Like Julian Coman (Labour may think it’s moving on, but working-class voters aren’t following, 10 May), I traveled by coach as a schoolboy many years ago with another branch of the Manchester United supporters’ club. Like the Bradford bus, almost everyone on ours was working class – except me. My dad was an academic, my mum a social worker and I was privately educated, but in contrast to Julian’s experience, our return trip in 1961 from London to see United against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns could not have been more harmonious.
My traveling companions, all strangers, took me under their wing, showing me where to get a match-day programme, where to see the United team arrive, and the best place to get autographs after the match.
There was then widespread outrage when I asked United’s skipper, Noel Cantwell, for his signature and he walked straight past me hissing: “Fuck off, I’m not signing.” That was regarded as well out of order. I felt strongly that there was a genuine sense of solidarity there, an overriding social class, which pleased me, especially as I was treated to bottles of beer.
Of course there was a north-south divide even then, but it didn’t stop Labour, under northerner Harold Wilson, winning the general election in 1964, with his inspirational slogan about the “white heat of technology” appealing to all classes. To close the cultural divide today, we need expressive use of language like that.
East Sheen, London
I share Julian Coman’s concern about the cultural divide between Labour-supporting urban professionals and some older working-class people. I also share his frustration with him with the excesses of what he calls political correctness. But many of us who believe the working class is the crucial and irreplaceable driving force for socialism recognize that it is necessary to criticize those who succumb to racist and other backward ideas.
Coman, like the ideologues of “blue Labour” whose ideas he knowingly or unknowingly reflects, is seemingly against doing this, preferring instead to deny all the publicly available evidence that Brexit was indeed a “xenophobic, reactionary project”. Respecting people involves not lying to them.
And, as a matter of fact, C1s and Bs (for instance teachers, social workers, many civil service and local government workers, and many service-sector workers) are the core of the working class in Britain today. They are overwhelmingly socially liberal and supportive of multiculturalism. And, by clear margins, they voted to remain in the 2016 referendum.
Julian Coman’s account of Tory-voting working-class northerners left me perplexed. As the son of Conservative-voting, working-class Merseysiders, I used to put this down to the deference-based culture of the time (coming of political age in the 1960s). The explanation for today is apparently that working-class people vote Tory because the educated active and representative Labor members show “myopic intolerance” towards them. As a finishing touch, Coman commends the analysis of Raymond Williams, which accords with the apparent current sense of perceived loss of “solid community” by working-class Brexiters.
My worry is that while such longings for community may still exist, the solidity of such working-class communities no longer does. The most important question is what culture has replaced it and why people – then as now – fail to vote along the lines of their own self-interest (ie by voting Labour) but instead relate to the elite, privately educated cultural worlds of Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson. It is this fact that requires an explanation, unrelated to either a nostalgia for the past or the lodging of blame to the caricatured Labor activist.