Places like Wakefield (Labor since 1932), Don Valley (Labor since 1922) and Rother Valley (Labor since 1918) all turned the Tories into results that would have been wholly unthinkable a decade or two ago.
These are places that found their political voice in the Brexit referendum and did not take the National Establishment Remain lightly.
The effectiveness of the Get Brexit Done message was the inevitable result of the sneers and snobbery that followed the EU referendum and the refusal of much of the political, business and cultural elite to accept the result.
Rather than properly engaging with the outcome, the response of too much of the establishment has been to poke fun at Leave voters. It was part of an often mocking disdain that saw working-class Brexit voters ridiculed as stupid, fanatic or worse.
The attitude that saw working class men ridiculed as low-information gammons became even more pronounced after the 2019 election and was still noticeable at the time of Hartlepool’s by-election.
These social attitudes may have lingered beneath the surface for years, but there was little reason for them to appear when economics and politics put graduates and the South firmly in the crosshairs. In contrast, the referendum was an outcome in which working class voters in the North and Midlands had a decisive voice (all but one of the former coalfields voted in favor of leaving) and the losing side was not good at hide his contempt.
It is important that we denounce the mocking attitude towards workers for the snobbery that it is. This is what I call the new snobbery in a new book.
It’s not the old-fashioned snobbery, where Nancy Mitford would differentiate people between whether they said toilets or restrooms or the Hyacinth Bucket or Margot Leadbetter kind of snobbery, but the new snobbery is much more insidious because it is much more socially acceptable. .
It is also more harmful because it calls into question the ability of peoples to participate fully in the democratic process. The problem is not only political. Mainstream comedy shows are full of metropolitan liberals hitting North Brexit voters and taunts against workers are seen as acceptable. The voices of the working class are still rarely heard in culture or in business, with an obsession with diversity often ignoring socio-economic barriers.
The foundations of New Snobbery are educational and economic. Educationally, working class people are still disproportionately left behind. The class division in education widens as children grow older. Only 13% of working-class white boys with free school meals attend university, compared to 85% of those attending private schools.
Our economy has evolved into an economy where working class jobs have lost esteem and status, often characterized by insecurity and stagnant wages. An obsession with meritocracy, while important in principle, also risks ignoring bottom jobs and creating the myth that success is only due to talent.
There are a number of steps we can take to begin to correct generations of political failures and to develop a pro-worker politics and economy.
The Premier’s upgrading program suggests he understands its importance. Policy measures in favor of workers include taking steps to increase the representation of the working class in politics, business and culture; the pursuit of an industrial policy aimed at reindustrialisation, with the creation of quality manufacturing jobs in towns in post-industrial Yorkshire towns and beyond; placing the growth of median wages at the heart of our economic policy; restore the dignity of work for all workers; and place vocation at the heart of our educational system.
This policy change would go beyond the new snobbery, which sees workers as peripheral, to a policy that puts workers’ interests at the heart of decision-making.
The Conservatives won their overwhelming majority for decades because Red Wall voters in places like Wakefield, Don Valley and Rother Valley were fed up with being taken for granted. But these voters, tired of the new snobbery of much of progressive Britain, are not guaranteed to stay on the Tory camp, and they rightly expect to see a trajectory of improving wages, in their cities and their local economies.
If the government is able to effect real and positive change, then the realignment is likely to be sustainable.
David Skelton is an author and political commentator. He tweets via @djskelton. The new snobbery is published by Biteback.
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