Labour needs Lisa Nandy to reconnect with working classes - GulfToday

Labour needs Lisa Nandy to reconnect with working classes

Lisa Nandy

Lisa Nandy

Sunny Hundal, The Independent

I’m on what we call the ‘soft left’ of the Labour party. I marched against the Iraq war and believe that Blair’s government didn’t challenge neoliberalism enough. But nor do I think nationalisation is the sole answer to capitalism’s failures. In other words, I sit somewhere between Corbyn and Blair, and I think most Labour party members do too.

This is partly about why remainers couldn’t stop Brexit. This is partly about why Lisa Nandy should be Labour’s next leader. This is partly about me. But this is mostly about the people of this country, a country I’ve grown to love and appreciate more as I get older.  I spent my secondary school years growing up on a council estate in west London, sharing a room with an equally opinionated brother. We both went to local schools, a mix of Asian and white kids. At 13, I had just moved back to London from India and had to make new friends. Having a strong Indian accent didn’t help.

Friendships can be weird and unlikely. I got to know some white lads from working class families, over a shared love for rave music and The Prodigy. They weren’t politically correct, but they weren’t racist. Or to be more specific: they were racist against everyone, including their own kind.

It was our way of being open about our differences, without being awkward. They welcomed me into their homes and I met their parents. We didn’t share a background, but we did find a way to bond together.

Our area was becoming increasingly Asian dominated. Southall was nearby and you could play ‘spot the white person’ there. But I noticed something interesting: my council estate always had far more interracial couples than the leafy middle class areas.  Working class whites were the first political allies immigrants in Britain had.

This fact has largely faded into history but it’s true. The anti-racist movement was mostly made up of working class men: from cultural movements like Rock Against Racism to street ones like the Anti-Nazi League. Trade unions too played a pivotal role in mobilising white working class people and politicians against racism.

I don’t want to romanticise this too much. Many in the unions were racist and the National Front were working class lads too. But so were our allies. The middle class joined this movement much later.

But this alliance has broken down.

Over the last five years, Britain fell for a culture war, stoked up on the front pages of our newspapers. Remainers were baited by Nigel Farage and his allies — and we fell for it. Their racist dog-whistles brought out the worst in us, and they used that to mobilise their side. We called Brexit-voting (largely, white working class people) “thick”, “racist” and “uneducated”.

We knew what was good for them better than they did. We jumped on any video, article or tweet to reinforce our view. And it worked brilliantly for the Leave campaign. We fell for the culture war they wanted. Hardly any Leavers changed their minds, because we were unable to convince them we had their interests at heart.

This problem preceded Brexit.

As popular British culture has become more urban and middle class, white working class voices have been phased out. Instead black and brown faces have been painted in. Non-white Britons replaced the white working class, instead of standing alongside them. Unsurprisingly, the white working class started to resent the metropolitan middle class that dominates British culture and we, non-whites, were seen as part of that elite — rightly or wrongly. Our hostility to working class patriotism (“racist!”), exacerbated this divide.

Arrogance breeds disdain and builds caricatures. The last few years have torn apart important historical alliances, because we stopped behaving like allies.

We cannot build a broad anti-racist alliance by shaming people into it. We get it by building coalitions where everyone benefits. We do it by finding something to bond over, even if there are uneasy moments.

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