Thursday, April 21, 2011
Of course, Glasman does not mean to target the EDL and its thousands of supporters with this intervention. He means to mobilise the ideologeme of ‘the white working class’ as a sort of puppet boxer with which to belabour the left in the party. As he complains: “working-class men can’t really speak at Labour party meetings about what causes them grief, concerns about their family, concerns about immigration, love of country, without being falsely stereotyped as sexist, racist, nationalist”. As you will see if you peruse that link, Glasman uses ‘working class’ to describe any silly idea that he likes the sound of, particularly if – as will usually be the case – it is a right-wing idea. Don Paskini rightly points out that this latest is a libel on the working class, the vast majority of whom detest the EDL. But that’s almost to miss the point. Of course Glasman is mobilising a (deeply patronising) image of “working class men” to hammer the anti-racists and feminists in the Labour Party. But V N Volosinov argued that the word is the most sensitive index of social change, and we should be very attentive to the changes that such terminological nuances advert to. There’s something very important going on when the Labour Right, which worked so hard to end the class war, are anxious to be seen and heard evoking class.
Recently, there was a very useful analysis of the BNP and the ‘white working class’ by James Rhodes in the Sociology journal. It took issue with the idea, circulated by politicians and journalists alike, that the BNP’s support comes from the most deprived among whites. In this respect, he points out that while the BNP have made real inroads into working class areas, there is no natural affinity between the BNP and white workers, and nor is it the poorest they appeal to. The two class fractions most likely to be represented among BNP supporters are ‘skilled workers’, and the lower middle class. The journalistic accounts are led astray by the ‘ecological fallacy’ – that is, if BNP voters can be found in a known industrial heartland, then they must be the traditional supporters of Labourism. In fact, Rhodes points out, the BNP support is typically found in the poshest areas of these towns and cities, a fact that has a huge impact on far right politics. BNP supporters and members tend to articulate their sense of class location indirectly, by reference to locality. Their scale is extremely small, as they tend to focus on this street, that area, etc. They are “rooted” and small town, rather than metropolitan; parochial rather than urbane. So, interviews with fascist voters and activists disclose that struggles over resources and entitlements are refracted through particular geographical references – ie, that street is filled with poor people who behave