DAVID SKELTON: Keir Starmer’s Labour cares more about a feta cheese shortage than fighting for working class families
The Japanese soldier who famously refused to surrender after the Second World War ended and spent 29 years in the jungle finally laid down his arms in 1974. He did so only when his former commander, who had become a bookseller, told him that the war was over.
This stubborn – some would say insane – behaviour has its modern equivalent in Left-wing anti-Brexiteers who are still fighting on as if Britain had not left the EU.
They’re engaged almost daily in a cause that was lost 62 months ago, blithely ignoring the democratic rejection of their ideas in both 2016 and the General Election of 2019 that saw Brexit’s champion, Boris Johnson, elected Prime Minister.
They have become so obsessed with their ‘Good Old Cause’ and trying to turn any news event into a national disaster that they’ve lost sight of the things that the Left has traditionally stood for, such as good jobs and decent wages.
Instead of hand-wringing over the fact that Britain has left the EU and over a temporary shortage of a small number of items on supermarket shelves – such as, I kid you not, the Remain campaigner on Twitter bemoaning the unavailability of feta cheese, basil and aubergines – people should focus on how Brexit can deliver that better life for those who voted for it
The latest flimsy justification for such hysteria is the shortage of stock hitting some supermarkets because of a reduction in the number of available lorry drivers.
There are several reasons for this, including Covid, specific problems in the haulage industry that are also affecting other countries such as Holland and Germany, and the decision of some East European HGV drivers to leave Britain for home.
Surely this ought to be the perfect opportunity for the Left to support the working classes and tell bosses to hire British drivers. Also, to insist that drivers get improved pay and conditions.
As Gordon Brown told Labour’s conference in 2007, it is an imperative to ‘create British jobs for British workers’.
However, the truth is that for Brown’s successors running the Labour Party today, standing up for British workers has long ceased to be a priority.
Their failure to make the case for better wages is yet more proof that they no longer champion the interests of working class voters, particularly in the towns of the North and Midlands.
It is telling, also, that the Left is failing to stand up to those EU neighbours whose absurd and bureaucratic regulations are restricting trade and harming working people.
Instead, Labour is what an internal party report described as a party of ‘high-status city dwellers’.
As I wrote in my recent book, the modern Left has become the embodiment of a ‘New Snobbery’ that looks down on working people rather than representing them.
Surely this ought to be the perfect opportunity for the Left to support the working classes and tell bosses to hire British drivers. Also, to insist that drivers get improved pay and conditions
Even more of a betrayal, many now espouse similar values to the ‘boss class’ they once despised, happily making the case for open borders, even though freedom of movement means migrants accepting work with less pay, putting Britons out of jobs.
Despite almost two decades of stagnating wages and job insecurity for thousands of workers, many on the vocal Left believe that more immigration is the answer, rather than making sure that more British truck drivers are trained and that their pay and conditions are improved.
Open borders have become a part of Left orthodoxy. However, it is abundantly clear a massive supply of cheap labour keeps down wages and means businesses don’t have the incentive to invest in training.
This isn’t the first time that Labour has got it badly wrong on migration. When the Blair government opened Britain to people from new EU members in Eastern Europe without the kind of control measures introduced by France, Germany and others, it predicted that no more than 13,000 people would come to the UK. The true figure was ten times that.
As Gordon Brown told Labour’s conference in 2007, it is an imperative to ‘create British jobs for British workers’. However, the truth is that for Brown’s successors running the Labour Party today, standing up for British workers has long ceased to be a priority
As well as migration, the Left has betrayed the working classes in education.
Once, it was a rudimentary principle of a socialism that grew out of pit villages and steel towns and owed more to Methodism than Marxism, that the path to wealth and success was good schools.
The classic book by Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life Of The British Working Classes, chronicles how working people saw education as fundamental to improving their lot. Yet Labour governments have presided over a system which has created a performance gap between rich and poor children by the age of six, and which widens as they get older.
Only 13 per cent of white working class boys, for example, go to university, compared with 85 per cent of people who go to private schools.
Despite the clear evidence that working-class kids are still falling behind educationally, the Left continue to virulently oppose any measures that might make things better.
Of course it was a Labour Education Secretary, Shirley Williams, who with a single-minded enthusiasm set about the abolition of grammar schools – while sending her own daughter to a grant-aided school which later opted out of the state system rather than abolish selection.
Every proposal to raise standards, to give more power to schools or to tighten school discipline, is met with opposition from Sir Keir Starmer’s party, which remains wedded to the status quo and a teaching establishment – The Blob, as former Education Secretary Michael Gove termed it – which delivers votes to Labour by the lorry-load.
The same applies to further and higher education.
The Remainer Left is dominated by graduates. Almost 90 per cent of Labour MPs have been to university. This means that they prioritise giving big subsidies to middle-class university students by abolishing tuition fees, rather than focusing on providing the kind of high-class technical and vocational education that the country needs.
I often wonder what the giants of Labour’s past would have thought about a party which no longer campaigns about workers’ wages, conditions and improving education.
Ernest Bevin, that titan who helped us win the war, developed a strongly patriotic foreign policy and built up the Transport and General Workers Union to be a major force in the land as it fought for workers’ rights.
Churchill described him as a ‘valiant spirit’. Bevin would surely have been astonished if he saw his successors treating the chance to improve workers’ wages with the current HGV driver shortage as a problem rather than an opportunity.
It is no wonder that Owen Jones, Guardian columnist and Jeremy Corbyn acolyte, said last week that the Labour Party is ‘becoming the worst of all worlds – neither principled nor electable’.
Given that it instinctively shies away from suggesting policies that could improve the livelihoods of millions of workers, it seems unlikely Labour will win the Red Wall back again any time soon.
Those Red Wall voters saw Brexit as offering the hope of a better life.
Instead of hand-wringing over the fact that Britain has left the EU and over a temporary shortage of a small number of items on supermarket shelves – such as, I kid you not, the Remain campaigner on Twitter bemoaning the unavailability of feta cheese, basil and aubergines – people should focus on how Brexit can deliver that better life for those who voted for it.
More manufacturing jobs, dignity at work, proper technical education and improved pay and conditions.
But that’s not the Left’s way. Rather, like, Hiroo Onoda, that Japanese soldier in denial about the end of the war, Labour continues to fight lost wars, vacuously blaming the Government’s ‘chaotic’ approach to a Brexit trade deal.
David Skelton is author of The New Snobbery: Taking on modern elitism and empowering the working class.
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