IF ANYONE wanted to produce a portrait of what an archetypal traditional Labour supporter might look like, they should paint my mate Steve. He’s the epitome of the working man the party was founded to represent. Thirty-five years under his belt as a skilled engineer, a home in the village where he grew up when it still had a pit and an unshakeable belief in the need for trade unions to stand up for their members.
He’s the epitome of the working man the party was founded to represent. Thirty-five years under his belt as a skilled engineer, a home in the village where he grew up when it still had a pit and an unshakeable belief in the need for trade unions to stand up for their members.
His village is in the heartland of a constituency where if a red rose was pinned on a donkey, it would be returned to Parliament. Steve’s Labour MP is a hard-working man, but even if he wasn’t he could still count on a job for life.
Steve identifies himself as working class, and takes pride in standing in a long tradition of skilful men who make the wheels of industry turn. Everything he makes, he makes well because he takes immense pride in his job.
His background and outlook should make him solidly, immovably a Labour Party man through and through.
Except he isn’t. Not any more. Steve voted Conservative at the general election – even though he knew it was effectively a protest vote in his constituency – and can’t see himself voting Labour again as things stand.
The party’s outlook and behaviour over the past decade have seen to that. Steve voted for it through gritted teeth in 2010 out of loyalty, but could not stomach doing so in 2015.
What annoyed him most of all was the party’s sanctimonious tone about standing up for ordinary people, when those with a catch in their voice because of how much they cared had not the slightest knowledge of, or affinity with, those people.
The bleatings of a sharp-suited, well-heeled metropolitan elite ensconced in the fashionable neighbourhoods of north London about how their hearts bled for the poor working folk made him shout at the television because it was just so much hooey.
Added to that he detected a nasty undercurrent of envy in the leftward-drifting policies. Anybody who had made a good living was a target, and would ultimately have to pay.
That really riled Steve, because envy plays no part in his outlook. If somebody has worked hard and made money, good luck to them, because that’s what he’s tried to do ever since he left school, putting in as much overtime as possible to make life the best it could be for his wife and their four children.
And he’s managed it. The family home is beautiful, worth a satisfying amount of money, and when he’s no longer around, Steve wants the proceeds to be divided amongst his children and grandchildren, and for them not to pay punitive amounts of tax on his legacy.
He admired David Cameron for not pretending to be anything other than what he is, a privately-educated man from a privileged background.
That’s fine by Steve. He doesn’t envy inherited wealth or those from public schools any more than he envies self-made millionaires from council estates.
Labour hasn’t been living in the same world as Steve, and many of his friends or family, for quite some time and it’s about to become a whole lot more distant from them.
Steve doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader, as seems increasingly likely.
He has absolutely no time whatsoever for the views of the hard left, which have even less to do with the realities of life as a working man doing the absolute best he can for his family than the shallow platitudes uttered by former leaders.
This is fantasy politics as far as Steve is concerned. He isn’t kept awake at night by a burning desire to see the railways renationalised, or by a conviction that the world’s ills can be laid at the door of the economic might and military muscle of the United States.
He thinks that everybody actually gets a pretty fair shake in Britain, that we have every right to refuse entry to people from abroad and we’re better off without a festering class war.
There are an awful lot of Steves out there, supposedly natural Labour voters who have found a moderate brand of one-nation Conservatism much more to their taste because it chimes with their own lives.
They have been left behind by a Labour Party long on rhetoric about working people, but short on connections to them.
Descending into hair-shirt, wild-eyed leftyism that sections of students embrace before they grow out of it is utterly irrelevant to Steve and a lot of his friends and neighbours in the village.
That’s because they know what the real world is about, and work hard to earn a living. And unless Labour embraces their reality again, Steve won’t even consider voting for it.