Is the Labour Party too “woke” ?

Who thinks so ?

Tony Blair, for one. He wrote in the New Statesman yesterday that “on cultural issues, one after another, the Labour Party is being backed into electorally off-putting positions. A progressive party seeking power which looks askance at the likes of Trevor Phillips, Sara Khan or JK Rowling is not going to win.”

And hang on a minute. Just a few days ago Labour MP Khalid Mahmood was trashing the politics of identity in the Labour Party using broadly similar arguments. And if anyone imagines that it’s only the Labour right who are anti-woke, think again. The uncritical article about Khalid Mahmood was written for Labour Heartlands by Corbyn supporter and suspended Labour Party member Paul Knaggs. The left wing Morning Star frequently give a platform to anti-woke views: a quick search produced this piece of dangerous nonsense from Beck Robertson.

Although none of these articles bother to cite any evidence in support of their arguments, there is a kernel of truth to what they’re saying. Some working class people do see the Labour Party as over-obsessed with identity politics and by the same token, losing touch with the core concerns of the class that Labour was formed to represent. Indeed, it would be surprising if some people didn’t think this, as the idea is shoved down their throats every morning by right wing newspapers from the Daily Mail to The Times and by broadcasters such as Piers Morgan.

I don’t think I need say much about Labour’s disconnection from the working class. This is something that Tony Blair himself, as much as anyone, has brought about. Blair has nothing to say about listening more to organised labour, about the current Leader’s decision to scrap Labour’s entire community organising team, or about the lack of working class representation in Westminster – his only criticism of Starmer is that the Party now isn’t patriotic enough.

This disconnection which has taken place over many decades can’t be reduced to a single issue. And being ‘woke’ isn’t such as handicap as the anti-woke warriors are making out. Blair takes time out to praise Biden, who is more vocal on trans issues than any Labour Leader past or present. And closer to home, Nicola Sturgeon has just won a resounding victory weeks after declaring zero tolerance on transphobia.

As Prime Minister, Blair pandered to racism by making repeated pledges to “tackle the problem” of the numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers coming to Britain. This didn’t halt Labour’s declining popularity in the 2000s, and pandering to patriotism, racism or transphobia in the hope of winning working class votes won’t help it now. Connecting with working class people doesn’t mean setting up more focus groups. It means getting your hands dirty, being part of your community, leading local campaigns. What Labour’s leaders should be looking at is giving more autonomy to CLPs, developing more community based models of organising, adopting policies rooted in the trade union movement, and taking urgent action to increase working class representation in parliament. And it’s possible to do all these things while celebrating the diversity of the working class and the many identities contained within it, and standing up for the interests of minorities. A true leader would have the confidence that speaking out on issues of principle, while at the same time showing people in practical ways that you’re on their side, will ultimately win over more votes than it loses.

One final point. I don’t want anyone to take from all this the idea that Labour is purely a force for reaction. There’s a battle of ideas going on. For me, this is a reason for being in Labour and making sure that the pessimistic reactionary arguments are always challenged and never allowed to take too strong a grip.

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