This week, Joel Fitzgibbon, resigned from the shadow cabinet over what was reported to be climate change policy. I heard his speech and I heard what he was saying, and this is not about climate policy. Mr Fitzgibbon was saying that Labor is not what it use to be, Labor doesn’t believe what it use to believe, and it doesn’t represent the people it use to represent. Joel made it clear that his heart wasn’t in the new direction of Labor. As I listened to him, I shed a tear, because I knew as he did, that something we loved was gone.
Politicians, journalists and thought leaders are trying to solve the riddle of the wrong voting working class. Some have decided that maybe the working class don’t like to think of themselves as cogs in an oppressive patriarchal, white supremacist wheel. Maybe the working class are being influence by the Murdoch press. Or, have they lost their way? Or found their way? My favourite is the idea that the working class’ wrong voting, is a failure of democracy itself. The working class seem to be the noble savages of modern political discourse. While some people want to civilise them, others romantically look to them as the truth tellers, and seek to follow them to enlightenment.
Politics in the house I grew up in, wasn’t something that you came to a conclusion about, it was where you were from, what you had lived. My parents were not “swinging voters”, they only ever voted Labor. My family debated about policy, privatisation, unions and women’s rights, but these were all to be dealt with within in the party, and there was only one party for them. Labor was the working class party. My parents both grew up during the depression and the war and had seen governments use an economic recovery to fund a range of measures that assured them housing, jobs, education and healthcare.
I have been reflecting lately, not as much on the politics of my working class roots, but on the culture of political allegiance. I remember going to the polling booths at the primary school to vote with my mother and noticed that she took a “how to vote card” from every single candidate. I said, rather too loudly, “Mum, why do you take all of the cards when you only ever vote Labor?”. She shushed me sharply and told me that it was nobody’s business how she voted. Since she was the cleaner at the school, I don’t think it was any mystery how she voted. We lived in a public housing estate in a safe labour seat, so there was no shame, but she took the secret ballot seriously.
Mum’s generation had seen the rise of fascism and a myriad of governments that had taken the communist road. She was working class, but she was no Marxist, and she knew what that was. She taught me about the signs of the creep of totalitarianism, the taking of the universities, the disrespect of the separation of powers and the infection of the media. I grew up in in Queensland led by the National Party of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and she accused him of all of these crimes. To her, and most of her generation, the principles of liberal democracy were sacred. There was a knowing that if it all fell down, she would be on the bottom of the pile. And she knew that it could all fall down.
Left leaning political parties have purged the working class from their ranks through a series of language tests and thought crimes. The progressive left have slowly been replacing working class party values, with an ideology that looks a lot like Marxism in a social justice package. Unfortunately, they are making the predictable mistake of believing their own socialist dogma. Gramsci’s idea of cultural hegemony has been accepted by a generation of Lefties, as I once was. We were taught to see culture as something to be critically engaged with. We believed that once we took control of institutions of cultural production, we could benevolently distribute a better set of values to the masses.
In the same way that Gramsci noticed the peasants adopted to Catholicism, modern elites noticed that working people adopted the values of the Labor party. But working people made the Labor party, with their own values. Postmodern cultural re-engineering has busily gone about changing language and symbols and “text” to encourage an alignment of working people with a better class of ideologies. Unfortunately, the “shy” voter, like my mother, seems to have rejected these values. The secret ballot was after all designed in Australia, just for them. It was designed for the powerless to vote wrongly, in defiance of the elite.
If I can make a generalisation about people who, by choice or circumstance, rely on their labour for income, they have always voted with their instincts and in their own interest. They listen to the intent rather than the words, and they despise bullshit. Labour lost the last election because they failed the “pub test”. Brexit won because people wanted British autonomy. The appeal of Trump lay is his promise of jobs and support for law and order. The left turn to each other asking “riddle me this Batman”, but as much as they gaslight with race and gender accusations, they don’t control the working class, and they never did. The values of sexual, and race equality, fair wages, health care and free education, came from the working class. They didn’t always have these beliefs, but they were talked about around the kitchen table, at the pub, down at the shop. Working class people came to loose agreement on these things, over time using liberal principles and cultural concepts like a “fair go” and giving people the benefit of the doubt. The culture of voting loyalty the working class had, was not just to their party, it was to a set of values that were their own and in a brand of liberalism that protected their vulnerability and scorned the elite.
I was at my brother’s mechanic workshop a few weeks ago, sitting around with the guys, all browsing our phones, while they had “smoko”. I may, or may not have, been exploiting my brothers working class skills. I came across a witty and cutting comment on twitter that made me laugh out loud, about the gender critical/trans activist debate. The boys all looked up, to see what was so funny. I said, “you know this thing where they are saying that lesbians should sleep with trans women?”. They had no clue what I was talking about. I was looking for the words to explain gender theory to mechanics, when one of them said “oh you mean like when a really hot lesbian chick has a butch girlfriend?”. Then one of the other guys piped up and said, “yeah like they may as well have a bloke hey?”. They all laughed. They were all, no doubt, thinking that they would be the guy turning the hot “lesbian chick”. I think about this conversation a bit. Not dis-similar to the trans activists, they were taking a side of the debate where they had more chance of getting laid. The working class are not a riddle, they are not all noble, nor are they savages to be tamed. Like my parents, they vote with their instincts and in their own interests and they don’t shop for values at the feet of the elite.