Monday, April 17, 2006

Back to The Usual Subjects

This is going to be a rather cursory post, because I'm still recovering from yesterday's Wagner onslaught. Nevertheless, DA is posting again. The good point: he's writing rather well as here: "This scare, however, is different from the rest, because it comes with a minister wrapped around it." Yes, it owes a lot to Wodehouse, but that's in its favour.

He's also writing on something which has bothered me, so I'll state my take up front. Elections are for the incumbents to lose. Parties in power have a lot of opportunities to trim to either woo voters or keep the ones they have. If voters are cynical, it's because of those in power.
As many as eight out of ten homes that she [Margaret Hodge] canvassed, she said, were thinking seriously about it. This was a figure not quite borne out by radio vox pops, despite a hilarious encounter on the Today programme with a man called Abdul who told his questioner that he believed that too many immigrants had been allowed in recently -- and then very charmingly introduced his wife, a recent immigrant from Pakistan.

Being a humourless sod, I disagree about the belly laugh from Abdul.
Even so, there was plenty of corroborative material around for Ms Hodge’s pessimism. A Rowntree report, about to be released, backs up some of the ministers’ worries, and that splendid anti-fascist organisation, Searchlight, is concerned about the inroads being made in northeast London by the BNP. Depending on who you believe, possible gains for the BNP in the Barking and Dagenham council elections on May 4 could range from between half a dozen seats to half the council.

Barking and Dagenham are in South East London. Update Thanks to a couple of sharp eyed commenters, I'm clearly talking through my arse here. Of course, they're in east london, and north of the river, ergo, north east london.
Why? Because the white working class — according to Ms Hodge — “can't get a home for their children, they see black and ethnic minority communities moving in and they are angry". In her view they have been hit by a demographic shift so sudden that they cannot adjust. “When I arrived in 1994, it was a predominantly white, working-class area. Now, go through the middle of Barking and you could be in Camden or Brixton . . . It is gobsmacking change.”

This is a very surprising thing for a Labour Politician to say (Camden and Lambeth are both proud Labour boroughs as was Islington).
Whether Ms Hodge is right about the pace of change being so much greater in her borough than that experienced by, say, the East End of London, mining areas, or parts of Yorkshire, is a matter for argument.

Curiously, Dave, immigrants aren't flooding in to "mining areas". I can't think why not.
Even so, we should take the threat seriously. Not because the BNP can become our Front National - despite Griffin’s obvious talents it does not seem to have the cadres to produce anything more than an ill-tempered voting blip before its new councillors all assault each other or resign out of boredom.
We should take it seriously because, like many suicide attempts, it is a cry for help. A friend of mine told me yesterday that blackbirds have taken to singing in the night, because - apparently - it's too noisy in the day. They can be heard only during the dark. Perhaps part of the white working class now feels that it can only be heard in the dark.

I agree with Dave in the first paragraph, but not with the second. A cry for help? Well, most of us vote for the party most likely to help us. All voting can be viewed as a cry (or something) for help. The BNP white working class can be heard loud and clear in Richard Littlejohn in particular and the Mail and the Sun in general. They're not only not in the dark, they're not being taken on and debated in their preferred forums.
Ms Hodge’s neighbour, Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham, has become something of a specialist in this subject. His assertion is that the BNP phenomenon is caused by a failure of mainstream, especially Labour, politicians to appeal to "traditional" voters. Instead, the parties try to maximise their appeal to middle-class swing voters in marginal constituencies. Labour’s project has ceased to be the "emancipation" of the still large working class.

Not surprisingly, I agree with Mr Cruddas. The Labour Party, since 1997, taken its core support as a given. Never mind the "emancipation" at least let the poor bastards enjoy a pint and a fag in peace.
Up to here, DA's been in good form. Now we come to a paragraph which is really sloppy, and which pretty much inspired this post.
I have real problems with Mr Cruddas's analysis, seductive though many find it. The first is that many swing voters in marginal seats are also white working class, and that quite a lot of the Labour appeal is calculated to gain their support. The second is that one might expect that far-left parties, such as Respect, would benefit as much, or even more, from disillusion with Labour’s centrism than racist parties of the far Right.

An former Marxist like DA should at least know when to divide the "working class" into the proletariat and the lumpenproletariat. As long as we've had universal suffrage, we've had working class Tories like Alf Garnett. They're "working class" but not "traditional" Labour voters. Mr Cruddas knows what he means. "The second is that one might expect that far-left parties, such as Respect, would benefit as much, or even more, from disillusion with Labour’s centrism than racist parties of the far Right." Oh, tosh. "would benefit" -- how do you know? 'Should' maybe, but perhaps Respect dug its own grave with the Big Brother watching classes.
In fact I don’t believe that the BNP votes will predominantly be ex-Labour votes at all. In 1983 the combined Conservative and SDP vote in Dagenham was 59 per cent, with Labour hanging on to the seat by a whisker. This was when Labour was at its most magnificently class conscious. Since then the Tory vote has collapsed. What may be fuelling the BNP vote is the moderation and commitment to multiculturalism of the Conservative Party.

Labour got something like 41% in 1983, in other words. "Since then the Tory vote has collapsed. What may be fuelling ..." To come back to Ms Hodge (in nearby Barking), "It is gobsmacking change.” This collapse could be because of democraphic change.
And here we should admit something -- the horrid pleasures of racism. Back in the Sixties my father was the district secretary of the Communist party of Great Britain in South Essex -- a district that took in Barking, Dagenham, Harlow, Benfleet and other new towns. I recall his shock when, after Enoch Powell was sacked from his position in Heath’s Shadow Cabinet for his 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech, 1,000 dockers -- the true labour aristocracy -- marched in Powell’s support.

Let's take that again, with just the important bits ... "my father was the district secretary of the Communist party of Great Britain in South Essex ... -- 1,000 dockers -- the true labour aristocracy."
There's a lack of clarity there too. Are the 1,000 dockers "the true labour aristocracy" or are dockers sui generisis holders of that title, and, in either case, why them? I thought the Labour Party owed a lot to mining and skilled tradesmen.
The rest of the piece goes rather limp. DA largely agrees with Mr Cruddas -- and in ways I do too. He's clearly edited a too-obvious joke from "Barking on the couch". He experiences momentary self-pity as a Camdenite rather than a Hamsteadite.
I spent Sunday evening looking at the stats for Barking and Dagenham. It is less deprived than my own borough, Camden. It experiences less crime. Its housing stock is no worse. But its educational attainment is lower, its VAT registrations (a sign of small business activity) are much lower and its teen pregnancy rate is much, much higher.

The proles have less to steal; and are less likely to be insured and therefore to report theft to the police that the middle classes, so I wouldn't take crime as a great indicator of deprivation. But low education, teen pregnancies, and no start-ups? Camden is pretty comfortable.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Polocrunch said...

"Barking and Dagenham are in South London."
I'm afraid not.

4/18/2006 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger badmatthew said...

Damn, I wanted to be the first to say they are north of the Thames, so are Northeast. If you're going to be picky, make sure you pick on the right things

4/18/2006 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger badmatthew said...

"Let's take that again, with just the important bits ... "my father was the district secretary of the Communist party of Great Britain in South Essex ... -- 1,000 dockers -- the true labour aristocracy."
This is odd - you exclude the important relevant bits here which are about dockers marching in support of Powell in 1968 and the obvious response about them losing their status and privileges in the face of containerization creating the material basis for passive racism to become something much more frightening. And how that was turned round in the early '70s when they started to struggle...

4/18/2006 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger fatbongo said...

I thought the last paragraph was rubbish.

you’d also tell it the truth, which is that there is no protection from change itself — no stopping the world, unless you are prepared to pay the heavy price of getting off.

It's not Change that they are worried about. It's black people.

4/18/2006 12:58:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home