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. 

2 Comments

  1. hedonistsky on December 14, 2020 at 11:33 am

    Another marvellous article Edie, I really loved this one. Essentially, there is a quiet discussion going on in the Leftist media in Australia about ‘what went wrong’ last year, or rather, ‘why didn’t Shorten win?’

    There has been a slow divorce between the metropolitan inner-city Left, and working-class Labor voters. The former have gone over to the Greens, while the latter have scattered, with many now having become ‘aspirational’ Howard’s battlers. Some say this started in France during the May 1968 student protests, when the Marxist-New Left students marched among the industrial factories of Paris, imploring the workers to come out and join them. Sensing this was bullshit, the workers closed their factory doors on the young revolutionaries, which perhaps becoming a symbolic act marking the beginnings of the cleavage between the unionised ‘proles’ and the Leftist chattering classes. Years of deindustrialisation, offshoring, the decline of organised labour and rise of insecure professions and self-employment have only fractured the Labor party in Australia, and also the centre-left across much of the Western world.

    The slow betrayal of the working-class in favour of ‘marginalised groups’ and trendy social justice issues has only fuelled resentment and apostasy among once dyed-in-the-wool Labor voters. My Dad is a lifelong English-born Labor union man, but cannot stand the ‘do-gooders’ in the inner-city who hector and screech about climate change or refugees, as who millions of others. And of course he supported Brexit, and spoke approvingly of Trump, while despising Hillary. My brother is a builder who votes Labor, but being self-employed, it’s only a matter of time before he crosses over the divide, once the prospect of lower taxes and less red-tape becomes too tempting to resist.

    Which brings me to the empty disaster that is the federal Australian Labor party today. Shorten is a disaster, and a terrible public speaker. During the last election, the only Labor policy I could name was the elimination of negative gearing, a reckless position which was designed to appeal to those in insecure housing, but which disadvantaged those aspirational workers who had saved all their lives for an investment property. Honestly, who was going to vote for that in a middle-class swing seat? Not to mention the endless division over refugees (which Shorten avoided), the usually lame rhetoric on climate change, and complete lack of promise to deliver jobs and infrastructure. Federal Labor is in a vacuum of its own making. It tries to appeal to inner-city demographics, and to appease its woke Left faction, but in doing so negates its responsibilities to Australia’s working class. The one exception to all this is perhaps Labor at a state level, especially the wildly successful government of Daniel Andrews down here in Victoria, who has followed the simple formula of ‘build shit, and people will love you for it’ with his campaign of removing level crossings in Melbourne, and erecting new hospitals and schools. His governance is tangible and visible, in contrast to the emptiness of Shorten and Albanese. Morrison might not be a Prime Minister of great tact, but the Liberal brand is strong and predictable, which is so appealing in this uncertain world of ours.

    Despite the elections of Ardern (a truly weak and substanceless celebrity leader) and senile old Biden, I believe that we are moving into a conservative era in the English-speaking world, comparable to the Thatcher-Reagan days of the 1980s. Leftist excesses in the form of Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion and the Corbynistas, amongst numerous other factions and cults, soon invite their own counter-measures, and they will figure out their actions and rhetoric has consequences in a popular democracy. Renascent nationalism seems to be the salve in these troubling times, and it shows no signs of abating – but of course, the Left won’t learn from this, and continue down the Guardianista route of social-justice hogwash and cult-like irrelevancy, except perhaps in the universities, organisations and government departments that are beyond democratic reach.

    Anyway, kudos again to you and your incisive analysis.

  2. Matt Davis on December 21, 2020 at 9:38 pm

    Spot on. The working class will do what’s good for the working class. There has been an economic shift though, and they are not short of a quid as they used to be. The artisan class often drive a $70k 4×4 and own a bloody huge boat. The evolution of self interest, courtesy of a couple of boom decades, is probably something that my fathers generation would have difficulty comprehendung

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