How to hate the working classes

In 2001, the year Luke Haines recorded the song after which this post is titled and to which I listened obsessively (“a party of our own”, indeed), I did something that could quite easily have had seriously unpleasant consequences.  Unsettled by the fact that my vote actually mattered – and my being unsettled at such a thought may be a sign that I am not quite as much of a Europhile as I always say I am – because my constituency had been the narrowest Tory hold from the Blairite surge in 1997, and disconcerted by the general climate of a general election (without any doubt or argument whatsoever, the least politicised, least eventful and least memorable there had ever been or will ever be in the United Kingdom and/or possible, though now less likely at least in the short term, successor states) in which these things actually were news, I decided – driven by a “fuck you, fuck everything” mentality very specific to 20-year-olds, just normally driven in other directions – to vote Liberal Democrat instead.

Happily, not enough people listened to my portentious ramblings to make a difference, and Labour did scrape home.  But imagine how I would feel about myself now, even knowing what Labour were like at the time, if they had!  All the bullshit self-justification I went through at the time brings on a deep and profound cringe and I shan’t repeat it now.  But what I refused to face at the time, in my ahistorical ramblings about the Lib Dems being “right” for the constituency and Labour “wrong”, is that this area (which is what has often made the seat marginal; the rest of the constituency is much more Tory) isn’t really part of “the West Country” in the sense that I wanted to identify with; because of its history of what in this area counted as heavy industry (quarrying), and because of its contemporary social reality of considerable levels of deprivation (mentioned in The Guardian only this week) unknown in other parts of Dorset, which between them allowed Labour (other than during its wilderness years of the 1980s – you remember, the ones we all thought would now be replicated) to overtake the Liberals as the main local challenger to the Tories in a manner impossible elsewhere in the region, Weymouth & Portland is much more “an outpost of the North in the South” (to reverse how – Remain-voting, natch – Harrogate was described in an ILM post of the period).

And for a long time thereafter, when I’d grown out of my 2001 posturing, I loved and took pride in it for that.

But I don’t anymore.

Brexit is what done it.  A 61% majority here, which I think may have been the highest in the entire South West England government region; to find the 60% mark being routinely breached elsewhere, you’d have to go to depressed post-industrial areas and parts of the Eastern counties.  I used to think Weymouth & Portland was more progressive for being more like the depressed post-industrial areas.  I don’t now.  One decision, one day, did that for me.  It took out of me most of what I had lived all my life for; after it, I felt myself to be hollow and empty, no longer having anything meaningfully to live for.  And that is still how I feel, and it has heightened my sense of isolation from my physical environment, and made visits to Dorchester – West Dorset was almost for Remain and the towns within it, being more Lib Dem compared to the Tory villages, probably were for Remain – seem much more pleasurable, much more something to look forward to, much more a journey to a better world.

Heresy.  I don’t identify with the working class, at least as they are in my area, anymore; I feel no sense of pride or affinity towards them.  I am perfectly happy to aspire towards the middle class.  Suddenly, I understand anew what I did in 2001 and why I did it.  Suddenly, it makes some kind of sense to me again.

And suddenly, even though I know this certainly isn’t 1992 in that respect, I’m looking at the incredible proliferation of satellite dishes here (my own house first had one in between that 2001 election and what, at least on the global stage if not particularly within the UK, was the Restart of History three months later) – certainly greater than in Dorchester, where they are perfectly commonplace but not on every house for whole roads like they are here – and wondering if this might be some kind of symptom; that Sky viewers (yes, yes, I know about Freesat) are less likely to perceive American pop culture as foreign and, therefore, more likely to vote Leave because the central Remain argument, that we have so many other foreign influences so why single out the EU, didn’t work on them.

Working-class cultural atavistic identities, at least in the sense that are directly open to someone of my background, no longer mean anything to me.  Maybe they never did.  They all leave me hollow, cold, isolated, separated, outside.  In 2001 I refused to relate to the relative Northern-ness of my physical environment partially because I already knew that localism, where I live, had died as a result of pop whereas in the North it had been strengthened by pop.  Now I sense that again.  I always had identified with the Leeds-Harrogate-York triangle far more than the Barnsleys & Doncasters.  Now I know why.

The working class of the great, largely although by no means exclusively Remain-voting, cities continue to make outstanding, inspirational, vital music and culture, and in those cities I will take them unswervingly over the middle class (even if, in this year of the impossible, the unthinkable – when the election was called you could have got a million to one on Labour winning either Kensington or Canterbury and a billion to one on their winning both – the latter now vote more and more with the former).  But not in this environment.  My affinity to Dorchester is greater now than I ever dreamt it could be; when I come home I feel depressed, tired, enervated, trapped.

Now there is talk of the local government distinction between Weymouth & Portland and West Dorset being abolished and broken down.  I’d once have been against that on principle, seeing it as a plot to weaken Labour’s standing, but I don’t care now.  The affinity is gone.  Brexit, again.  Let them merge.  What I’d once have feared I’d now welcome.  And let the leader of our borough council, an active supporter of technological capitalism, talk about “the unique culture of every town and village” as if such things remotely still existed.  Let these people condemn themselves out of their own mouths for future generations’ shock and disbelief, that they were appealing to something their own actions had destroyed.

16 years on, I again didn’t vote Labour, twice.  Partially because I thought Corbynite intransigence and indifference had been a factor in turning me into a walking shell for the rest of my life; partially because I simply didn’t want to be part of that mass, the Leave voters, the people who had disowned me and rendered me stateless.  And I thought hard about it, seriously, just as I had done then (Janey Lee Grace playing Arcadia).  In the general election, voting for Jon Orrell didn’t matter; in a seat won by fewer than 200 votes by two different parties in two consecutive elections so recently, the Tories had an absolute majority.  In the council election, five very long weeks earlier, my Green vote – declining in most places certainly when the general election came and everything had turned, but again it was a matter of who I wanted to be a part of and who I didn’t – actively helped to get a Tory elected.  The shame, the guilt, the fear has lived with me ever since, even since before the polls had closed.  But maybe there was some sort of reason.  Maybe it was because I do, despite myself, hate the working classes, at least the lumpenproletariat.  Maybe there was a reason.  Maybe there is always a reason.


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