EVENT TRANSCRIPT: ‘Despised’: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class – In Conversation with Paul Embery
DATE: 6pm, 6 January 2021
SPEAKERS: Paul Embery, Dr Rakib Ehsan
EVENT MODERATOR: Dr Rakib Ehsan
Dr Rakib Ehsan 00:01
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us for tonight’s online event despised why the modern left loads the working class in conversation with Paul Embrey. First I’d like to thank Paul for joining us for tonight’s event. Just to give Paul a brief introduction, who has been a firefighter for 20 years, he has served on the Executive Council of the fire brigades union, and as a probe and his prominent pro Brexit activist, both before and after the June 2016 referendum on EU membership, and he was also in the role of being the national organizer for the trade unionists against the EU campaign. Paul has been a member of the Labour Party since 1994, and his active voice within the blue labour political tendency. Paul who was born in Dagenham, in East London he lives some of his heroes include George Orwell, john Maynard Keynes, former prime minister, Clement Attlee, and who I call the godfather of blue labour Lord Maurice Glasman. So poor Firstly, thank you for joining us for tonight, I thought would be a good way to start the event is just to invite you to speak for five minutes or so just to talk about the book, the main themes, and what motivated you to author this new book, which I have here, which I read over Christmas, it was actually given to me as a Christmas present. One of the one of the best I’ve received in in a long time, I just checked as 1212 pounds 79 pence on amazon prime. And considering I’ve read the entire book, I’d say that’s an absolute bargain. So Paul, if you could just kick us off and just talk a little about the book. And, you know, why did you write the book? I think that’s the key really.
Paul Embery 01:55
Well, thanks, Rakib. Hi, everyone. Thanks for coming along. And the checks in the post for that kind introduction. Rakib, very generously. The the book really focuses on the serious disconnects that has emerged between the Labour Party and the wider left over recent years and the working class in general, I believe, and it looks at how the the values of the modern left have become very seriously out of sync with those of many working class communities. And it’s written and it goes to your question really about why I wrote it. It’s written from my own vantage point. As somebody who’s been active within the labour movement, as you say, I’ve joined the Labour Party in 1994. I’ve been an active trade unionists for most of my adult life. And from my perspective within the labour movement, during that time, I saw this schism, beginning to emerge and intensify. And I saw what happened at the general election last December. I saw that come in a long way off. And that’s not just me being wise after the event. Cats, in hindsight, said coined the phrase, I was making these arguments some time before that election. Four days before the election, I tweeted a prediction that I felt that Labour’s red ball was going to crumble. And most people in the labour movement had no idea that this was going to happen. I mean, most people thought it was probably going to be most people in the labour movement for it. It could be a hung parliament, possibly labour formula minority government, with the help of the nationalists in some sort of arrangement that few people thought the Tories would probably straight back in with, with a majority, very, very few people in the labour movement predicted the wipe out that happened but some of us It wasn’t really surprising because we’d looked at how the Labour Party itself had changed significantly over the course of the last 30 years. Where during that period, I think it had embraced a toxic or imbibe the toxic brew of social and economic liberalism. You look at the way that I think the Labour Party embraced globalization, particularly I would say in the first decade of this century, where working class communities traditional working class communities, post industrial Britain, provincial Britain started to experience very rapid and deep seated change in their communities. Globalization, rapid and large scale movements of capital and labour was bringing about deindustrialization. These communities were seeing blue collar jobs shipped abroad. They were seeing the impacts of large scale immigration in their communities and when these when these people and I lived in one of these communities at the time Barking and Dagenham in a slum very sort of blue collar working class labour Heartland. When people in these communities were crying out to their political representatives in the Labour Party for some sort of respite and saying, look, you know, we’re not comfortable with with the very profound changes that are happening in our communities. They were patronized and they were paid lip service to, and they will tell will actually, you know, all of these changes will bring you improved GDP, you will be a tenner, a month better off and cultural enrichment and things like that. And communities and people I think, which were actually very tolerant and decent, had their trust abused. And I think that as the Labour Party increasingly looked upon these voters as some kind of embarrassing, elderly, relative, you know, they’re reactionary, they’re bigoted, they’ve got traditional views that patriotic that communitarian ism, that doesn’t really fit with our view in the Labour Party. Now, this kind of cosmopolitan liberal, no borders internationalist world. And there was no coincidence that as labour started to embrace very strongly that worldview, the traditional working class vote started to drift away from it. So that kind of was was the was my vantage point within the Labour Party. That’s what I saw going on. I think, tied to that is this increasingly conformist view on the left now, which says there’s one view on these things, and anyone who doesn’t express that particular view is beyond the power and the kind of suffocating approach that we’ve had to diversity of opinion and the expression of alternative views. The left has been behind that as well. And all of these, all of these things, I think, have just come together in a perfect storm. And you know, what happened last December didn’t come as a surprise to me to me at all, Rakib.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 06:47
No, no. So I think just, you know, talking a bit more about your own personal background, reading the book, it sounds like you grew up in a community that you had a great deal of affection for that that was something that came off from the book, you talk about how there was that, you know, sense of let neighbourliness and I know that with the blue labour tendency, a lot of thing that’s talked about is, you know, bonds of social trust, reciprocity. And do you feel that with the modern day Labour Party, to extend are they failing to grasp that in order to sustain a welfare state, you know, which is ultimately is a collective endeavour, that is very important that you have those, you know, bonds and mutual you know, mutual regard, you could say social trust. And in a sense, if you do have your what you could open borders, cosmopolitanism, that does lead to rates of social change within local communities, maybe you’re perhaps Barking and Dagenham, those communities have experienced rapid, rapid social transformation, you could say that it places a strain on those bonds. And perhaps that’s something that’s missing from where you can say mainstream liberal thinking within the Labour Party.
Paul Embery 07:59
Yeah, and I always say that what happened in Barking and Dagenham, that it wasn’t that people’s sense of race have been disturbed it was that their sense of order had been disturbed. And you know, I say to people on the left, what they need to understand is that rapid and large scale movements of labour have got the same capacity to cause social and economic disruption in already hard pressed working class communities, as rapid and large scale movements of capital and these twin things that are at that, you know, were visited upon working class communities. As I say, particularly in the first decade, I think of this century where globalization really kind of took hold and we saw some of the acute effects of it. That’s what disorientated people and you know that what happened in Barking and Dagenham was people felt bewildered, and as I say, disorientated by what was going on, because their sense of order had been violated. And that was quite disgracefully dismissed as casual racism and bigotry and the fact that, you know, people just didn’t like foreigners. And it really wasn’t like that at all. And, you know, that comes to your point that yes, we are at the end of the day, we’re human beings, I think we are social and parochial beings with with an attachment to place and a sense of cultural attachment. And I tried to say to people on the left, look, when you when you say, it’s just about the economy, you know, we’re kind of citizens of nowhere, and they argue that open borders, delivers improved GDP, and that’s the way of the world with globalization, etc. It strikes me as almost as a natural argument. As someone on the left, I find it bizarre that people on the left, say, you know, it’s all about the end of the day, the pound in your pocket and what we can earn, irrespective of the impact on your quality of life and your your sense of belonging and your sense of place. And it seems to me to be to be the inverse of what the left should be about. And yes, social solidarity. I think he’s out absolutely vital, and it’s something that the left doesn’t really speak about. And yes, when you look at things like, we often hear politicians say, you know, diversity is our strength. Now, I’m a great believer, a great believer that regardless of somebody his race or his religion or his background, or where he came from, we absolutely will have the right to be treated equally, that no one deserves to suffer any sort of prejudice or discrimination on account of any of those things. But the truth also, we have to accept that, you know, the the desire amongst ordinary people to do things like funding, paying taxes to fund the National Health Service to fund the welfare state, you get more support for that if there is a larger degree of social solidarity, it’s built around reciprocity, reciprocity. And that the less social solidarity there is between people, the less they feel they have in common with others, the less they’re less willing, in some cases, they are to do those things in terms of funding a welfare state, etc. And I just think that I think we made a mistake when we went for the salad bowl over the melting pot. You know, I’m, I’m a great believer that you know, if you if you come here, if you are a migrant becomes a Britain, whether it’s Barking and Dagenham, or somewhere else absolutely right that we will defend you we make sure you’re treated equally, we make sure you have rights in the workplace, etc, like everybody else. But we try to do whatever we can to bring people in to assimilate people to make that social solidarity as strong as strong as we possibly can. But in doing the other thing, where we kind of emphasize people’s separateness and how different they are, and we kind of celebrate separateness, almost for its own, for its own sake, I don’t think it’s built unity among people. I think it’s divided people.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 11:50
And I think that that leads into my next point. So we’re discussing this concept of social solidarity. Would you be generous with the view that when we’re looking at radical identity politics, especially within the Labour Party, by that I’m sure that you probably witnessed it within the trade union movement, as well? Do you feel that in a sense, that undermines social solidarity, in a way in the sense that it fragments working class, you know, broader working class interests, in a sense, and that is precisely, you know, that is fed into the fact that there are numerous polls, you know, as demonstrated in the December 2019, UK general election, and polling after that, that labour, you know, in many of these polls are actually trailing behind the C to D social grade training behind the conservatives, which at one point would just be think you just think it’s, it’s bonkers, really, that’s such as such a thing would take these kinds of figures would be, you know, their take hold? Would you say in your past experience, you’ve been a member of the Labour Party since 1994? Would you say you’ve almost seen the change, you know, for yourself in terms of how the nature of discussions surrounding policies surrounding values? Have you noticed that change over time? And would you say it’s more? This is something that took hold early on? Would you say it’s accelerated, perhaps has improved? Was the acceleration of that particularly rapid under Jeremy Corbyn his leadership? How would you describe those processes of cultural change within the Labour Party, but also within the trade union movement?
Paul Embery 13:19
Well, I think the I think the cultural changes in the Labour Party and the embrace of ID politics has gone hand in hand with the changing demographic of the Labour Party and the wider labour movement itself. And I think that as you know, let’s say the Labour Party has become far more, you know, middle class rooted in our fashionable University cities, particularly, very sort of London centric. You know, stuffed full of graduates don’t say that in a disparaging way. It’s just a statement of fact, with this kind of very cosmopolitan, liberal, urban worldview. So it has embraced more, I think, middle class causes and campaigns and interests such as identity politics, and concentrates less on the day to day issues of bread and butter issues that tend to affect the lives of ordinary working class people. The Labour Party doesn’t talk about community and class as much as it ought to. And it focuses on middle class causes which have their place, but are not as I say that the doorstep issues that affect working class people and identity politics, I think is very much a part of that and the whole thing. I just think it’s been it’s an absolute bear pit and it’s been I think, so destructive for the left to embrace this ideology. You know, I was taught as a trade union, it’s that you try to build the widest possible unity amongst people you try to emphasize people’s people’s commonality what I have in what I have in common This philosophy that says actually we divide people into these, you know, and it’s not just about fighting prejudice, I think we, you know, things that people would say like where there’s prejudice against a particular group of people. We do what we can to challenge that. But But it seems to me to go much further than that, it seems to me to be separating people into distinct discrete identity groups, and celebrating their particular biological or religious traits, whatever they are almost almost for their own sake and treating them as virtuous in their own right, and saying that they are deserving of special treatment because of it. And you know, even in some places where and when, you know, groups of these people may well be middle class and wealthier than then, you know, working class people who don’t necessarily have those traits. And it seems to me to be the inverse of what Martin Luther King talked about when he said, we wanted to live in a society that judges a person on the basis of the content of his character rather than the colour of the skin. And yes, it is, it’s terribly divisive, because what it means is that the left is just constantly fighting these identarian battles, you know, which takes us up a blind alley and not concentrated as much as it ought to do on the bread and butter issues that affect affect working class people’s lives. And as the same that goes hand in hand, with the change in the demographic of the Labour Party itself. The most recent poll I saw, which I say in the book, is that 77% of Labour Party members now fall into the ABC one category, the kind of occupational middle class. And it’s been very much hollowed out, I think, in recent years, that working class element and that, you know, just touching on your point about Corbyn that predates Corbin, you know, Labour’s problems, the ones I’ve outlined in the book, predate Corbin by many, many years. I think there’s a danger for some in the Labour Party to think, you know, Labour’s problems in the alienation of the worker from the working class started with Jeremy Corbyn, now we’ve got rid of him, we’ll slowly rebuild the bridges. Actually, these problems go back, I think, to the late 80s, really, until labour I think, understands that and understands the radical change in thinking and ideology that’s necessary to get back in touch with working class people. And then it’s going to be out of power for a long time.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 17:14
Thank you, Paul. Before we move on to the next point, I would encourage members of the online audience to submit questions through the q&a function. And that that would be that would be really helpful to move forward the conversation. And I guess what you’ve discussed is there leads on to my next point. So when you’re having these kinds of policy discussions, whether it’s with friends within the trade union movement, or within the Labour Party, people who may be of a different, you know, might fall in different ideological school, you could say, to blue labour, to what extent when it comes to issues such as immigration, Indian migrant integration, crime, law and order, extremism, when you come to these quite more cultural issues, you could say, you’ve talked a great deal about free speech, you know, have holding discussions in an open manner in an open and robust manner. How would you feel? What’s your reading of the culture either in recent times, in terms of people’s willingness to have those discussions, and you almost feel that the contemporary British left in a way is suffering from forms of thought policing? Or rather, that there’s labels all too often, you know, terms such as fascist far right, that they’re just being overused to an extent that they’re just losing all almost historical significance? Do you think these are genuine problems in the modern left?
Paul Embery 18:37
I think they are genuine problems. I think the left bears a lot of responsibility for it. But you know, not just the left, if we were honest about it, I think there’s been a distinct lack of courage on the part of senior figures, be they politicians or commentators across the political spectrum to try to challenge some of this stuff and the increasing strangulation that we see in on diversity of thought and opinion. Once again, as I say in the book, once upon a time, if people disagree with you, they would say I disagree with you increasingly now, what people say is you mustn’t say that. Or, you know, that’s offensive, almost as if that saying that that’s offense is a clincher in itself, and that the debate regardless of the merits of the argument, the fact that they’re offended, the debate should go further. And as I say, I I don’t believe that you should set out to offend people gratuitously. You know, there’s no merit in just upsetting people because you can, but if you’ve expressed that say there should be a law against it, of course. But if you’ve just expressed a genuinely held political or moral belief, and someone says that they’re offended by that, then it strikes me that the person with the problem is the person taking offense, and not the person is just given his or his or her Have you? And yeah, I think that the, you know, the way that the left has embraced this, again, has contributed in those small part to, to the alienation of traditional working class communities from from the left. Because the truth is, you know, if you if you express a view that’s out of kilter now with many people on the left, you know, whether it’s on things such as immigration or law and order, or black lives matter, or same sex marriage, and you express a view that once upon a time, nobody would have batted an eyelid out whether you were on the left or on the right. Increasingly now you’re treated as a pariah on the left. And if you do that from within the movement itself, then you can imagine what the what the reaction is, I think, you know, cite in the book a couple of obvious examples. I mean, the Gordon Brown Julian Duffy incident I think was was pretty enlightening. Because what Gordon Brown did actually he said publicly what so many people on the left thought privately that he was this kind of working class elderly woman who had lived in that working class community Rochdale all of their life that always voted labour and just kind of expressed in not terribly in temporary terms at all of you about the impact of mass immigration in our community and some of the challenges that that was presented. And of course, called around dismissed as a bigoted a woman that Emily Thornbury incident at the Rochester by election with the St. George’s flag. So So this, you know, it’s certainly true that large elements of the left do if they don’t say it publicly, privately, have contempt for those traditional values, and feel, I think, if they could get away with it, that those sorts of views just shouldn’t be out at all.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 21:46
And that’s naturally deeply unhealthy if the Labour Party is to reconnect with what you’d consider the traditional working class communities, whether that’s in, you know, in East London or Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire bowls over in Derbyshire, and then you go to places such as Wrexham, as well, where labour also lost the seat, there and in other places, such as Blythe Valley in Northumberland, and those conversations, they need to be hard, don’t they?
Paul Embery 22:12
They certainly do. And, you know, what I say to people is wokeness can’t penetrate the ballot box, you know, you may you may think, if you’re part of the political establishment or the left establishment, that you can try to suffocate these views. And you know, what you might call traditional values or traditional views being aired. I’m not saying by the way that if people were those, those views, they should never be challenged. I’m all in favour of the marketplace of ideas and diversity of the bite. But this attempt by large parts of the left to effectively strangle views and to, you know, behind this, this this threat, frankly, to freedom of expression. Once people get in the ballot box, then they’re free to vote in the way that they want. And if they look at the left in the Labour Party and think actually, you are the people responsible for this culture, you are the people responsible for this increasingly suffocating atmosphere where you make me feel like some kind of embarrassing, elderly relative, and that I’m, you know, among welcoming your party because you think I’ve got these sort of traditional values. Whereas once upon a time, the Labour Party welcomed people like me, then you know, they’ll pay the price and labour pay the price massively at the last election. And I just think sometimes at large parts of the left think that Britain is Twitter. thing that David Cameron got, right, he said once that Twitter and Britain are not the same thing, and he was absolutely right, and you can, if you’re a party of Twitter and social activists and students, then your view of the world will become a distorted one. And you will see the world through that particular prison and not understand that out there in the big wide world and provincial Britain and post industrial Britain and coastal Britain are mirrors of working class people who were once your backbone, who once upon a time felt tribal II labour. But now feel that you don’t represent them. You don’t look like them. You don’t sound like them. And actually, you don’t welcome their support, because you think they’re all a bunch of bigots and racists and reactionaries. So yeah, I’ve seen all of that. I’ve seen all of that develop on the left. And as I say, it’s a huge factor in what’s happening to the left at the moment in terms of it flirting with irrelevance.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 24:28
Absolutely. As you say there you talk about those, you know, post industrial communities which have been starved of meaningful private and public investment for decades. There’s almost a sense of cultural exclusion there as well. It’s not just a story of mass, you know, severe economic decline. There’s a sense of just feeling excluded from certain political debates. In a way, I think it I guess what I have to say, you know, we’re looking at the current situation. We have Sir Keir Starmer most people would agree that he’s certainly an improvement on its predecessor. But in terms of the task at hand, reconnecting with the traditional heartlands, sub seats now where there’s actually healthy conservative majorities following the last general election, how, how do you say, you know, in terms of circuits that, you know, in terms of the his main challenges? And indeed, do you feel that he’s the man who can lead the charge when it comes to, you know, having these debates having these discussions, and it’s a rebuilding project, almost in a sense, with the traditional heartlands, how well positioned Do you think Sir Keir is considering that, for example, he was the chief architect of the second referendum policy, which I thought was not particularly not particularly successful, to say the least. He’s up against it isn’t he?
Paul Embery 25:51
He’s certainly up against it. I mean, there is a mountain to climb, it’d be something of a miracle. I think if if labour were to were to win the next election. I think that I mean, Keir Starmer, I should say that he was not my leader of choice. In fact, I didn’t vote for any of the candidates at the end, because I don’t think any of them really, truly got it. And I just felt that Starmer was, in some respects the worst of them, because he kind of embodied that very Metropolitan liberal North London lawyer, type of type of person was Blair, right, in some respects that I think have done so much to alienate people in working class communities, and especially, as you say, with with his role in that disastrous second referendum campaign? I think he’s done okay. To be honest, I’ve been pleasantly surprised on some of the stuff. I think he I think he’s taken the right view on Brexit for all that he did wrong. Prior to being elected as the as the leader, since he’s been the leader. And since the general election, he’s kind of said, Look, Brexit is done. We’ve got to put it in the past. We can’t reopen those old wounds, he whipped his MPs to support the deal, obviously. And I think all of that all of that was to the good, I think he’s confident speech was fairly decent, he started pushing some of the buttons that I think needs to be pushed in terms of winning the working class back, he started talking about community and nation and family. I mean, lots of people out there people watching this will say, Yeah, but of course, he doesn’t mean it. Of course, he doesn’t get it. It’s not his gut instinct. And I sympathize with all of that completely. And, you know, I think they’re probably right, if they say that, but nonetheless, is in the position. And you can’t really ask more than than to then to argue some of the things that he’s been arguing. I think the problem for him, frankly, is that he has got to drag the party to a place where so much of the party doesn’t particularly want to go. And I’ve described the party in my book as this kind of unappealing fusion. Now between far left Toytown revolutionaries, many of whom sort of came into the party joined the party with with Corbin and those kind of middle class liberal Blairite centuries, neither of whom I think particularly understand what needs to be done not described it as that that mixture of Lenin and Lennon, Vladimir Lenin and John Lennon. And I think the danger for labour is if it doesn’t go where it needs to go, then things can potentially get worse. Because actually, when you look at some of those seats, that labour managed to hold on to the election last year, some of those majorities were fairly narrow. And if people think it can’t get any worse, then I think they’re mistaken. I mean, the Tories have obviously got problems at the moment, you’ve got the whole COVID thing. You’ve got the impact that that’s having in working class communities, and the Tories will get one chance, I think, to embed the support of those red wall seats, because it’s a lot for people in those seats. So vote sorry, for the first time and you know, if they’re going to do it again, then they’re going to need to see that, that the tour is delivered on their promises in terms of regional investment and levelling up and all of that sort of thing. So yeah, Labour has got a mountain to climb, it needs a radical overhaul in terms of its thinking in terms of its demographic in terms of this whole ideology. And unless it’s prepared to go there, then then it’s finished, I think is a serious electoral force. And I think that will be a tragedy, not just for labour, but for the country as well.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 29:29
I just think maybe to the next point focusing on Brexit, do you feel that a mistake that labour might make is that they’ll see Brexit, just something they have to tolerate? Oh, it’s done. We’ll just tolerate it. Because I know that with the book, you make a very compelling left case, you can say, for, you know, for leaving the European Union, how in a sense, you have the core tenets of the European project, for example, EU freedom of movement, which some people would say this is essentially commodifying human beings. That’s why it’s because you’re equating it with goods and services in the sense with the four freedoms. Do you feel that there is an opportunity though, if you get the messaging, right, if they invest time in terms of thinking carefully in terms of policy that they could print, they could present an A paper wallet and appealing, you could say, you know, center left case in terms of how they can really make the make the most out of the UK leaving the European Union. Because, as we’ve seen previously, we’ve seen labour politicians describe Brexit as a white nationalist enterprise, some people have obviously talked about Singapore on Thames, and there are people of the more you know, sort of free market ideology, who do see as an opportunity to serve as create sort of low tax light touch deal regulatory Britain. So, you know, you’re obviously a prominent pro Brexit activist, how do you see, you know, what would you say the core elements of the left case for Brexit, and the restoration of national sovereignty and how that can be used for potentially, for example, reducing inequality between the regions?
Paul Embery 31:02
Yeah, all of that, and, you know, strikes me as one of the talking points of modern British politics, the way that the left is completely done, and about turn on the whole question of the European Union, European Economic Community Common Market before that, and now things have shifted so much over the last couple of decades. I mean, if you go back to the 1975 Common Market referendum, for example, were huge numbers of Labour MPs who supported the no campaign and majority of trade unions supported the no campaign. And I think it’s because they believed in democracy and self government and the right of voters in Britain to be able to elect them and move the people who govern them. The early socialists campaign and trade unions campaign for universal suffrage and for democracy, etc. But not only from the democratic angle, I think most of them recognized rightly, in my view, that actually, the EU is an explicitly anti socialist institution. I mean, I’m not saying it’s all bad, it would be silly to say that it’s never done anything good. But nonetheless, you know, if you look at its treaties, its directives, etc. It’s an it’s an explicitly anti socialist institution, which is allowed market forces to dominate. It’s pro-austerity, it’s pro-neoliberalism, it’s pro-privatization, all of those things, it stands against things like, you know, state aid and subsidizing industry, etc. And the core belief, as far as I’m concerned, for the left should be the right of any government to intervene in industry, and to support industry. It stands against things like public ownership, you listen to the RMT union, they’ve always argued that, you know, as much as any Labour Party would like to re nationalize the railways, we can’t do it because of because of EU law. I think if you look at, you know, what it did to Greece, in terms of the Greek bailout, and the stringent conditions that were imposed on grace, I think we’re pretty, pretty appalling. And, you know, I think the truth is the Yes, we’re in a position now where we can strike out from some of that stuff. Of course, you always have to be on your guard against people who would, as you say, Singapore on the Thames, we have to be on our guard against people who would like to take the the Britain in that direction, following our departure from the EU. But, you know, I say to people, because actually, if you look at most advances made by ordinary working class people in this country, and they came about through trade unions and through Labour MPs in Parliament, if you look at the minimum wage and health and safety, and, you know, pay equality and that kind of thing, and trade union recognition, and trade unions have traditionally been good at defending their interests and fighting on behalf of their members. And the danger, I think, is if you give the impression, and I used to argue this with trade unionists during the referendum campaign, if you constantly say to people that the only way we can guarantee our rights at work is through being part of the EU, then people are going to start asking the question, what’s the point of being in a trade union, then, you know, isn’t that what trade unions is supposed to do for me? So, I think, you know, there are potential pitfalls. Of course, there are from being outside of the EU, I never describe myself as a Brexiteer, for example, because I knew there wasn’t going to be a left wing exit from the EU, the Tories are still in charge as Tories are still running the country and running the economy. But nonetheless, for me, it was always a necessary but insufficient step as I described it, you know, to allow a radical Labour government to come along at some point and do the things that we would want it to do free from the shackles of the European Union. So that’s what that’s what that was always about for me.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 34:43
And I think that that definitely leads on to the next point, I’d like to dress quite neatly. There have been people who’ve said that, you know, when it comes to Despised, oh, it’s a bit light on economic coverage, you could say which I firmly disagree with having read the book. I think you talk extensively about what the sort of primary anxieties that are felt within traditional working class communities, when it comes to the prevailing economic model that we have in the UK. What would you say? Are those prime those main weaknesses? And when you’re looking at economic reform that takes place in the UK in the post Brexit context, what do you think you’d like to see the government prioritize? And? And I guess I’d say that in terms of, you know, the Labour Party in the trade union movement, is it the case where, when it comes to things such as workers rights, labour market relations, would you say, in a sense, when you’re looking at the culture in terms of discussing identity politics, do you almost feel those bread and butter worker concerns? Do you think they are being to a degree side-lined?
Paul Embery 35:50
I think they have been side-lined. I mean, I certainly think when, and I’ll make this point in the in the book, I think, to get Jeremy Corbyn his credit, he did take on the the argument economically against austerity in a way that previous leaders have shied away from. And I’ve been kind of austerity light, if you like. And I make the point in the book, The actually, you know, we forgotten large parts of the labour movement, unfortunately, forgot the lessons that we learned in the 1930s, which is that you can’t cut and slash your way out of a recession or a depression because all you do is you choke off recovery. you withdraw activity from the economy, you deplete your own tax revenues, etc. austerity is in many respects, the worst possible response to flatline in economy. And actually, the point is to keep economic activity up so that you you stimulate, you stimulate buoyant tax revenues, that allows you to pay down any deficit quicker than then, you know, if you choke off recovery, so So in that respect, I think Corbin was right to make that case. And there’s a big debate now about post COVID. And the economic crisis that we’re now in what approach the Tories are going to take, I would hate to see Starmer, revert to the position that was often adopted by previous labour leaders, which is to say, well, austerity, yes, necessarily, but perhaps just a little bit less than the tour is, I don’t think working class people in those in those communities, which have suffered under it previously, for the last 10 years. will thank him for that. And, you know, I think there is space for a radical economic policy out there. I think some of that Corbin omics stuff, as it was described, was quite popular in terms of, you know, reducing the gap between rich and poor, making the rich and the super rich pay their fair share, tackling regional inequalities, tackling boardroom accesses. You know, I’m a great believer that in an interventionist government, I don’t believe in rolling back the frontiers of the state and allowing the market just to let rip. I believe there’s a place for government in managing the economy in the interest of ordinary working class people. I think, you know, there’s a, there’s a space for the revitalization of our manufacturing industry, I think the way in which we’re neglecting our manufacturing industry, compared to what Germany and Japan have done to sustain theirs is bordering on the criminal in this country. And I think, you know, further, not just for its own sake, but actually, if you look at the impact that’s had, in terms of the loss of so many 1000s of blue collar jobs, and deindustrialization, in some of those working class communities. I think that should be a priority for any incoming Labour government as well. So so I kind of argue that, you know, there’s, there’s an audience in working class communities for a radical economic policy and nothing, you know, too far out, of course, but a radical economic policy that rebalances the economy in favour of ordinary working class people. But if labour is going to be successful, it’s got to combine that with what I call the cultural, the cultural politics of place and belonging and community. Because for too long, I think labour has been socially and economically liberal to a large scale, when actually many of its traditional voters were were the opposite. And that’s that’s the key, I think, for labour to reconnect.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 39:16
Okay, thank you, Paul. So we’re going to try taking questions from the online audience. So before you ask your question, I’ll be calling your name if you kindly state your name and organization affiliation, that’d be really useful, but make sure before you ask the question that you unmute yourself. So firstly, I’d like to call on Andrew sharp to ask his question. Andrew, could you kindly unmute yourself and ask your question, please?
Andrew Sharp 39:43
Yeah. Hi. Thanks. Hopefully you can hear me. Yeah, the question I posted in the chat was in England, your England, which was Orwell’s 1941 essay, he rightly excoriated the ruling classes, but he also went off to the left wing intelligentsia. I’ll give you a couple of quotes. He said there was little in them except “The irresponsible carping of people who have never been a never expect to be in a position of power. Or that England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own national answers.” So it sounds to me like this problem predates the 1980s. How do you think labour can reconnect with Orwell’s general patriotism of the country?
Dr Rakib Ehsan 40:19
Thank you for your question, Andrew. Paul,
Paul Embery 40:22
It needs to understand where that patriotism derives from. That’s the that’s I guess it’s a simple answer. And too many people don’t understand that, particularly when it can you mentioned England, particularly when it comes to England. I mean, what strikes me as you know, lots of people on the left, kind of relaxed about Scottish nationalism and Irish nationalism, Welsh nationalism, etc, because they don’t necessarily see those as a threat, or they don’t think, you know, it’s rooted in Empire and things like that without causing a huge role to play in the Empire. But with England, it’s regarded as something that’s unacceptable, you know, any demonstration of English patriotism is plainly linked to, you know, racism, or racial superiority, or a desire to kind of, to restore the Empire. And I think actually, it’s often and not just in Britain, but in Europe as well, some of the, what I’ve been dismissed as over nationalistic movements. And people will link in that kind of thing to the 1930s. And what we saw then, with the rise of nationalism, actually, today, it strikes me that it’s a very different form of nationalism, often now it’s about people kind of defending their space and defending what they’ve got, and being very uneasy and unsettled at the impacts of globalization in terms of the rapid transformation of their of their communities. It doesn’t strike me as being a kind of over nationalism, which is seeking to exert authority or superiority over over other people. And it just with many people on the left, I think they have this bizarre view that any sort of love or affinity with country must by definition, be exclusionary must, by definition, be superior. Somebody said to me the other day, if someone on the left, I was pleased to say, you know, he loves his mom and his girlfriend, but it doesn’t mean he disliked all other women, or thinks that they’re inherently superior to everybody else, obviously. And he’s hard, he probably does, but it doesn’t think they should be treated as inherently superior to everybody else. And I just think it’s the same thing for people’s affinity with country in the same way that you feel that connection to your community, to your street to your town for the local institution, the local football club that you support. So people feel that affinity for their for their country, as well. And until people on the left get away from this idea that anyone who demonstrates that is inherently nationalistic or exclusionary and understand where it comes from, then they’re not going to make that reconnection, I don’t think
Dr Rakib Ehsan 42:57
No, and I think that that comes on to I’ve just looked through some of the the list of questions in the in the q&a. There’s, there’s a common denominator across these questions was how? Well labour Brexiteers is fundamentally ignored. They felt alienated, in a sense they felt abandoned by their natural party. I think what what, in the sense when we’re having this discussion of patriotism, I mean, there has there’s plenty of work to be done. I mean, I saw that very interesting. You retweeted a tweet by a read a Twitter account called Red labour, will they it took serious issue with the care storm having a Union Flag behind him comparing a good pair of Butcher’s apron. So I think that really when you look at these elements of that led the Labour Party is it. It’s almost in a sense patriots and can’t necessarily be taught, in a sense, it’s almost a natural feeling. So increasingly, of British politics is very much based on people’s voter choice much of is based on, I feel that the party that I’m voting for it has, it might make mistakes, it might not make every single policy decision might not be correct or even agree with it. But if there’s a basic lack of thinking, they don’t even really like the country that I’ve a great deal of affection for. Then let labour are in that they’re in. They’re in a sticky position, aren’t they?
Paul Embery 44:22
They are. And you know, the truth is that David Goodhart, I think describes the phenomenon quite well in his in his book, The writer somewhere where he sort of says the difference between somewhere in anywhere you know, the anywhere that people who are generally better educated and people who earn more people may have been to university people that have got greater opportunities in terms of work and travel etc. More likely to belong to the professional classes, people who are somewhere tend to be on lower incomes in in less salubrious housing in provincial Britain. And because of that, because Opportunities are much reduced, they feel a heightened sense of belonging and place and community. And I think it’s inevitable that if you don’t have those sort of wider horizons and those wider opportunities that the more money that an affluent middle classes have, then you probably do feel more of that, that kind of sense of attachment. And he kind of explains that 50% of the country or somewhere as 25% are anyways with the rest in between us. But the problem is that our, our life, our political and cultural life is dominated by the anywheres. And so they often act in a way where they think that governing in the national interest, but in fact, they’re governing in the anywhere interest. And a good example of that thing is with free movement, you know, you often hear people in that kind of section of society say, Well, I just don’t understand why people would be opposed to free movement, you know, our ability to be able to travel to these countries to love to live to work, etc. I just see, if you’re in that position, if you’re from that more fortunate station in life, then you can probably see it, it’s a benefit to you. But if you’re someone amongst the somewheres, who has never benefited, like most people in that group from free movement, can’t think of just you know, going abroad and working for a year in Tuscany, or wherever it might be. But I’ve seen the reverse side of free movement in terms of, you know, an oversupply of labour in your particular industry or sector, and the pressure on your wages, local services, etc, then you can well understand why people might have an issue with with free movements. So that’s kind of that’s kind of an example of it. But yeah, I mean, I, you know, I should, I should say I’m a, I’m a patriot, my community, and I’m certainly not a jingoist. I’m not somebody who thinks that kid should salute the flagging assembly or singing the national anthem and stuff like that. But I do think we should just understand people’s often, you know, quiet an understated feeling for their own country and not look upon it as if it’s something ignoble or something to be ashamed of. So so the tweet, I mean, yeah, I sort of predicted exactly what was going to happen and it did happen there was Starmer with the union jack behind them. And of course, you then had the flurry of people from from the left many of them from the far left, who obviously attacked him simply because of it. And the idea that actually the leader of Majesty’s opposition cannot give a speech to the nation with the national flag behind him and in most other countries, people wouldn’t bat an eyelid left in Britain look upon that as some sort of terrible transgression that shows how far we’ve got to go on the left, I think.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 47:38
And I think just, you know, building on that point about the somewheres. And anywheres, I think one thing that was particularly surprising for me after Brexit was people shocked the you know, that that for example, you’re one in three ethnic minority voters actually voted to leave the European Union, my hometown of Luton healthy lead percentage 56.5% are the other authorities such as Slough, Bradford, Hillingdon, Osterley Spring Grove in Hounslow, which is which is actually quite affluent middle class notice. very notable, you know, Indian origin presents voted leave 63.4%. That ward, and I think this comes on to the next one. I’ve seen people who’ve said, Oh, you know, this blue labour thinking of Paul Embry, this is going to alienate is going to drive away BAME, which is absolutely you know, it’s an acronym which is, you know, something, the quicker it’s consigned to the dustbin of history, the better. It’s always the sense that they said that blue labour would alienate ethnic minority voters. How would you How would you respond to that? Because these are people who’ve also packaged Brexit as a white nationalist enterprise, but then I’ve come across gujrati and Kashmiri elders in Luton who make Nigel Farage look like an EU federalist if I’m being honest, when they get talking about your scepticism in the European Union.
Paul Embery 48:56
I think whenever whenever people whether they’re on the left ore or whatever, try to co-opt all ethnic minorities into your suggests that all ethnic minority support their particular view. I think they need to be called out on it. I mean, yeah, I like Brexit. I think that’s a good example, you know, with with a third of black and minority ethnic voters voting for Brexit, but from the coverage, you just wouldn’t know that. And actually, I cite in the, in the book, how and I can’t remember the exact percentage, so I won’t say it, but it’s there. It’s there in the book. That actually when it comes to to things like free movement and immigration, some people on the left would like to get the idea that people from ethnic minorities are all in favour of open borders, but the data shows that actually a significant number of people simply on and the idea that because people who may have come to this country often, you know, because they were they were forced to and you know, didn’t necessarily do it through choice that they because of that would somehow always want a world of constant churn. Changing open borders and couldn’t possibly hold the kind of communitarian views that other people hold, is just, I think, an insult to those people in some respects. So, so yeah, I think people need to people need to be challenged when they they argue that, you know, black and minority ethnic people have some kind of uniform slab, who will always agree with the kind of liberal cosmopolitan approach, the truth is that they don’t.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 50:28
And I think just move on to the next one, we’re talking about economic and social inequalities. In modern day Britain, there is a great deal of talk about race. And you know, I’m someone I did a PhD looking at, you know, the, the effect of racial and racial discrimination for British ethnic minorities in terms of their social trust their trust in public institutions. But even I would say now that the extent to which race is at the forefront, when it comes to debates on disadvantage, there’s almost an over emphasis thought I’d say, and I think, when it comes to, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this, when it comes to, for example, discussing the value of a stable for coming from a stable family unit, in terms of you know, how that’s linked to one’s life chances, perhaps the stabilizing effect of being raised under a marriage, and or being part of a supportive local community or high trust community, you know, the value of extended family and the rest of it, these things are very much not talked about on the left very much from that’s my general impression, the modern at all, rather than not talked about as much as they should be.
Paul Embery 51:32
Yeah, and I think there is a danger that we through, you know, some of the commentary that we do see, as you as you say, where so much so much of it has now become so many issues have now become racialized. I think there’s a danger that actually where we’re taking a real step back, I mean, the truth is, I think, on the issue of race relations, we we’ve come so far in this country, and actually can legitimately say, I think that we’re so much better than than many countries. I mean, he comes in the EU, for example, Britain always sent more MEP from black and minority ethnic backgrounds to the European Union, then most other countries, some of them seem to send exclusively white people, and yet we were lectured as being a kind of haven of racism and xenophobia, and it just wasn’t true. And you know, objects are this idea. And Britain is some sort of cesspit of racism and prejudice, because I think it’s not rooted in, in objective truth. And the danger is by constantly by constantly emphasizing the separateness of people, and by constantly racializing everything we’re going to, we’re going to set that progress back, you know, we we’ve gone from a time in the, in the 70s, where the National Front, were marching through areas of Britain, where there were large numbers of ethnic minorities living and intimidating people, and would get some sort of traction in by elections, etc. I think, you know, those people have been largely marginalized now, and that’s a good thing. And I think we should celebrate the progress that we’ve made rather than constantly trying to tell, tell ourselves that, you know, there’s, there’s a kind of significant racism lurking behind the front door in every community. Just prejudice still exists? Of course it does. I mean, there are still racists out there, you’d be a fool to suggest otherwise, this discrimination still exists? unquestionably. Is it right that we throw everything at tackling that? Because, you know, no one should should suffer unfavourable treatment on account of their skin colour? Yeah, absolutely. We should challenge it. But I just think some of the tactics that are employed, you know, whether it’s pulling down statues, whether it’s, you know, constant virtue signalling, signalling and morally lecturing people and bombarding people, whether it’s the Vicar of Dibley or whatever, whatever else, you know, making it a constant feature of everybody’s existence, look, you know, this is a racist country, and you might be a racist, and you need to constantly check yourself. And that’s why we’re going to keep lecturing you until you get the message. I think all you doing actually is driving people away from you and risking setting back the progress that we’ve made. And it disturbs me that the people on the left can’t can’t see that.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 54:18
Absolutely. And I think, just as a finishing point, the country there’s particularly grim figures today from a COVID-19 perspective, in terms of the pandemic, how the government’s managed it in terms of talking about more generally the kind of political and economic settlement that you’d like to see or rather what improvements can be made in terms of responding to COVID-19. You talk about a communitarian agenda. Essentially, you utilize the assets that you do have within your local communities, including in times of crisis. Do you feel in in a sense that the pandemic is exposed the degree of almost eating when you live The degree of centralization, you know, in terms of having a very, you know, over centralized model of governance. And would you say when you, you know, you’ve obviously talked about what you know, you’ve have ideas about the post Brexit, political settlement. and cultural settlement, you could say, in a sense, where would you say we can learn important lessons from the pandemic, in terms of how it’s been managed so far, in the UK? moving forwards?
Paul Embery 55:28
I mean, it’s a big question. Obviously, I certainly think with the, I think people have understood actually this whole role for the for the nation state. And for the protective state in terms of, you know, when it comes to crises like this, you know, you look at how globalization was, in some respects, the cause of some of the early problems we experienced in terms of lack of PP, etc. The fact that, you know, with eviscerated our own manufacturing base, and we’re relying on these, these sort of global supply change chains, I think that was a clear indication of how that sometimes presents real challenges for us. So I think people people are looking at it and thinking Actually, there is there is clearly still a role for the role for the nation state. When it comes to fighting something like this, of course, the state itself will be a significant actor, it has to be a significant actor in terms of coordinating the response. Does that mean that civil society has got no role to play? No, of course not. I mean, you know, this is where I think communitarian instincts come to the fore in terms of, you know, local people, local institutions, whether it’s churches, or whatever, stepping up and playing a role and doing what they can I think there’s a desire for among people among communities to do that, often they stop because of the sheer bureaucracy of the thing that that when the thing the other day, that was on the media, that people can volunteers couldn’t administer the jab or something, because they hadn’t yet had the equality and diversity to try and, like, it just strikes me, you know, as completely as completely bizarre. So, so yeah, I think I think there is absolutely a role for the state, but there’s also a role for civil society more generally, on that question is what Edmund Burke talks about, you know, the little platoons in in society, that place between the market and the state, you know, the local institutions, the friendly societies, the credit unions, to churches, the trade unions, which have largely been hollowed out now, but are often, you know, well, once upon a time, the lifeblood of local communities. And I think, you know, we need to look at ways of breathing new life into them and post COVID. How we get out of it economically, is obviously going to be a key question, because if the government thinks that, you know, we’re going to make working class communities pay for the economic crisis, as they did with the global financial crisis in 2009, I think they’re gonna get a very serious reaction from from those communities. So therein lies I think, a really big question.
Dr Rakib Ehsan 58:01
Well, Paul, on that note, I’d like to thank you for you know, having this conversation with me. I think that the online audience, I think, I’d like to think that they found it to be an intellectually stimulating conversation, just to make a reminder, pause but despised 12 pound 79 on amazon prime, reiterate absolute bargain. Paul, thank you for agreeing to have this conversation with me tonight. And I’d like to thank the online audience for joining us. Take care and keep safe. Thank you.