Sunday, 22 December 2019

Lifelong Labour Voters

In the media postmortem on the election two memes were purveyed. First, Labour lost the election because it lost the votes of the working-class, and second, Labour lost because many life-long Labour voters could not bring themselves to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. 

In actual fact, as I have set out before, its quite clear that many of these “life long Labour voters” were nothing of the kind. There have always been reactionary workers, and reactionary sections of other exploited classes. I'm sure that there were plenty of slaves who complained that Spartacus was a dangerous revolutionary with ideas above his station, for suggesting that people ought to be free. There were certainly plenty of serfs who thought that it was necessary for the peasants to know their place in society. In the French Revolution, much like today, there were whole geographic areas of the country where backward sections of society dominated who were hostile to the revolution, and the same is true about rural areas of Russia in 1917, until such time as the landlords returned, and they remembered the reality of that oppression. In Britain, too, as agricultural employment declined, and industrial employment increased rapidly, the industrial workers rapidly became far more radical than agricultural workers. Today, it is young, better educated workers in the new technologically driven industries that dominate the economy that are more radical, and older, less educated workers, who have seen the old industries decline, and their employment prospects disappear along with it, that occupy that position of the reactionary tail dragged along behind the mass of the working-class. 

The idea that Labour has lost the support of the working-class is premised on the idea that the working-class is only those workers who work with their hands in those old declining industries, rather than what it is, which is anyone who must sell their labour-power in order to live. The reality is that the working-class is bigger than ever, and 80% of it now works, not in those old declining industries, but in service industry. Some of that service industry is, indeed, comprised of low paid, unskilled work, such as in fast food restaurants etc., but a large part of it is in high value, high skilled employment, such as in technology industries, in media production, entertainment, computer games production, alternative energy production, medical science, space science and so on. The majority of the working-class, employed in these industries, is young and better educated, it is concentrated in cities. That is where also the support for Labour is concentrated. 

Labour must focus on the future of the working-class not its past. It must concentrate on building its support and a mass social movement in those cities, and drawing in this new, vibrant progressive working-class. If it looks backwards, as sections of the Labour movement attempted to do during the election campaign, it will go into terminal decline. 

The other meme purveyed during and after the election was that “lifelong Labour voters” could not vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Yet, in 2017, huge numbers did. In 2017, with Jeremy Corbyn as Leader, Labour came within a fraction of winning the election, and had the largest increase in its vote since 1945. The idea that these voters could not vote for Labour, under Corbyn, is, therefore, obvious rubbish. The other night, I was watching an episode of Dave Gorman's “Terms and Conditions Apply”, which ironically, brought these two things together. 

In part of the show, he sent out one of the team to question members of the public. The basis of the questions was “nostalgia”. They appeared in a town centre, much as happens with the Vox Pops, and told people that research had shown that more intelligent and creative people were better at remembering things from the past such as popular TV shows. People were reminded of the names of a series of well known shows, and as they did so, the members of the public nodded along, affirming their recollection of these things from their past. Then the questioner threw in a number of shows that were completely made up, and still the members of the public affirmed that they recalled them. The questioner even prompted them to remember cast members of these non-existent shows, which the members of the public, in most cases, also affirmed. A similar thing was done with non-existent catch phrases from the non-existent shows, and with non-existent theme tunes to the non-existent shows. 

What it demonstrates is the ability of people to completely delude themselves about their past behaviour, and their recollections of the past. But, it also demonstrates the hypothesis developed by Milgram. Milgram was anxious to understand why it was that so many people were prepared to go along with the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. It was not that all these people were evil, or even that it could all be explained by the oppressive nature of the regime itself. It comes down to a natural human tendency to want to conform. 

A number of experiments on this have been done.  Michael Moseley for example in his series A Secret History of The Brain, for example, did experiments asking people to give up seats on buses, and so on. Milgram's experiment invited subjects to press a button that applied an electric shock to people being asked questions, every time the person got the question wrong. They were told that this was okay, by someone who was presented as being an authority figure. They were also told that the electric shocks got stronger the more questions the person got wrong. Even when the shocks were strong enough to kill the recipient, the subjects continued to comply and press the button. 

In reality, no shocks were being applied, but the subjects didn't know that. In a further experiment, because it was felt that subjects might guess that they would not be expected to kill someone with an electric shock, animals were used in place of people. Still the subjects continued to apply what they thought would be fatal electric shocks, and this was simply a result of a strong desire for compliance and willingness to accept the word of an authority figure. 

If we look at the election, and the media coverage around it, for months the media have used vox pops in town centres where this message that “lifelong Labour voters” could not vote for Labour, or for Jeremy Corbyn, even though that is exactly what they did in 2017 in very large numbers. In 2017, the media attempted the same thing, but they obviously had not had enough time for that strategy to work. Massive rallies in the Summer of 2017, following on from the massive rallies in 2015, and 2016 during the Leadership elections also contradicted, for all to see, the media message, in a way that was not possible in the Winter of 2019. 

Its no surprise then that people, having watched others like them appear in totally unscientific spurious vox pops, in town centres, week after week, and, during the election, day after day, imbibe into their consciousness that this is also what they have always thought too. Its not to say that those who do so are stupid, because it is natural human behaviour to conform that has evolved over the course of human development as a means of survival. The media is in the hands of a tiny section of society, and so if it employs these strategies, it is not surprising if they have an effect. 

Yet, the truth is that the strategy did not work as effectively as is suggested. The reality is that the majority of people voted against Brexit, and voted for parties calling for another referendum or revoke, and the majority of those who did so voted Labour. In the big cities, throughout the country, where the populations are younger, and where those younger generations get their information from the internet rather than broadcast media, Labour did well, and in many places increased its vote. So, a further strategy has had to be applied of telling everyone that Labour's performance was particularly dire, and the worst since 1935. In fact, it wasn't. Labour's vote share of 33% was higher than the 27% it secured in 1983, it was higher than the 30% it secured under Kinnock in 1987, and more or less the same as the 34% it secured under Kinnock in 1992, when it was expected that Labour was going to win. A large part of the poorer showing of Labour in terms of seats comes down to the fact that Labour was wiped out in Scotland, but Labour only had six seats to begin with, whereas back in in the 1980's and 90's, it was dominant in Scotland. Labour lost those Scottish seats long before Jeremy Corbyn became Leader. 

Again, this shows why it is necessary to break the monopoly exercised by the Tory media, and to build a progressive Labour movement media to confront it. We should devote considerable effort into producing a labour movement cable/satellite channel, providing both news and entertainment, along with internet channels. With some modicum of determination we can make this into a competitor to the Tory media, because, in the end, it is workers who produce the content already, and it is we who have the necessary talent. More importantly, we are many, they are few.

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