent family, egalitarian in its division of labour and benefits through the willingness of each to be self-sacrificing for all the others, as itself a socialist commonwealth in action. Such families were believed to be both common in the respectable working class and achievable as the norm in all classes. Their widespread existence—as these ethical socialists believed—proved— that it was not ‘against human nature’ to be dutiful and unselfish. No loss of reputation has been swifter or steeper on the left than that of the working-class male: from heroic proletarian father to unspeakable abusive beast in one generation."


Bob Piper said...

Geography a bit off centre too, I'm afraid, Laban. I am a Sandwell Councillor, not a West Bromwich one. I actually put the Dale quote on months ago when he said it on some podcast or other. I thought it was amusing, but not accurate, however Dale can be forgived for not understanding the difference. Someone at the Bloggers4Labour 'do' suggested 'Classic Labour' which I quite liked.

Anonymous said...

I'll say it for the hundredth time - Hatterlsey is a fat, hypocritical ****** who feasts in expensive restaurants but expects people on incomes far lower than his to subsidise his pet social catastrophes. I find him to be utterly revolting. John Prescott is merely an ignorant oaf in comparison.

Anonymous said...

Regarding that Dennis quote: I read someone from Dagenham recently who explained the rise of the BNP because, in the eyes of the middle class socialists who dominate the Labour Party, that "the English working class had gone from being the 'salt of the earth' to the 'scum of the earth'" in a mere generation.

The 'mistake' they made was to cling on to clearly outmoded prejudices such as "patriotism". When they proved to be intractable, the left turned its idealism onto immigrant and counter-culture groups instead, with the happy consequences we all see today.