Friday, 18 June 2021

A Letter to Sir Keir Starmer From A Member of the Working Class

Dear Sir Keir, 

You are no doubt reeling from the Chesham and Amersham by-election result, which not only saw your Labour Party pick up just 622 votes (which was 1/16th of what Corbyn got in 2017), but also saw the Lib Dems take a safe Tory seat, thoroughly demolishing your narrative that the Tories are benefitting from a "Covid vaccine bounce". 

A huge surge in popularity for the Greens at recent council elections has also demolished your narrative that no one wants left-wing policies. Clearly, gains can be made for Labour, but positioning yourself a hair's breadth to the left of the Tories is definitely not the way forwards. People who want Tories will vote Tory and people who want an alternative will seek an actual alternative.

This must be a frustrating time for you, following the disastrous Hartlepool result, and with the Batley and Spen by-election just two weeks away, I am sure you are feeling the pressure. You keep falling back on the blame Corbyn strategy, so it would be remiss of me to not mention how Corbyn transformed Labour's fortunes after the Miliband disaster and actually won by-elections. He didn't make excuses or blame the last leader, because let's be honest, that would be lame.

Now I know you've gone to pains to "win back trust", to make gains in the Tory south and rebuild the so-called red wall. Your focus groups seem to have convinced you the way forward is to drape yourself in the Union Jack, repeatedly tell the nation you're not Jeremy Corbyn, be reluctant to criticise the calamitous Tory government and refuse to take a position on any major issue.

In short, keep telling everyone how much of a patriot you are and give the Tories enough rope to hang themselves so you win a general election by default. Only, you must be aware this strategy is not working out well and endlessly blaming Jeremy Corbyn will not make you Prime Minister. If anything, it undermines your credibility and shows you lack confidence in your ability to turn things around.

I'm a member of the working class. I was born and raised on a rough council estate in a single parent household and fed by free school meals and income support. My adult life has been a mix of unemployment and mostly low paid jobs. And I live in what was one of the safest Labour seats in the country. I say was because I don't know what it is now, and the people around here have no idea what your party stands for anymore.

I'm afraid you've got us massively wrong and draping yourself in the Union Jack really isn't going to cut it. If you somehow survive in your job until 2024, I genuinely believe you might achieve the unthinkable: turning our safe red seat blue. And I promise you this is not because we are all Tories. You couldn't find a person in my town who'd publicly admit to voting Tory because they would be driven into the sea!

So instead of telling the working class what we want, please start listening, because we so desperately need the representation you're refusing to provide.

Take my kids' primary school, for example, which has set up a foodbank. It gets donations from local businesses like Greggs and tops that up with its own surplus stock and gives out food to anyone who wants it. There is no means testing because there would be no point. Almost everyone around here is "skint" - that's working class terminology to describe peasantry. (Please don't include it in your next speech to show how in touch you are, though!)

On top of this, the school sometimes gives out clothing - hand-me-downs from other parents - including school uniforms and shoes which have been outgrown. This is necessary because so many parents are struggling to feed and clothe their kids in the fifth richest nation on Earth. I know first-hand the panic of trying to buy uniforms in time for the next school year.

The system is not working and people like you, who think it requires only minor tweaking, might as well be living on a different planet.

I was sitting in the local park with my kids the other day. The park is shit, by the way. Half the swings, and other features, were removed for no obvious reason, leaving us with half a park in a boggy field about a mile and a half from where we live. There are no parks on our estate, meaning I have the joy of dragging three small kids that distance, just so they can play out. As you can imagine, it's exhausting.

So anyways, I was sitting in the park as my kids played on the tiny slide and the two bouncy elephant things which are pretty much all the park has now, and as smoke wafted our way, my gaze turned to some of the older kids. They had built a large bonfire nearby and were probably at risk of a nasty accident. It was the kind of thing we used to do when we were kids, growing up on the same estate. To be honest, we did a lot worse than build bonfires and boredom was the main driver of our behaviour. Good kids doing foolish things.

A bunch of other kids had built their own swing from the frame which previously held real swings, and they were taking turns getting pushed by one of their mothers. They were making their own fun because there is naff all around here, and even replacing a swing is too much for the local council, apparently.

Another kid was playing music from a ghetto blaster or boom box or whatever the kids are calling them these days, and I pictured someone like you saying they couldn't possibly be living in poverty because they have an electronic gadget! 

Sounds bloody stupid, doesn't it? But that's the kind of crap we hear all the time from the privileged middle class. They pretend our struggle isn't real, even though their worst fear is ending up just like us.

We started playing frisbee and then a couple of hooligans decided to race a motorbike which they'd quite possibly nicked (that's working class for appropriated, I think) and so we had to go back home where it was safer. It's hard to take the kids to nice places when you don't even have bus fare, so it's the crappy half-built park or nothing.

You see, that's the thing about poverty, it's not just about money being a bit tight, or whether you can pay the bills and keep the bailiffs away, it's also about living in areas that have been totally left behind. Areas where there aren't many, if any, safe places for children to play. Areas that are run down, and let's be honest, more than a bit depressing. Areas where people find it near-impossible to "better themselves". (I hate that term though, because I don't need to be better, and nor do most of the rest of us. We need our local area to be better and the free market isn't going to help with that.)

People like us, stuck in our run-down council estates with no opportunities, we need answers, we need solutions, we need policies, and most importantly, we need someone who will fight back against corporate power and the diabolical Tories. And we're not seeing any of this from you.

We need to know what your plan is to bring better jobs to our region, to regenerate our towns and get our high streets going again, to ensure that wages and, yes, benefits, are actually sufficient to ensure we can live dignified and stress-free lives. But you're not telling us anything. You're not even talking to us. And what's worse is you seem embarrassed to represent people like us, so instead, you've created this northern working class caricature that you feel more comfortable representing.

And it's a really fucking offensive "socially conservative" caricature that is not representative at all. 

First of all, we are not a monolith - there is no working class hive mind. We are not all secretly hating gays and foreigners and other minorities. And we're certainly not getting a hard on when we hear the national anthem. We get all types around here, but the general trend is that we hate the Tories and we want major systemic change.

I take objection to the idea that bigotry, I mean "social conservatism" is the norm in the red wall. Don't get me wrong, there are bigots, but I would definitely say they were more common, or perhaps more vocal, when I was a kid. 

Today, there is more inclusivity. I saw a young lad the other day dressed in, shall I say, a flamboyant manner, which would have gotten him beaten up in the 90s. But today no one bats an eyelid at such sights. We have Muslims and immigrants in much higher numbers than we used to, and I myself married an immigrant. While we have certainly been on the receiving end of racism, those racists would be roundly condemned by 80% of our neighbours. I, as a straight man, am just as comfortable sitting in a gay bar as a straight bar, just as happy to talk to a trans person as a cis person. It's only the gammons who are uncomfortable with this sort of thing, and it's one hell of a projection to treat the working class like one gigantic slab of gammon. Most of us think gammons are idiots.

If it's still not clear, let me spell this out: no one is impressed by your flag shagging. You're treating us like simpletons. And to add insult to injury, you've gone and made Rachel "tougher on benefits claimants than the Tories" Reeves your Shadow Chancellor. 

Now I've claimed benefits. I was once long-term unemployed and I can assure you, my diet of baked beans and porridge oats was no "lifestyle choice" and I certainly didn't need anyone being tougher on me. I was tough enough on myself.

I remember almost getting a benefits sanction because I couldn't afford to attend a job interview ten miles away. It was the day before my benefit money was paid and I did not have a penny left.

"Well, what did you spend the money on?" the woman asked me.

"Food," I replied. I was then told in no uncertain terms that my benefits were not for food, they were for attending interviews only, and any further instances would result in a sanction. I have no idea how the JobCentre expected me to eat, but there you go.

On my estate, I doubt you will find a single person who has never claimed benefits, who doesn't have a similar story to tell. And a party with Rachel Reeves as Shadow Chancellor is screaming that it doesn't want to represent us. 

It's not just a huge chunk of the working class you've alienated either. Your shocking response to Black Lives Matter has alienated many Black voters. Your horrendous fence-sitting on Palestine has alienated many Muslims. Your apparent indifference to the climate crisis has alienated many younger voters. Your disgraceful treatment of Jeremy Corbyn has alienated many socialists. And you are winning back absolutely none of the voters your People's Vote policy lost in 2019.

Yes, the 2019 disaster was on you, and I'm pretty sure you understand this, because I'm pretty sure it was intentional self-sabotage. You acknowledged that such a policy would divide the "red wall", one year prior to adopting the policy. This was your great plan to become leader though, wasn't it? And now it has backfired. If you really want to "win back trust", an apology would be a good start.

It would appear you sacrificed all of Labour's core principles, and I honestly don't know at this point, if you're even interested in power, or just interested in ensuring ordinary people never have power, but either way, the end result will be the same.

We have been left behind.

We were left behind by Thatcher and we were left behind by Major. But we were also left behind by Blair and Brown. I was long-term homeless under Blair, and I can assure you, none of us around here are desperate to return to the Blair days. Centrism is dead because it never offered anything to us. 

You need to pick a side.

You either side with the people the Labour Party was set up to represent (and the many decent privileged people who fight our cause) or you pick the side of the people who would maintain the status quo. 

The status quo, let's not forget, means trampling us down forever. It means crap wages for the working class, overpowered corporations running the country, and no light at the end of the tunnel. No better tomorrow. No end to the constant exhaustion and lack of time with the family and fear of destitution and anti-depressants just to maintain sanity. 

If you really are on the side of the status quo, you are one of the people trampling us down and you should not be in charge of the Labour Party. You should not even be in the Labour Party.

However, if I'm wrong about you, and you genuinely want to unite your party, here is what you need to do:

  • Listen to the working class
  • Actually oppose the Tory government
  • Apologise for the People's Vote
  • Reinstate Jeremy Corbyn
  • Stop expelling activists
  • Build bridges with unions
  • Honour your ten pledges
  • Build upon the 2019 manifesto
Until you do these entirely reasonable things (and I suspect you won't), then you will never have my vote. And what's more, you will surely destroy the Labour Party. Pasokification will become known as Starmerfication.

NOTE: You can contact Sir Keir Starmer at the following link:
Feel free to send him the link to this article, or alternatively, copy and paste the article to let him know exactly how we feel.

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