I heard an interview with Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite. Asked about why he wouldn’t accept the current plans concerning pension reform bearing in mind the financial pressures everyone was experiencing he spoke about how the pension funds that provided for the pensions of the Unite members were in good financial health. He made the point that the removal of pension rights was a strategy not based on sound financial management of the pension fund incomes but one designed to claw back money from public service workers to fund the deficit. A deficit that has been ill managed by a financial elite who were not held accountable and who were, individual careers included, bailed out by the very public funds and borrowing which public service workers are now being asked to underwrite through job cuts and reduced pension rights.
That point of view seems to be totally lacking in the Labour Party and the leadership of Ed Miliband. His brother,apparently a more skilled player of a middle class game which came to dominate British political life, was sidelined in favour of the leader whose very support was founded, somewhat controversially, in the Union vote. Yet Ed Miliband does not take the Union line, he tacitly accepts that they are wrong, that there is an eventual economic rationale, a political pragmatism, authorising the side-lining of practically the only remaining vestige of an organised and confident working class organisation.
A criticism of Thatcher is that she inaugurated the domination of a middle class ethic as a national public morality. The shop keeper, self made, promoting the agency of individual desire and ambition as the motor to economic well being in the context of which people would, it was imagined, accept the necessity and price of individualism, euphemistically thought of as self determination. The working class have been encouraged to focus on capital growth, their own through property acquisition, nationally through consumption. They are if they do not acquiesce, considered to be dangerous. Not just in rioting but in potential race relations, in hedonism. There are so few voices, other than a tamed, heritage inflected, historical account of working class self organisation, from which confidence can be drawn.
The Labour Party has abandoned these positions, their spokespeople are largely middle class whose memories of working class life are themselves rooted in an imagined past rather than experience. We are all the poorer for this.