Who’s afraid of the ‘white working class’?

Whiteness is not important to working-class identity but, empirically, British workers are mostly white.

James Heartfield

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Topics Brexit Politics UK

One of the perennial arguments over Brexit is about who voted to leave the EU. The evidence is clear. More working-class voters wanted to leave than remain. More upper- and middle-class voters wanted to remain than to leave. The better off you were, the more likely you were to be a Remainer.

With political parties positioning themselves for the next General Election, the argument about where Labour’s support will come from is heating up. Many people have made the point that by committing itself so clearly to a Remain position, the Labour Party is cutting itself off from its traditional voters – various estimates suggest that somewhere between three and five million of Labour’s 2017 voters voted Leave.

Critics like trade unionist Paul Embery, RMT activist Eddie Dempsey and political scientist Matthew Goodwin have argued that Labour is sacrificing its traditional voters in the north of England to the metropolitan middle classes that tend to dominate the party membership (three quarters of Labour members are in the top social grades, ABC1).

All of this is a red flag to the Labour left’s cheerleaders. In particular, they object to the characterisation of the party’s traditional supporters as ‘white working class’. Instead, says Owen Jones in a blog post, ‘the British working class is a rainbow of diversity’. Jones goes on to argue:

‘This is a bombshell, I know, but working-class people are also gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans, and indeed many “gay villages” have an overtly working-class ethos. We often hear “white working class” bandied around, when working-class communities and workplaces are the most likely to be mixed – see: urban working-class communities in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow or London.’

He has a point. The working class is indeed diverse. It has been made and remade by successive waves of urbanisation and migration – first from the countryside, then from Ireland, after that from the Caribbean and Indian sub-continent, and more recently from Africa and Eastern Europe.

But even allowing the history of migration, the working class in Britain today is not quite the ‘rainbow of diversity’ that Owen Jones imagines. According to the most recent Labour Force Survey, the British workforce is around 88 per cent white. Many working-class people are gay, of course – but as a proportion, only 1.9 per cent of routine and manual workers identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to the Office for National Statistics.

When we talk about the ‘white working-class’ – or what is sometimes said to be a euphemism for it, the ‘traditional working class’ – there is a confusion about what people mean. Empirically speaking, most working-class people in Britain are white and straight. But that does not mean that being white or straight are important to them as a social identity. All the evidence would appear to show that in terms of social attitudes, people in Britain as a whole are becoming more liberal, on matters of race and on sex and sexual identity. Despite the many claims that the Brexit vote shows people are becoming more hostile to migrants, the timeframe of the Brexit campaign coincides with a reversal of attitudes on migration. More people now think that immigration is positive for the country than think it is negative.

What the characterisation of the working class as a rainbow coalition gets wrong is that ‘diversity’ is not a working-class goal, but a ruling-class ideology. After the 2016 referendum, I spent a lot of time reading companies’ equal-opportunities policies for a book, The Equal Opportunities Revolution. The importance of diversity to management’s authority over the workforce rang out like a bell.

In social attitudes, working-class people generally opt for ‘equality’ rather than ‘diversity’ as a positive value. That is because ‘diversity’ is not about putting people on an equal footing but about playing them off against each other on the basis of differences of race, gender and sexual orientation. (See, for example, the results of the Fawcett Society survey, which show that British people are overwhelmingly in favour of sex equality but very few call themselves ‘feminists’.)

Tens of thousands of brochures are put out by the human-resource departments of major employers, local authorities and colleges trumpeting the value of ‘diversity’. It is in the interest of employers to set workers in competition with each other over jobs, wages and promotions. When people hear that the working class is a ‘rainbow coalition’ they feel a bit like the employee looking at the company brochure: on the front page there is usually a picture of an ethnically mixed workforce, with lots of trendy young men and women. Maybe their company is like that, but statistically it is more likely to be a bit whiter and a bit older.

For employers, it is a good idea to keep the workforce on their toes by reminding them that they are expendable, and there is always someone willing to come in and take their job. This is why all the human-resource manuals emphasise that the new workforce is younger and more ethnically mixed. ‘Diversity’ in that context is management-speak for ‘watch out, we can replace you’.

Whiteness is not an important identification for the working class, even if it is, empirically speaking, mostly white. But when left-wingers start to insist that the working class is not white, it sounds to many like they are saying that most working-class people do not count. That sense of being unfavoured surely did lead a lot of people to vote for Leave in the 2016 referendum – and it will make a lot of people think twice about voting Labour at the next election.

James Heartfield is author of The Equal Opportunities Revolution, published by Repeater, and a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party in Islington North.

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Comments

Alan Watson

18th September 2019 at 10:57 am

“Diversity” and “culturally diverse” surely are used to signify criticism of our traditions and culture. When imposed on the working class they have a very sinister and threatening ring. Good comment Mr Heartfield.

bf bf

17th September 2019 at 9:28 pm

The opposite of quality is equality.
Diversity is build on division.

Winston Stanley

17th September 2019 at 10:41 pm

Were that true then equality of social rights would mean an absence of social rights. Etymologically and in practice it means an evenness or similarity of rights.

> equality (n.)
late 14c., “evenness, smoothness, uniformity;” c. 1400 in reference to amount or number; from Old French equalité “equality, parity” (Modern French égalité, which form dates from 17c.), from Latin aequalitatem (nominative aequalitas) “equality, similarity, likeness” (also sometimes with reference to civil rights), from aequalis “uniform, identical, equal” (see equal (adj.)). Early 15c. as “state of being equal.” Of privileges, rights, etc., in English from 1520s.

Winston Stanley

17th September 2019 at 11:58 pm

It may look to the eye that “equality” is formed in Latin from “quality” by the addition of the prefix “e” meaning “from” or “away from”, as if equality means away from quality or in abstraction from it.

In Latin it is aequalitas, the diphthong ae is reduced in English to e. ae is not a prefix in Latin.

Aequalitas is from the root aequus (alis there forms the adjective) from which we get “equal”.

Qualitas was coined by from Cicero in 45 BCE as a translation of ποιότης coined by Plato in the Theaetetus to mean “sortness” and used by Plato in the Categories to mean “property”, from “qualis”, “what sort?”

The opposite of quality is inferior or quantity depending on what you mean, not equality, the two words just look similar.

Winston Stanley

18th September 2019 at 12:00 am

Oh dear!

* Qualitas was coined BY Cicero in 45 BCE as a translation of ποιότης, which was coined by Plato in the Theaetetus to mean “sortness” and used by ARISTOTLE in the Categories to mean “property”, from “qualis”, “what sort?”

LOL

Bring back the edit function!

Winston Stanley

18th September 2019 at 2:30 am

“The opposite of quality is equality.
Diversity is build on division.”

In what sense may quality rights be said to be opposed to equal rights?

“Workers do not have quality rights if they have equal rights.”

It could be argued that an equality of rights ensures quality rights for all workers – or at least that is the idea! Equal rights regardless of “diversity” (human differences). Then quality rights for all are congruent with equal rights.

Human differences are just a fact, why should that imply unequal rights for workers or a lack of quality rights for workers?

Winston Stanley

18th September 2019 at 2:46 am

The opposite of equality is inequality.

Equality is opposed to quality rights only if you want unequal rights (superior) of a higher quality (privilege).

Like, “I would like the quality rights of an absolute monarch and I cannot have them if we all have equal rights. I cannot be having with this equality lark! Quality not equality! I am a man of quality and I want me quality rights!”

Winston Stanley

18th September 2019 at 3:56 am

“The opposite of quality is equality.”

Equality (sameness) is a relationship and its opposite is the opposite relationship of inequality (difference). Each thing has its “opposite” within the same category of thing as itself, so “up/ down”, “hot/ cold”, “alive/ dead”. “Quality” is equivocal, it may be taken variously to mean i) “what-ness” or ii) “superiority”. The first is not a relation and it cannot be opposite relation of the relation equality (which is inequality). The second is a relation and it is a kind of inequality. That which is unequal may be either superior or inferior. “Quality” (to mean, superiority) is a relation of difference (inequality) that is in turn the opposite relation to equality but superiority and sameness are not themselves opposites. Sameness is the opposite relation to difference and superiority is the opposite relation of difference to inferiority. In neither sense is “quality” the opposite of equality.

Relation < equality (sameness) / inequality (difference)
Difference < inferiority / superiority ("quality" in one meaning of the word)

Winston Stanley

18th September 2019 at 4:54 am

Obviously it is not intended as a logical/ ontological (or etymological) claim. The slogan is political, and those (implicit) arguments have to be addressed empirically rather than a priori.

bf bf

18th September 2019 at 10:52 pm

Swallowed a dictionary it would appear. Reminds of a saying about the American military “all the gear but no idea”.

Winston Stanley

19th September 2019 at 4:47 am

Do tell us the ideas behind the slogan, without using the concepts of rights, what-ness, sameness, difference, superiority and inferiority.

A Game

17th September 2019 at 7:22 pm

Sounds like, after 20 years of shitting on the working class, overtaking their political party, the last three years, demonising them as the worst possible thing on the planet – a bigot – something has given. Suddenly its about seeing the romanticism again – but the segue is through POMO speak of course – in the toiling masses. (Yeah, we’ve all got a crush on miners after watching Chernobyl.)
Trans identified males pose a massive problem to working class women and girls. Shove the diversity speak.
The working classes were doing fine pushing through the oppression placed upon them by lefty pseuds.

(It comes from the same place as Harry discovering mixed-race marriages. Whoa! Steady on, boy. You’d think the masses weren’t inter-marrying for decades before you. Suddenly, the middle class have discovered that BAME and LGBT aren’t separate from the working classes. F**k me! No kidding!)

Trouble McTrouble

20th September 2019 at 1:56 pm

You put it very well. I get so tired to see the ‘woke’ middle and upper classes braying about how they’ve all but invented mixed race marriages and families – how the ultra left pretend me and mine are scum since 2016 but now want my vote in a general election….yeah, not happening. I won’t vote tory – it goes against blood, but I sure as hell won’t be voting champagne socialist, hipster lefty luvvies labour either. Thank you for putting the point far better than I could’ve.

James Knight

17th September 2019 at 6:42 pm

There is some truth to the notion that a diverse workforce can benefit a business, but it is over done and turned into a dogma.

Diversity is an attempt to stir up and re-ignite pointless divisions that most of people left in the last century.

Winston Stanley

17th September 2019 at 5:02 pm

It would be interesting to get more accurate figures on the ethnic makeup of the workforce. We may have to wait for the 2021 census for that.

> The 2011 census recorded that 85.4% of England’s population was White, 7.8% Asian, 3.5% Black, 2.3% Mixed, 0.45% Chinese and 0.44% of another ethnic group.

> In the 2011 Census, 80.5% of people in England and Wales said they were White British, and 19.5% were from ethnic minorities. Everyone completing the Census was asked to choose from a list of ethnic groups.

> From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of the population of England and Wales that was White British decreased from 87.4% to 80.5%, while the Other White group saw the largest increase in their share of the population, from 2.6% to 4.4%

> 25% of people from White ethnic groups (including White ethnic minorities) were aged 60 years and over, the highest percentage in this age range out of all ethnic groups

43% of people from Asian ethnic groups and 45% of people from the Other ethnic group were aged 20 to 39 years old; these were the highest percentages in this age range out of all ethnic groups

– Surprising that the Irish population in England and Wales is in decline:

> 6.5% of the Irish population were aged under 18 years, the lowest percentage out of all White ethnic groups; the highest percentage was in the Gypsy and Irish Traveller group, where 35.8% of people were aged under 18 years

Out of all White ethnic groups, the Irish group had the largest percentage of people aged 65 years and over (at 30.7%); the Gypsy and Irish Traveller had the lowest (at 6.0%)

– ONS

> We do not currently publish estimates of population by ethnicity. The most recent published data for England and Wales only, covering the period 2001-2009 can be found here:

The most recent published census data on ethnicity is derived from the 2011 census and can be found here:

Winston Stanley

17th September 2019 at 6:31 pm

74.6% of 20-24 year olds in UK were white British according to the 2011 census.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/aboutus/transparencyandgovernance/freedomofinformationfoi/populationbyethnicityageandsex

Linda Payne

17th September 2019 at 2:34 pm

Some white working class people are worth more than others

Danny Rees

17th September 2019 at 2:28 pm

God’s sake the liberals wanna turn the working class gay and Muslim.

Ven Oods

17th September 2019 at 11:03 am

I sometimes feel that Corbyn, for all his left-leaning history, has as much of a connection with the working class as did Blair.
The latter I had down as cynical. Corbyn just seems confused (endlessly).

Danny Rees

17th September 2019 at 2:29 pm

Blair was a red Tory

James Hillier

17th September 2019 at 10:36 am

David Lammy has just posted this on Twitter:

“Deep lyrics just dropped by Sam Fender: “The patriarchy is real, the proof is here in my song. I’ll sit and mansplain every detail of the things it does wrong. ‘Cause I’m a white male, full of shame
My ancestry is evil, and their evil is still not gone”

So there we have it: one of the our elected representatives, a Labour MP, thinks that white people have an “evil ancestry”.

He ends the tweet with a gif of a black fist.

Good luck finding a way to re-connect the Labour Party of 2019 with the white working class.

Ed Turnbull

17th September 2019 at 12:32 pm

I’ve no idea who Sam Fender is but the lyrics Lammy retweets display someone of minimum intelligence and maximum virtue signal. In retweeting them Lammy, presumably, agrees with their sentiment. So on that basis, I have a few questions for Lammy: if white men are so evil why were they the demographic that did more than any other to end chattel slavery, even though they were not the ones who began the practice? And at a vast cost in blood and treasure too. Why no opprobrium for the Islamic world, that carried out chattel slavery for many centuries longer than Europeans? (And de facto, if not de jure, slavery continues in the Islamosphere to this day).

If white men are so utterly evil surely Lammy will stand on his principles (assuming anyone can find them) and foreswear all that the white man has created: antibiotics, antivirals, air travel, the internal combustion engine, electricity generation and distribution, telecoms, IT, et al? No? Thought not.

Lammy is nothing but the lowest kind of race baiter / hustler, and fine exemplar of the maxim “if the left didn’t have double standards they wouldn’t have any standards at all”. The very fact that this clown got elected to public office once again makes me question the wisdom of universal suffrage (and I hate having to do that, really).

Danny Rees

17th September 2019 at 2:31 pm

Do you think Lammy got elected cos people in his yard hate whites?

Danny Rees

17th September 2019 at 2:29 pm

David Lammy is evil.

More evil than Darth Vader and Skeletor’s Mum

Geoff Cox

17th September 2019 at 10:23 am

“More people now think that immigration is positive for the country than think it is negative.”

Well that shows you the propaganda is working.

In order to find out if this is actually true, we have to look at all immigration and include ALL the costs and benefits to establish the real impact. This has never been done. From what I have seen, we have partial sets of statistics (usually produced for political reasons by a left wing think tank or university) but I’ve never seen an overall study which includes housing, congestion on the roads, impact on schools and hospitals, loss of green spaces, pollution, our balance of payments deficit, wage levels, capital costs of new infrastructure, the effect on the justice system etc.

Jim Lawrie

17th September 2019 at 10:05 am

Immigration is used to keep workers in line, and, although you skip over it Mr Heartfield, to undercut wages. And you think this is news to us? Working class people have known this for 200 years. It is the reason for giving free movement to The Irish after independence. It is one of the many reasons why we oppose immigration.

You quote a meaningless statistic that the workforce is 88% white in a country that is 88% white. However, the people who actually work, that is to say, the labour participation rate, by ethnicity, tells a very different story. Why, in an article about diversity, do you choose not to use that figure? Last time I looked in detail, the figures had been adjusted down for Poles who had more than one job, but not so the ethnics.
Percentage of those aged 16-64 with a job of some kind, White 77, Bangladeshi 56.

Winston Stanley

17th September 2019 at 4:16 pm

If Pakistani and Bangladeshi women wish to play a traditional role of homemaker then that is their business and none of yours. They agree it with their spouse, they do not need your permission. Next you will be wailing about the low British birth rate and attacking “feminists” as the root of all evil.

Stephen J

17th September 2019 at 9:32 am

I only see two classes, the working class, and the non-working class, neither is an indicator of either political opinion or of wealth.

The working class can consist of everything from widget fitters to prime ministers, whilst the non-working classes are comprised of anything from a tramp to a king, i.e. anyone that doesn’t have to get out of bed every morning and sell most of their time to another, in order to live.

As for this thing about racism, the British with their history of dealing (sometimes pretty badly) with the most diverse selections of people on the planet are perhaps the least racist on the planet. What our accusers are guilty of in most cases, is misunderstanding (probably deliberately) the attitude that island people take to anything which is new, at first hostile or angry that something has been imposed, then acceptance.

Just like the polythene bag tax, when it was first applied, you could go into any supermarket and witness all sorts of people being racist about the imposition of a fee for a plastic bag, but after a short while it stopped… Life is too short.

Those that are afraid of some classes of people are the real racists, and oddly the main accusers are those that fear this nation’s majority.

Losers.

John Millson

17th September 2019 at 8:44 am

‘‘Diversity’ in that context is management-speak for ‘watch out, we can replace you’.
Campaigns for ‘Diversity’ in the workplace can appear too earnest and therefore provocative, but so often organisations want to comply with the spirit of the law – Equality Act 2010. No one should resent ‘diversity’.

A Game

17th September 2019 at 7:27 pm

Diversity is actually a completely involuntary thing for the working classes. They live with, work with, love whatever turns up in their neighbourhood, without having had a choice in any of it. And they’ve gotten on with it.
“Diversity” is the language of the masturbatory classes who haven’t lived with, worked with or loved the mixed bag of the modern west. They just mix with the few they choose to appoint into their ranks. Then bray at everyone else how broadminded they are. Working classes reaction? Face palm.

Trouble McTrouble

20th September 2019 at 2:03 pm

Diversity makes me sick when it’s used by the middle and upper classes as a virtue signalling ‘look at me! Look.At.ME!’ act. I grew up on the roughest housing estate in west london. The police only ever arrived mob handed and in many, MANY vans. We had EVERYONE living on that estate – we were like the bloody United Nations in estate form…..but we all got on. Anyone caused trouble for anyone else; they were dealt with. Trouble that came to the estate came from OUTSIDE it. We didn’t even know diversity as a word back then, I’m 54 and grew up on that estate – my father, now approaching 80 and widowed – still lives there because he has so many looking out for him. The 15 times he’s been mugged was NEVER on the estate itself yet, as I’ve said, the estate was deemed the roughest one in West London for the longest time (now not so much).

We didn’t virtue signal because we didn’t care. Everyone was treated the same – colour, religion and all that didn’t come into it. The estate was built and we were all shoved onto it and left to get sorted. WE made it work, no one else and we did it because we didn’t think we couldn’t. So when people say to me “wow, you’re so open to diversity” – and it’s even worse when they add “considering your age; it’s refreshing!” I want to punch them in the face…..with a chair.

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