As the Labour leadership contest begins to take shape, it’s been interesting to hear the term ‘working class’ invoked. The far left continuity Corbyn candidate, Rebecca Long-Bailey, loves to parade her working class credentials: “I’m not your typical politician. I’m not a millionaire or a landlord, and I didn’t go to posh school. Instead I’m a life-long socialist.” So, what do we know about Long-Bailey?
Before entering parliament, Long-Bailey was a solicitor. Not the lowest paid job in the world. She says she is not a millionaire but her husband Steve’s family are majority shareholders of the highly profitable chemical manufacturer BWA Water Additives, which turned over £22 million last year, with the Bailey’s shares worth millions. Steve trousers a modest £100k a year as SGlobal Marketing Director for the family business. As an MP, Long-Bailey earns £79,468 per annum. The Daily Mail, in carrying out a minor hatchet job, revealed that the Long-Bailey’s live in a ‘plush part of Manchester’. This doesn’t exactly fit in with the assumed definition of working class, right?
Well, what is ‘working class’? The Cambridge dictionary defines it as: ‘A social group that consists of people who earn little money, often being paid only for the hours or days that they work and who usually do physical work.’ On that basis, a working class person doesn’t earn much and does manual work. But how about this: ‘Belonging to a social group that consists of people who earn less than other groups, often paid only for the hours or days in which they work and who usually do physical work rather than work for which you need an advanced education.’ So, it’s people in low paid manual work who are thick. Every definition of working class means people doing physical work. It seems you cannot be working class if you work in an office, or in the care sector, even if you earn poverty pay. Is that clear? No, it certainly isn’t.
Rebecca Long-Bailey came from what appears to be a working class background. Her father was a docker and you can safely file that one under ‘physical work’. But then she became a well-paid solicitor, then a well-paid politician, she married a man who earns a six-figure salary whose family business turns over £22 million a year and lives in a large semi-detached house in a ‘posh’ area. Is she not working class anymore and, anyway, does it matter?
My issues with Long-Bailey are not her background or her situation as it is today. She is a relatively unskilled politician, a poor public speaker and someone whose views represent old style hard left socialism from the 1980s which only last month was rejected by voters. I have no issue that she has ‘got on’.
Surely, socialists should want people to aspire to get on in life. To gain good educational qualifications, get a good job with a good salary with prospects of promotion, to buy a nice house and car and just generally succeed in life. But what happens when you achieve these things, as Long-Bailey has done? Do you lose the right to represent working class people?
Well, if that was the case, Tony Benn would never have got a gig in politics. Jeremy Corbyn’s elite private education would have prevented him making a career on the back-benches and a disastrous period as Labour leader. Arch Stalinist and Corbyn organ-grinder Seumas Milne would probably be in the House of Lords instead of learning well over £100k a year helping lead Labour to stay in opposition. No. If you stick to you beliefs and principles, then surely you would stay with Labour and work to improve the lives of everyone else, to reward hard work, to encourage aspiration. But this version of Labour doesn’t believe in that.
In this context, Long Bailey’s comment that, “I’m not your typical politician. I’m not a millionaire or a landlord, and I didn’t go to posh school. Instead I’m a life-long socialist” is even more stupid. As things stand, the Long-Bailey’s earn a million quid in just over five years yet Rebecca still wants a fairer society. No inconsistency there for me. But the “I’m more working class than you” nonsense fools no one. It’s her dreadful policies that matter far more than anything.
The definition of working class is more nuanced today, especially since Margaret Thatcher presided over the destruction of our manufacturing base. I suspect when some of the comrades refer to the ‘working class’, they mean the poor. And if that’s really what they mean, it makes even less sense.