Daniel Hannan used a nice phrase on his blog the other day: deformation professionelle, or, ‘a tendency to look at things from the point of view of one’s own profession rather than from a broader perspective’, as Wikipedia has it. I thought of this tendency as I listened to an interesting programme on Radio 4 last week on the ‘blue Labour’ movement, which holds that previous incarnations of the Labour leadership have, over recent decades, slowly abandoned the concerns of the working classes in favour of the chatterings’; abandoned Humberside for Hampstead, if you like.
Roy Hattersley, liberal elitist and professional deformer, argues against the idea that Labour should again concentrate on the anxieties of the working classes. But have a listen to the example he gives: gay rights. This is perhaps the only issue which is not a zero-sum game between the liberal middle classes and the socially conservative working classes. In fact, gay rights are clearly in everyone’s interest, since homosexuality is hardly the preserve of the middle classes. Traditional Labour voters may (I don’t know) have antiquated views on homosexuality, but I doubt many would describe it as one of their core concerns, up there with immigration, housing or crime. On these issues Hattersley is typically disingenuous in his silence.
The liberal left wrings its hands over its failure to sell immigration, multiculturalism and globalisation to the C2s, Ds and Es. What they never admit is that none of these changes, even if they are positive overall, are universally in everyone’s interest. For the middle classes, they provide public sector jobs, allow us to own holiday homes in sunny climes, and give us a handy source of cheap labour: a “21st century incomes policy” as blue Labourite Jon Cruddas puts it. But for the non-immigrant working classes, their relatively privileged position (relative to their peers in poorer countries) disappears as the manufacturing jobs, council housing and much else that was once part of our social settlement becomes unavailable. Immigrants don’t “steal our jobs” as the BNP would have you believe, but on a big enough scale the process can keep wages at the bottom under control: this is good for inflation, but less good for equality. And while there may not be a lump of labour, there is certainly a lump of land.
Ultimately the liberal left will have to choose between equality and diversity. Can you, thoughtful reader, think of many countries that truly have both? A quick glance at Russia (the world’s most diverse country, and increasingly its most unequal, though this is entirely the fault of its proto-fascist elite), the US, Brazil, Japan and Scandinavia suggests an inverse link between the two, and between levels of immigration and the extent to which the state is able or willing to protect its citizens from the caprices of the free market. Personally I wouldn’t want us to end the free movement of people (or for that matter goods and services) around Europe: but we have to be honest about what this means for wages, for inequality (the growth of which may be inevitable but should still worry us) and for the welfare state. The boom years allowed us to paper over the cracks inherent in trying to have it both ways and (to mix my metaphors a bit further) to sweep too many of our own underclass under the carpet: the undercarpetclass, to coin a phrase.
The blue Labour movement is at least making an honest attempt to solve this conundrum, but it seems doomed to be a romantic minority pursuit, especially since the Guardian readers will flock back to Labour from the treacherous Lib Dems. But it is just possible, thanks to those same Lib Dems, that fewer young working class people will become exposed to the left-liberal groupthink of our universities, and will no longer buy into the dubious idea that a degree will guarantee them entry to a middle class career and lifestyle, and so will no longer buy into the liberal middle class weltanschauung. If this aspirational false consciousness erodes at the same rate as our living standards, then… who knows?