Historical Studies in Industrial Relations

The Working Class and the Poverty of Electoral Strategy

Historical Studies in Industrial Relations (2021), 42, (1), 179–198.

Abstract

The defeat of the Labour Party in the 2019 general election was widely seen as a rebuttal of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn but it has also raised the question of the nature and direction of the party and whether fundamental social changes have undermined its long-term electability. A concentration on the changing structure and orientation of the working class of Britain, and the implications for political parties, is the focus of a book by former executive director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), Claire Ainsley, appointed in 2020 as the chief policy adviser to the new leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. The book’s rationale is that a new working class, lacking political and workplace representation, is being forged, distinct from the working class that preceded it. However, Ainsley’s empiricist approach hinders a coherent analysis of class, which as a result is confused and confusing. Moreover, her analysis lacks any appreciation of the structure of power within which values and opinions are created. Her analysis clearly underpins the shift in policies espoused by Starmer - a move to the ‘centre’ of politics, decency, fairness, family, and patriotism - but gives no indication that it can address the anger and alienation of the working class and its disenchantment with its treatment by Labour.

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Author details

Carter, Bob