“Upwards of 30 per cent of the population fall into the broad group of occupational backgrounds almost entirely missing from our Parliamentary Labour Party.”Mandy Clare
I recently interviewed Cambridge University’s Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Education, Diane Reay, learning that the education gap between the social classes in England is now higher in England than anywhere else in the world other than Latvia.
As a democratic socialist party, Labour should be leading the way on reversing working class political alienation. We have seen in relation to All Women’s Shortlists that if we allow our attention to drift, we see an almost instant corresponding slide in representation. Given how neglected conversations about working class experiences, classism, political alienation and under-representation have been for several decades now, it is no surprise that despite us having made some progress on other areas of under-representation, fewer than three per cent of Labour MPs hail from routine or manual work backgrounds.
To give some context, upwards of 30 per cent of the population fall into the broad group of occupational backgrounds almost entirely missing from our Parliamentary Labour Party. The catch-all term ‘working people’, so often substituted, just fails to suffice in this context and we need a language for it in order to be able to address it.
This means that where we have succeeded in increasing women’s representation within the upper ranks of our party, it has primarily not been working class women that have been elevated and likewise across the whole equalities spectrum. That really matters. It matters more than hair-splitting about definitions – there is clearly a problem that needs addressing.
The Working Class Activist Network aims to promote dialogues within and between working class people about class and how classism still shows up, cradle to grave and across all equalities strands. We discuss how classism still enables some to succeed in school, experience a degree of agency, achieve financial security and plays a part in gate-keeping, and shaping culture, economics and politics.
Within this new project, we don’t just discuss our feelings – we discuss the research, evidence and theory that helps to make sense of, and share to a wider audience, how classism reinforces the social, economic, political and cultural systems that capitalism would crumble without.
We discuss how other equalities issues interact with and compound classism. Most importantly, these discussions and this expansion of knowledge provides the basis for challenge and change. An open discussion of classism potentially holds the key to unlocking the chains that bind us all.
Dr Deirdre O’Neill, who explains in our discussion how social class is ultimately defined by an individual’s relationship to the various structures of power and influence, shares with us insights from her journey as a council estate kid to becoming an filmmaker and academic. She gives voice to the narratives of the working class across international borders, from Venezuela under Chavez in Listen to Venezuela to handing the camera to food bank users in The Foodbank Film and to working class young men as part of her Wandsworth Films project, examining working class experiences of the UK prison and justice systems.
If we truly wish to see a re-invigorated Labour Party, to deepen our relevance and to plant the seeds of the new normal that the events of the past year have illuminated as necessary, we cannot limit our discussions. Any serious conversation about building back fairer must have social class and classism at its heart.
I am standing for the new Labour Women’s Committee at the upcoming Labour Party Women’s Conference as part of the Grassroots Labour Women team to be a voice for working class women, to improve representation, to continue to raise the issues outlined above and to ensure the impact of 10 years of austerity followed by the pandemic on women is heard loud and clear.
- CLPs can nominate Grassroots Labour Women candidates, elect delegates and submit motions by 26 May. For more information visit www.clpd.org.uk and sign up to receive the newsletter.
- Labour Women’s Committee Elections – Meet the Candidates Rally! The Cause of Women is the Cause of Labour, Monday 17 May, 7pm. Speakers: Diane Abbott MP // Apsana Begum MP // Gemma Bolton, NEC – With the Grassroots Labour Women candidates: Ekua Bayunu // Mandy Clare // Tricia Duncan // Pamela Fitzpatrick // Chloe Hopkins; and Momentum’s Solma Ahmed. Register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-cause-of-women-is-the-cause-of-labour-meet-the-candidates-rally-tickets-152558431375