”Bigoted woman” och den brittiska vänstern

Jag lider sedan några dagar av en förlamande förkylning. Min hjärna arbetar inte som normalt och jag har valt att inte anstränga den mer än nödvändigt; först och främst tittar jag på fotbollsklipp på youtube. Men jag dock även läst runt för att få lite koll på valrörelserna i Nederländerna och England.

Och då kom det här med Gillian Duffy lägligt. Vilket liv det blev! Mycket spännande att läsa. Intressantast är förstås diskussionen inom den moderata vänstern. The Guardian (centre-left) har många tänkvärda texter. Och på vänsterakademiska bloggen Crooked Timber skrevs ett inlägg som fick en mycket intressant kommentarstråd. Jag tänkte nu klippa och klistra främst från dessa texter och kommentarer.

Vi börjar med att ge frågan rätt proportioner. Det kan man få genom att begrunda utredningen från Institute of Fiscal Studies. Marina Hyde skriver i The Guardian:

What a testament to the media-industrial complex that one day after the Institute of Fiscal Studies report warning of the most devastating cuts since the second world war, it should discover an even bigger story. When we are a nation in rags, with a skeleton NHS feeding powdered egg to the patients who somehow survive the 10-year waiting lists, and our terminally unemployed children ask us: ”Did the news media just clear the schedules when they found about the IFS report?”, we will be able to say: ”No, but they did the next day when the prime minster was overheard slagging off a woman from Rochdale. Now sling another chair leg on the fire and shut up.”

Likväl är det fullt rimligt att det blir visst liv kring ”bigoted woman”. Inte bara för dess sensationsvärde utan för att den pekar på en väldigt central fråga, vilken kommer framgå senare i det här inlägget.

(Låt mig inflika, efter att ha tittat på gårdagens debatt, att mina sympatier klart ligger hos Clegg, min magkänsla signalerar tvivel gällande Cameron, och mitt av naturen försiktiga intellekt viskar att Gordon Brown är en duktig skeppare.)

Hör man bara sekvensen med Brown så kan man ha viss sympati; även han måste ju, som han senare förklarade, ha möjlighet att ”let out steam”. Men om man ser hela videon blir intrycket ett annat; jag måste säga att jag blev helt paff (och då visste jag ju ändå om att det skulle komma!). Crooked Timber (CT) kommentar #14 och #54:

Watch the whole sequence to appreciate how mortifying this is. It’s especially bad because Brown tries to be charming at the end of the conversation, then climbs in his car and says what a disaster. This onstage/backstage disjuncture is what everyone suspects about politicians, but rarely is it confirmed with such narrative economy. [CT #14]

I showed a large group of (midwestern, admittedly) students the clip with the subtitles, and they drew in a collective sharp breath when hearing/seeing Browns bigot comment. It is his contempt that is the issue, and, as some have said, its at-odds-ness with the pleasantness of the actual encounter (and the shock that he was rattled by her). [CT #54]

Jag instämmer i detta. Notera inte minst det sistnämnda i kommentaren. Diskussionen med kvinnan avlöpte egentligen väl. En vanlig väljare. Visserligen med en svamlig harang om immigration, men denna mötte Brown (lite ofullständigt, men ändock).

Visst kan han kalla henne för bigott, men nog är det problematiskt att anamma en definition av detta begrepp som gör att många miljoner av väljarkåren faller in under det. Och det är även ganska märkligt givet Labours egen politik. Deborah Orr i The Guardian:

If it was bigoted to be concerned about Labour’s immigration policy over the last 13 years, then Labour wouldn’t be so proud of its ”new points based system” and wouldn’t have placed restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens seeking work in Britain after their countries had joined the EU in 2007. [. . .]

Labour’s open door policy was as much about keeping the Confederation Of British Industry happy by depressing unskilled wages as it ever was about fighting ”bigotry”. Labour’s already well-advanced retreat on immigration is as close as Brown will ever get to admitting that his immigration policy was mainly in place to keep the minimum wage down, thus abandoning his core vote.

En kommentator på CT likställer Browns fadäs med Obamas yttrande om ”bitter people clinging to their guns”, som inte kom att påverka det förestående amerikanska valet. Skillnaden — ack vilken skillnad! — påpekas av #24: ”The difference being that Obama was talking about his opponent’s base and Brown was deriding his own”.

Skribenten till inlägget på CT, Harry Brighouse (politisk filosof, skriver ofta om utbildning och skola), trodde först inte att kvinnan i fråga alls var en livslång Labour-röstare så som hon framställts. Men efter att ha läst utskriften av hela samtalet:

Very interesting actually reading the transcript. Doing so makes me think she is an authentic Labour voter of old, after all. [. . .] And I retract my minor sympathies for him—he really should be used to dealing with views like hers enough not to complain. What a bloody shambles. [CT #27]

Att hon är en kärnväljare gör det inte bara svårare för Brown kan ta sig ur knipan. Det pekar också på ett grundläggande problem. En kommentator länkar till ett inlägg som Paul Krugman (vänster-liberal, eller vad man nu ska kalla honom) skrev häromdagen. Samma situation i USA: progressiva slits mellan två impulser.

I know that when I look at today’s Mexicans and Central Americans, they seem to me fundamentally the same as my grandparents seeking a better life in America.

On the other side, however, open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.

So Democrats have mixed feelings about immigration; in fact, it’s an agonizing issue.

Det är denna moraliska konflikt som är så spännande att följa, i England, USA, och i Sverige. (Jag skrev i höstas ett inlägg delvis relaterat till detta: om identitetspolitik och kritiken från ”old-style social democrats” som Brian Barry och Richard Rorty).

Här kommer en radda intressanta kommentarer från Crooked Timber (jag hoppas de inte misstycker/märker):

“Shut up and vote Labour, you bigoted plebs” is a great strategy for social cohesion and electoral success. [CT #5]

Embracing bigoted plebs is not a particularly viable one either. [CT #7]

If Duffy was mistaken about the effect of immigration, then Brown should have good-naturedly corrected her on that. I would expect a campaigning PM to have a statistic or two memorized for just such an event. Instead, he merely viewed his exposure to someone he disagreed with as a failure of campaign management. And by failing to correct her, he more than half implied that Duffy was right but that it was inexpedient for him to admit as much. [CT #8]

For a lefty blog, I’m surprised at the callousness on show here. Inflationary wage pressures have been kept in check not by restraint at the top of the private sector (“intensely relaxed”, everyone?) or a squeeze across the public sector (seen lately what GPs are paid?) but by supply-side measures at the bottom of the labour market. My own views on the matter regardless, it’s a legitimate issue. It can’t be left to the BNP. Who, by the way, are actual bigots. [CT #17]

Don’t make me watch the video again—please—but I could swear the part about immmigration wasn’t about wages but rather about whether the immigrants were living lives of luxury on the dole, thus explaining why pensions are taxed and why our grandchildren will still be paying for this deficit.  [CT #25]

Perhaps the difference is less marked in the UK, but in America, it should be a particular strength of the left/liberals that we are supposed to be the open-minded, rational ones capable of discussing issues with people who disagree with us. The American right cannot tolerate dissent or discussion—disagreement is heresy, pure & simple.

But we sacrifice that advantage when ordinary folks with, for instance, racist prejudices are The Other whom we mock (“plebs,” rednecks, whatever) and treat as loons to be perfunctorily smiled at immediately prior to escaping their presence and laughing at them. [CT #30]

[W]hile other working class communities may still have some residual class consciousness, the British working and lower middle class only have race consciousness, which is manipulated on a daily basis by the tabloid scum.  [CT #50]

One of the nasty bits about American politics is that the little guy on whose behalf “liberals” are fighting for is often a really unpleasant, small, and mean-minded fellow. A lot of my family are like this. I hear their tales of woe, the sorry state of their finances, their poor health, big business moving in on the left and right and no jobs in sight . . . and then they’ll say something mean and bigoted about Blacks or Asians or gays (those aren’t their preferred terms) and what sympathies I have collapse.

Do I have contempt for these plebes behind their backs? You bet. It is precisely because of their nature that they are so susceptible to right-wing propaganda which in turn makes it so hard to get anything constructive done in the U.S. [CT #61]

The sad thing is, though, all these concerns in England are so much to do with that great unspoken phenomenon of British life, class, and the natural party to redress these concerns, the Labour Party, explicitly rejected that debate and ceded the whole territory – the debate about broken Britain, about disappearing jobs and the declining standard of living – to the right-wing fringe.

These concerns are natural fodder for right-wing lies, and the British, being so awfully race sensitive, are easily misled by anti-immigrant populism and scapegoating. And the Tories want to talk about these issues but have to avoid the discussion of class for obvious reasons, so they can’t counter the lies either. [CT #62]

As a longtime observer of British politics from afar, I sometimes get the feeling that Labour is largely kept afloat electorally by the continuing sense that it is the “natural party” of the working class. If that sense, which has had less and less to do with political reality since Labour became New Labour, were ever to collapse, the Labour Party might go down with it. Or am I wrong about this? [CT #65]

One assumes that the Labour inner circle know how much their politics is unpopular with their working class base, but I think they’re so disconnected from the “bigots” they claim to represent that they might actually miss it… [CT #66]

Mrs Duffy’s seems more the generational prejudice of those born in the immediate aftermath of WW2 . . . […] My dad’s the same age. He says the same things, with the caveat that from experience he thinks Polish tradespeople are hard workers. He can say things that make me cringe, and he’s the classic life-long Labour voter who’s talked about voting BNP but has stayed at home instead. I think he understands on a rational level that the only thing separating him from the second-generation Asian teenagers in the town centre is time and skin colour, but he’ll never stop spouting tabloid bullshit about immigrants at the pub. [CT #67]

Well as a matter of fact “the absolute winning formula of the labour party” from the early-through-mid 20thC was to promote populist national statism. If this involves occasionally sharing a bed with “the BNP and the Daily Mail” then we will just have to be brave about that. [CT #73]

And how would you suggest this powerful new leftist movement go about explaining to the British middle class that all their booming recreational activities of the last 15 years have to go out the window because the foreign workers who made them happen are all being shipped home in boxes? [CT #76]

Gosh, [#73] seems to be coming out as a national socialist ….. [CT #78]

A reporter a while back said that the most likely explanation for stupid things on campaign was sheer exhaustion. Many days start at 5 AM, and run through 1-2 AM; people get really, deeply tired. [CT #99]

Kan tillägga att jag anser att #62 rymmer en viktig insikt, samt tror att #65 är korrekt. Och angående Browns beteende mer specifikt instämmer jag med #8 och #30.

Nu tänkte jag avsluta detta mitt mycket välstrukturerade inlägg. Det får ske genom att rekommendera en text av The Guardians politiske reporter John Harris, som väl beskriver Labours djupgående problem. (Jag tar mig åter friheten att citera frikostigt.)

I’ve just spent half an hour on the phone to various Labour party people, and here is the not-exactly-revelatory upshot: ”bigotgate” – if you want to call it that – is beyond grim.

[. . .]

The incident perfectly captures a plotline that I’ve observed time and again, not least as we’ve been travelling around the country during the campaign: millions of people who are confused, unsettled, and often ragingly angry, faced with a political class that affects to feel their pain, but too often holds them in borderline contempt. What with the rise in support for the BNP – and that great chasm that divides too much of the country from richer corners of the capital – the metropolitan media is part of the same problem. It tends to portray them as latter-day Alf Garnetts, nostalgic for a world long gone, and fired up by the kind of prejudices that have no place in London W1 or W11.

In fact, as Gillian Duffy proves, their concerns are a mixture of right and left-ish stuff, much of it traceable to the fact that as Britain has gone through convulsive change after convulsive change, nobody in power has ever bothered giving them much of an explanation. They base their ire on neighbourhoods that have been radically altered, a state that often seems to operate according to its own distant logic, and the absence of the kind of collectivist politics they feel Labour has left behind as it chases the votes of people in supposedly affluent marginals.

Of late, I’ve talked to them time and again. In South Shields: the builder whose hourly rate had come down by £3 an hour once the construction trade turned to recently arrived Poles. In Blackpool: Delwyn and Sylvia, who stuck to a Daily Mail-esque line on crime and immigration, but fretted about how people manage to live on the minimum wage.

Duffy, let’s not forget, lives in Rochdale, another place far from the Middle English milieu at which so much of our politics is aimed. She doesn’t understand why her pension is taxed, and says she isn’t eligible for pension credits, but also thinks the welfare state is a soft touch. She wonders where ”all these eastern Europeans” are coming from. And she laments the demise of student grants, and the fate of her grandchildren: ”What will they have to pay to get into university?” There are millions of people like this: without their support, to put it bluntly, Labour is screwed.

[. . .]

And somewhere within Labour’s collective psyche, there will a creeping awareness of how they arguably ended up here: by mortgaging their future on a mixture of contorted electoral arithmetic, and secondhand free-marketry, and so forgetting their own people that their own prime minister met an pretty average Labour voter, heard her concerns, and came away seething.

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