Voters don’t want your pity

Labour treats working-class voters with pity instead of respect.

Joanna Williams

Joanna Williams

Topics Brexit Politics UK

‘Think of the most vulnerable person you know and vote in their best interests.’ This meme, apparently started by musician and Corbyn fanboy Martyn Ware, was all over social media in the run-up to last week’s General Election. It was a sentiment shared by Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis, who urged people to use their vote to ‘protect the most vulnerable’. Also, comedian turned censor-in-chief Steve Coogan took to the airwaves demanding people vote tactically against a government that ‘is utilising ignorance and prejudice against the most vulnerable people in society.’

Meanwhile, the New European (surely in its death throes now?) urged young people to vote tactically for Remain parties other than Labour – not only on behalf of the Remain cause, but also for ‘the vulnerable’. ‘We have to decide whether ideological purity is worth defeat’, mused writer Lucy Holland. ‘Or, to put it another way, whether inflicting another five years of Conservative rule on the most vulnerable in our society is worth being able to say “at least I voted Labour”.’

There is something nauseating about those with access to a media platform urging people to vote on behalf of the vulnerable. It reduces voting to an act of charity. Engaging in democracy is presented as akin to bunging a few quid to a homeless person. Worse, public declarations of voting for the vulnerable risked turning the election into a massive act of virtue-signalling. It has allowed some – mainly high-profile, wealthy individuals – to present themselves as morally superior. Unlike the rest of us, they wouldn’t be thinking of their own interests when casting a vote.

What an insult to the legacy of all those who fought to secure universal suffrage. From those who died in the Peterloo Massacre to the Suffragettes, disenfranchised people did not struggle for the vote in order to demonstrate their compassion. The exact opposite was the case. They wanted their own interests and the interests of their friends, family, community – the interests of their class – to be represented in parliament. They wanted their collective voice to be heard through the ballot box in order to have a say in shaping the future of society.

As we have seen since the UK voted to leave the EU, some wealthy individuals, celebrities and high-profile journalists have been able to influence the national conversation through the courts or the media. These people are now free to boast about selflessly voting on behalf of the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, for everyone else, putting a mark on a piece of paper once every few years is the only way we can have our own interests represented. This is not selfishness, it’s politics. It’s why the vote is important.

Once, Labour claimed to represent the working class. Now that the working class has resoundingly rejected Labour, the party is busy recasting itself as the party of the vulnerable. Rejected MPs and disappointed Corbynites have been deflecting from self-analysis with the ‘pity the vulnerable’ narrative.

Sadiq Khan got the ball rolling on Facebook: ‘We have fundamentally failed those that most desperately need the help of a Labour government. They include the sick, the poorest and the vulnerable.’ Yvette Cooper joined in on Twitter: ‘Families with kids who are going hungry really needed a strong Labour Party and Labour government.’ Richard Leonard, leader of Scottish Labour, was also on-message: ‘Thursday’s election result was devastating, most of all for the most vulnerable in our society who face the prospect of another five years of Tory rule.’

The election result showed that Labour was rejected in working-class areas where people most strongly backed leaving the EU. The ‘pity the vulnerable’ message allows Labour MPs to justify trying everything in their power to overturn what their constituents voted for back in 2016. They are telling themselves and each other: our job was never to represent the working class, it was to protect the most vulnerable. Voters, meanwhile – especially the C2s category (or ‘skilled manual workers’) who were more likely to back the Conservatives than any other social group – find themselves either written off as selfish, uncaring and possibly even racist and xenophobic. Or they are reclassified as part of this amorphic ‘vulnerable’ blob.

Opposition to the newly elected Conservative government is now shaping into hysterical posturing about what a heartless and uncaring society we have become. The Archbishop of Canterbury has voiced his concern over ‘the direction’ of the country, arguing that ‘the situation for vulnerable people’ has become worse. Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland argues that the election result is a repudiation of Corbynism and ‘it’s the poor and vulnerable who will pay the price.’ One young Labour campaigner, quoted in the Guardian, claims that ‘knowing the devastating impact this government will have on the most vulnerable in our society is what pushes young activists like us.’ Meanwhile, donations to food banks and charities helping ‘the UK’s most vulnerable’ are said to have surged after last week’s election result.

Of course, all of this begs a question: if things are really so bad, if so many in the UK are teetering on the edge of survival and Labour is their only hope, why didn’t the party win a landslide?

Perhaps it is because working-class people don’t want to be labelled as ‘vulnerable’ and are insulted by offers of protection. Perhaps it is because elite pity can so quickly switch to loathing and contempt when the very same working-class people being pitied deign to express a political opinion. Or perhaps it is because people want political agency, not charity.

One thing is for sure, until Labour’s champions and celebrity hangers-on stop patronising voters and start respecting them, they are unlikely to be re-elected any time soon.

Joanna Williams is associate editor at spiked. She is the director of the new think tank, Cieo. Find out more about it here.

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


K Tojo

17th December 2019 at 11:55 pm

Is Novara Media the house journal of Momentum?

michael savell

17th December 2019 at 11:50 pm

Today the subject is all about how fptp is wrong and why the system should be changed.How Boris
will get brexiteers who have lost their seats into the house of lords thus ensuring that members will not be financially vulnerable and cut the workload on himself.There is absolutely nothing being done about changing a system which works for only a very small % of people,the top 5% will sit on their illicit gains,there will still be zombie conglomerations who live on credit which will have to be paid back by the public,there will still be tax havens and companies who pay next to nothing in tax,there are banks going skint which will have to be bailed out because they are too big to fail and there are those in the media who earn fortunes and still consider they have the right
to decide what is best for the guy living under the bridge and we have those living on the hog moaning about somebody who earns a £5 more than them.Most of the charities started off by ordinary people collecting voluntarily until the luvvies took over,now the volunteers hand their cash to AI, what does it do,where does it go,who knows who cares.Boris Johnson is said to be the new Blair according to Hitchens,the parties have swapped places so what is the point of arguing policies?


17th December 2019 at 7:10 pm

Why do the Tories believe that they have made massive inroads in the North when they have only won a handful of seats? The vast majority of the (urban) north is still red as is the whole of South Wales, despite the mess of the last few years. Some traditional Northern Labour voters voted Tory because of Corbyn’s incompetence and extremism but even that wasn’t enough to convince most northern Labourites to make a pact with the devil.

jan mozelewski

17th December 2019 at 8:32 pm

Fact remains that seats have gone to the Tories which I never thought would ever do so. Many have been Labour more or less for ever….generation upon generation. And that has turned, sometimes often not just a marginal gain but a thumping one.
Now you may want to put this back in the box and try to talk as thought it isn’t such a big deal, really. But it is and denial won’t make it otherwise. It may, on the other hand, mean that it will be more likely to happen again….


17th December 2019 at 8:46 pm

I’m not Labour and certainly not pro-Corbyn. With the possible exception of the SNP none of the parties offer the radical change that I support. Nevertheless, I have a particular problem with Tory Mammon-worship.


17th December 2019 at 7:03 pm

Interesting how Tories assume that all opposition to Toryism is Labourist socialism. Gladstonian liberalism, social utopianism and Christian socialism are all powerful alternatives to Tory asset-stripping and state-endorsed corporate theft.


17th December 2019 at 3:39 pm

I suggest that patronising ‘the poor’ is a hell of a lot better than systematically destroying the social fabric of and economic opportunity within deprived areas by years of austerity, which has been Tory policy for a decade now. After Thatcher and austerity, the last thing these people need is some smug, patrician Home Counties liar telling them they have their best interests at heart.

Korina Wood

17th December 2019 at 4:31 pm

Social Fabric, that is a new one. People want to be better off and they saw that the Labour Fascists did not want to listed to their Voters. Labour always knows best for their Voters, but the Voters are fed up not being listened to. But what does Labour care, they are doubling down on their Voters and giving them yet another Left Wing Incompetent Leader.

TrappedInTheOffSide .

18th December 2019 at 10:43 am

Would like to point out that labor has never had the chance to listen to voters as it’s not been in power since the 70’s you cannot count new labor it was Tory In all but name

jan mozelewski

17th December 2019 at 5:57 pm

A casual observer would think, judging by your comment, that nothing had happened between Thatcher and Austerity. Whereas, as history tells us, there was a labour government under Tony Blair from 97 to 2007, followed by a labour government under Brown until 2010. That’s 13 years of labour altogether.
Forgive me, but what you appear to be saying is that Labour, once in power, achieve pretty much nothing to actually change the status quo, Indeed they are so forgetable and make so little impact, according to your recollection, that it begs the question ‘why bother’? A question the electorate appears to be answering by not doing so.

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