Why champagne socialism versus coalfield socialism is the real battle in Labour’s election bid

Miners’ strike rally in London, 1984

For those who admire the works of George Orwell, they will remember his observations of the working poor in his famous polemic, The Road to Wigan Pier. His experience living alongside the miners and working-class communities enabled him to describe intently their poor living conditions, which was insightful to the later demise of the coalfields across Britain.

In the said book, Orwell admires the ethics of miners in the north and lambasts the champagne socialists that form the London social circles entrenched in elitism. His scathing criticism of champagne socialists in the past mirrors the disheartening relationship today between leftists leave voters in Labour’s heartlands and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party in metropolitan areas. If Corbyn wishes to be prime minister in two weeks’ time, he cannot afford to lose the plethora of leave seats in traditional Labour constituencies that could be swayed by ardent Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage due to their disillusionment with the current Labour crop.

The vote to leave the European Union won over the voters that once worked in the coalfields later decimated by consecutive neoliberal governments. Their vote was a denunciation of the Westminster establishment, a staunch reaction to the failed promise of the northern powerhouse made by Tory politicians and, of course, a clear unravelling of their exhaustive frustrations with being the left-behind. Corbyn managed to continue their support for Labour in 2017 by curtailing Brexit and mobilising the working-class base through anti-austerity rhetoric and a radical domestic agenda.

In a first for Britain’s election history, right-wing politicians are targeting these seats through their anti-EU positions by decrying Corbyn’s Brexit proposal and purporting to be the stable leadership the country needs in times of political polarisation. This could be a dangerous winning strategy for the Tories and Farage’s Brexit party by surfacing old wounds between Labour’s ruling principals and their long-held grassroots support in the north.

There has always been a juxtaposition between the parliamentary Labour party in the Commons and the trade union movement that encapsulates socialism in Durham, Derbyshire and so forth. The hard-left were victims of a purge under Neil Kinnock’s “modernising” Labour leadership in the eighties, splitting the party between his apologists and those on the side of Arthur Scargill during the miners’ strike. This left the party in a state of disarray and consequently saw them concede defeat in four general elections under Kinnock’s tenure. Kinnock is once quoted as saying he “detested” the union leader Scargill, drawing the battle lines between the fervent working-class and their supposed seniors in Westminster.

Arthur Scargill on a demonstration rally against pit closures

Today, the Labour party under Corbyn has strived to straddle the divide of Brexit. With the majority of his shadow cabinet swaying towards remaining in the EU and swathes of his voters yearning to leave the capitalist-induced European bloc, the party has split again. If Corbyn fails to act on behalf of the lifelong Labour voters in the north, it could scupper his chance of entering Downing Street and endorse the party as one ridden with members of the establishment. For Johnson to win over diehard working-class votes with his populist platform it could eviscerate Labour’s chances in future elections.

With the campaign trail underway, it is vital to refer to Orwell’s observations of the left being split due to its influence from the upper echelons of society. Orwell even once criticised himself as a “snob and a revolutionary” to give clarity to his argument of working-class socialism being overshadowed by the goings-on in parliament. For the Labour party to prosper in government under Corbyn, they must focus their campaigning on the working-class communities that have been ignored under decades of corporatisation. Furthermore, candidates for Labour in marginal seats should originate from the communities that Labour desperately need on their side. The onus is on the former coalfield towns to rally support and become the face of this election. If not, the Tories could deliver a catastrophic Brexit on behalf of the small few and not the many who wished for it in the first place.

Socialist commentator.

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