The white working-class and the British elite

From the salt of the earth to the scum of the earth

Robert Henderson

Thirty years ago the primary client base  of the Labour Party was the white working-class, while the Tories still had remnants of the heightened sense of social responsibility towards the poor created by two world wars. Fast forward to 2011 and the white working-class are treated by the entire British political elite as a dangerous, almost subhuman species.

 The mixture of contempt, fear and hatred which the white working-class now draws from the political class is echoed by the elite generally, indeed by not just the elite but the middleclass as a whole. Where once the white working-class were next to uninsultable publicly, sneering references to “chavs” and “chav culture” are now commonplace in the mainstream media where they pass with barely a critical public word, while ethnic minorities seemingly have licence to publicly  insult the white working-class with impunity, vide the Coronation Street episode in January 2006 where a male Asian character accused his sister of behaving like “poor white trash”.

 What caused this immense change in the status of the white  working-class? There were three direct primary engines of change. The first was the success of Thatcher and her ideology, the second a critical point was reached in post war mass immigration, the third Britain’s membership of the EU and other restrictive treaties which tainted her sovereignty.

 Globalism and laissez faire economics

 When Margaret Thatcher became Tory Leader in 1975 the neo-paternalist stance the party had adopted since the smashing Labour victory of 1945 was changed to one of laissez faire non-interventionism, with its an inherent disdain for public provision and service. Thatcher threw away the protectionism which had sustained the white working-class, allowed much of British industry, especially heavy industry, to go to the wall, and privatised the nationalised industries. Unemployment, already at a post-war high at the end of the Callaghan government, rose dramatically to around 3 million. The unions were then weak enough to successfully attack with severe legal restraints on strikes and a ban on secondary picketing.

Unemployment has remained high since the early 1980s – the current official unemployment figures are bad enough taken at face value (around 2.5m by the international Labour survey method) – but in reality it is probably considerably higher – there are 2-3 million on long term sick benefit now compared with around 600,000 twenty five years ago. Common-sense says the country cannot in 2011 have four or five times the number of seriously incapacitated people it had twenty-five years ago. This high unemployment has kept the white  working-class largely quiescent and the unions emasculated.

Thatcher also threw away the post-war consensus that the white working-class was admirable, or at least deserving of special consideration because of their disadvantaged social circumstances. Thatcherite Tories were only interested in the working-class insofar as its members were willing to buy into the narrow aspirational template which Thatcher promoted. If you were working-class and wanted to buy your council flat and were happy to gobble up the shares of privatised national industries, the Tories approved of you; if you wanted to maintain traditional working-class employments and communities, you were a soldier in the ranks of the enemy.

Labour did not immediately cast off the white working-class as clients. That took 18 years of opposition. Through four election defeats Labour gradually jettisoned all that they stood for in their cynical quest for a way back to power. The end result was a supposedly Labour Government headed by Blair which became, quite bizarrely, even more fanatically committed to “free markets” and “free trade” than the Tories.

 Immigration reaching a critical level

 By 1979 immigration had swollen the population of blacks and Asians in Britain to a point where their numbers were significant enough to pose a serious threat to British society if racial conflict got out of hand. 

Until the end of the 1970s the official line on immigrants from all the mainstream parties was they must assimilate. Towards the end of the decade it was obvious to even the most fervent advocate of integration that assimilation was not happening. Rather, large populations of various ethnicities were stubbornly continuing to form ghettos in the major British towns and cities and were attempting to lives which as far as possible replicated those of their ancestral countries.

 To avoid having to admit what a disaster immigration had been, the British liberal left adopted an ideology to fit the facts of what was happening. That ideology was multiculturalism, a creed which rested on the fantasy that a coherent society could be produced by allowing every ethnic group in Britain to retain its separate identity. Indeed, the multiculturalists did more than say we should allow such a development, they positively encouraged ethnic minorities to remain separate. The kindest interpretation of their behaviour is that these were people enthusiastically pouring paraffin onto a fire in an attempt to put it out.

But the multiculturalists were faced by a most awkward fact. The white working-class was and always had been resolutely opposed to mass post-war immigration. Not only that but they were willing to say so publicly – the dockers had marched with Enoch Powell. Therefore, the liberal left had to do two things to prevent the white working-class from expressing their discontent both with the immigration which had occurred and with the new policy of multiculturalism , in which the native British culture was to have no privileged place but was to be merely one amongst many competing cultures. Worse, in practice the  native culture (or cultures if you prefer) was not even to be  allowed to compete because to do so would be to give the native population a public voice and a focus for their discontent.

The Labour Party at the parliamentary level was generally willing to espouse the new ideology uncritically because it fitted with their internationalist rhetoric. It also helped that the immigrants overwhelmingly voted Labour and were neatly consolidated in ghettos in the larger towns and cities where their votes were likely to elect Labour candidates more often than not.

Of course there was the seemingly ticklish problem for the multiculturalists of Labour being out of power for 18 years. In practice it did not matter, for it was not only the overt liberal left who embraced multiculturalism. Whatever their rhetoric, in practice, the Tories climbed on the multiculturalist bandwagon quickly enough. Thatcher had spoken not long before being elected in 1979 of Britain being “swamped” by immigrants. But once in office she did nothing and the position continued to worsen, not least because she signed the Single European Act in 1985 which granted any person legally resident in another EU state the right to work in Britain. And of course throughout the 18 years of Tory office, people with the “right” multiculturalist views controlled the media, academia and increasingly the civil service. They were always on hand, both behind the scenes and publicly, to ensure the Tory Government did not actually do anything to disturb the multiculturalist programme.

 Worse was to follow. In opposition the Tories followed the course of the Labour Party. Three election defeats in a row persuaded them elect as leader David Cameron, a man who adopted the same strategy for the Tories as Blair had pursued when he dumped everything Labour stood for. Cameron quickly got rid of everything which was considered “Old Tory” . This included wholeheartedly embracing multiculturalism. The electoral circle on immigration was formally closed. There is no major party to vote for if you do not want further mass immigration.

 The silencing of the white working-class voice on immigration was achieved by a number of means Most potent was the mixture of legal threats such as the various Race Relations Acts and the religious exclusion of anti-immigration views from the mainstream media. British culture was gradually relegated to a less prominent place in schools. Pupils were taught, if they were taught anything about the past, of white wickedness. The Atlantic slave trade was represented as the greatest crime of history, the British Empire nothing more than a cruel invasion and subjugation of defenceless peoples. Any sign of publicly expressed native white pride  was jumped on from everyone from politicians to teachers and denounced as xenophobia at best and racism as worst.

 It did not take long for anyone who was not a supporter of multiculturalism to be beyond the liberal elite Pale. By 2011 multiculturalism has been formally embedded into public life through a mixture of ideological sharing amongst the elite and their auxiliaries and the law, most notably in recent years by the Race Relations (Amendment Act) of 2000 which effectively places an obligation on all employers who receive public funding to demonstrate that they are not being discriminatory.

The contemptuous mentality of those who currently permit and advocate mass immigration to Britain is epitomised by a speech in 2006 to business leaders by the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King. King said:”If the increased demand for labour generates its own supply in the form of migrant labour then the link between demand and prices is broken. Indeed, in an economy that can call on unlimited supplies of migrant labour, the concept of output gap becomes meaningless….The UK is not in that extreme position, but the inflow of migrant labour, especially in the past year or so from Eastern Europe, has probably lead to diminution of inflationary pressure in the labour market, relative to previous experience.

“The Home Office estimates that around 120,000 workers entered the UK from the new member countries of the European Union between March 2004 and March 2005. Without this influx to fill the skills gap in a tight labour market, it is likely earnings would have risen at a faster rate, putting pressure on employers, and, ultimately, inflation”.’ Daily Telegraph 14 6 2006.

There you have the elite view of the day: human beings are to be treated purely as factor of production along with land and capital. No greater contempt for the masses, including the white working-class, can be held.

The EU and other treaties

Whatever their public words, both the Tory and Labour parties were generally nationalist in their behaviour until well after the second world war. Traditional Tories were nationalists by conviction, while even the Labour left were in practice protective of the nation state because they strongly opposed the importation of cheap goods and cheap labour. British membership of the EU (then the EEC) from 1973 onwards changed the rules of the game for both parties.

The Treaty of Rome made Britain generally subordinate to a foreign authority. It was not like a normal treaty such as that of NATO which is formed simply for a particular limited purpose and which can be ended or withdrawn from cleanly. The Treaty of Rome was a full blown political project with the specific aim of creating a supranational political entity. Even when Britain joined, the EU’s powers to interfere with British political decisions were substantial, although nothing like as extensive as they are in 2006. It simply was not possible to be a wholehearted nationalist any more. That undermined traditional Toryism and paved the way for Thatcherism, which was predicated on the individual rather than the community.

For the Labour Party learning to love the EU took a long time. Their 1983 manifesto advocated withdrawing because the EU was viewed as a capitalist club. But as the Party painfully lurched towards accepting the globalist market-led creed, there came the realisation on the left that both globalism generally and membership of the EU were wonderful promoters of internationalism. They did not deliver the internationalism which the left had traditionally sought, all brotherly love and material sharing, but they accomplished a central part of the internationalist dream, the destruction of nations. This realisation, together with the fear they would never hold power again drove Labour away from their practical nationalism.

As the years passed the entire political class also discovered general benefits from globalism and EU membership. Being in international clubs such as the EU and the WTO effectively destroyed democratic accountability. Any policy relevant to a treaty could be pushed through with the excuse that Britain was legally bound by treaty to do this. Membership of the EU in particular ensured that the excuse could be used over vast swathes of policy. This loss of democratic accountability removed the last vestiges of white working-class power because there was no mainstream Party with a chance of forming a government to speak or act for them. The white working-class might as well have stopped voting then for all the good it now did them. 

Devolution and demonising the English

Up to 1997 the white working-class in the UK as a whole suffered much the same decline in prestige and strength. Blair’s victory in that year altered matters fundamentally. Primarily for the self-serving political reason that Labour normally depends heavily on Scots and Welsh MPs to achieve a working majority in the Commons, the Party adopted a policy of devolution for Scotland and Wales. (Northern Ireland was also brought into the devolution mix but for other reasons). It was one of the first major pieces of NuLabour manifesto-promised legislation to be enacted.

Devolution created a ticklish problem. How could it be that England, where more than 80% of the population of the UK resided and where even more than 80% of the UK’s GDP was generated, should have no national representation? Why did England not deserve its own political voice if Wales and Scotland and even tiny Northern Ireland did? Because there was no reasonable answer to that question Labour (and the liberal left generally) invented unreasonable ones: England was too big, there was no such thing as Englishness, the English had no desire for a parliament, such a parliament would only mean more politicians and expense and, most tellingly, the English could not be trusted with nationalism, a claim best translated as “The ruling liberal elite are determined at all costs to prevent the English having a voice because if they do they will look after their own interests which are currently being outrageously neglected”.

When I say ruling liberal elite I am of course including the entire political elite. A prime example of the cross-party agreement on the “dangers” of English nationalism came in a BBC Radio 4 programme Brits which went out on 10 January 2000. The then Home Secretary Jack Straw and the Tory leader of the moment William Hague appeared. This is what they said:

Straw: “[the English] are potentially very aggressive, very violent [and had in the past] used their propensity for violence to subjugate Ireland, Wales and Scotland”.

Hague:” English nationalism is the most dangerous form of nationalism that can arise in the United Kingdom, because England is four-fifths of the population of the UK…Once part of a united country or kingdom that is so predominant in size becomes nationalistic, then really the whole thing is under threat…”

The unresolved question of English devolution within an otherwise devolved UK led to a shift by politicians from the denigration of the white working-class generally to denigration of the English in general and the English white working-class in particular, the latter being commonly portrayed by politicians and the media as brutish people with the unspoken subtext “they cannot be trusted with power”. As most of the British white working-class are English, the white working-class were further marginalised. 

Devolution also had a direct material effect on England and in particular the English poor. The amount spent per head on public services has for a long time (since the late 1970s) grossly disadvantaged the English because of the Barnett Formula which was introduced to ostensibly  “compensate” the Scots for supposed additional costs resulting from a small population spread over a large area – the problem of the Highlands and Island.  In reality, it was a Labour bribe  to win Scotch votes and beat down demands for  devolution   The underfunding of England increased after devolution.

In short, devolution weakened public provision in England compared with the rest of the UK. That diminution of provision has struck most profoundly at the English white working-class.

The gradual demoralisation of the white working class

 If laissez faire economics, immigration reaching a critical level and international treaties were the immediate reasons why the white  working-class has fallen so far from favour, the ground for their realisation was prepared during the thirty-five years which followed the Labour victory of 1945.

 It is important not to be sentimental about the white working-class before their desertion by the British political class. Britain was far from being a peaceful society. Industrial relations were seriously fraught from the Eighteenth century onwards, long before nationalisation and the modern welfare state. Much crime went unreported because working class communities refused to report it. Vicious fights regularly took place in places such as the docks and the mines. There was considerable football hooliganism. Until the Irish Free State was founded, Irish nationalism was a constant  running sore. Violent criminal gangs controlled places such as the Elephant and Castle and Brighton.

 British education until after the second world war (and the Butler Act’s implementation) was seriously flawed, with most children leaving school at 14 having received no more than a primary education – only those who committed themselves to staying until 16 received  secondary education. The general standard of education was not high,  although, unlike now, the members of the political elite were frequently well educated.

 There was also a great deal of abject poverty right up to 1939 with many working people living from wage packet to wage packet, often  with the aid of a weekly trip to the local pawnbroker. There was only a rudimentary welfare state and to fall ill if you were poor was to place yourself at the mercy of the charity of others.

Despite these shortcomings, at the outbreak of the second world war working class society was much more coherent and secure than it is today. Most important was the fact that mainland Britain was racially and ethnically a very homogeneous society, even the ancestral  cultural divisions between the English, Scots and Welsh were largely shadings within a single cultural spectrum rather than violently competing ethnicities. Across the water Ireland was a problem, but even there the divisions were political and religious rather than matters of  profound ethnic difference. Such serious ethnic tension as there was resulted from the influx of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, but even there the persistent failure of Mosley’s Blackshirts to gain electoral support in the midst of the Depression tells its own story: vehement anti-semitism was not a widespread problem.

The homogeneity of Britain generated a sense of security because the mainland British at least did not have the distraction of chronic and serious ethnic strife. That sense of security was bolstered by the fact that each of the four home nations had their own territory which they dominated in terms of occupation of the land even if they did not formally control their territory. The white working-class generally did not feel threatened by people whom they felt had no place in Britain. Most felt, whatever their personal troubles, that at least they were secure in their own land.

Added to, and arguably arising from, this marvellous ethnic and territorial security were potent and well established social support mechanisms of the working class, viz:

 1. Unions, including their large welfare role.

 2. Co-Operative Societies – Harrods for the working class.

 3. Friendly societies.

 4. Homogeneous working-class communities which mutually

 supported their members.

 5. Large scale manual employment for the working class.

That was the position at the end of WW2, and for a considerable time after 1945 the condition of the white working-class actually improved as a full blown welfare state, rising wages and very low employment significantly increased their security and advantage.

The 1944 Butler Education Act gave all British children the chance to go to a grammar school and even those who did not gain a grammar school place got an extra year of schooling, schooling which went beyond the primary level. It was a far from perfect educational system but it was a considerable improvement on what had gone before. Most importantly, for the first time it gave large numbers of white  working-class children the chance of a first rate education and, for a significant minority, the chance to go to university.

Unions remained strong and both major political parties were committed to maintaining by protectionist measures the British economy, a fair slice of which was in any case nationalised. The white working-class were both the electoral bedrock of the Labour Party and courted by a Tory Party which realised it had to abide by the Attlee Government’s social reforms if it was to be elected (in the mid-fifties one of the proudest boasts of the Tory Government was that they had built 300,000 council houses in a year).

To this growing advantage was gradually added a de facto censorship of criticism of the white working-class. Throughout the period 1945 to 1975 there developed a pernicious habit amongst the British elite whereby public criticism of the white working-class became unacceptable in much the same way that over the past thirty years ethnic minorities have ceased to be publicly criticised.

Like any powerful class which is exempted from criticism the white  working-class abused their position, or perhaps more correctly, allowed their elected representatives whether in politics or unions, to lead them into abusive ways. The unions were all too ready to call strikes, strikes which when they affected the nationalised industries had the power to cripple British life.

The unions had become too powerful and it was their extreme propensity for “industrial action” – strikes, working-to-rule, demarcation disputes and violent picketing – which began to break down the public silence over white working-class abuses. Gradually it became acceptable for politicians and the media to criticise the white  working-class. They needed little prompting because politicians of all colours and mediafolk were more often than not were middleclass, and the middleclass had very little natural empathy with the white  working-class, just as today politicians and the media have no natural empathy with the ethnic minorities who are their current client class.

By 1970 the white working-class was outwardly as secure as a class as they had ever been and would be again. But even at the seeming height of their class advantage they were weaker than they once had been, naturally weaker than ever before in fact because sociological rats  had been gnawing away at their natural cohesion since 1945.

The mass post-war immigration began in the late 40s but it was not a major problem for the white working-class until the 1960s. More immediately damaging were the slum clearances which dominated the twenty five years after the War. These destroyed many working class communities by the simple expedient of dividing them up  between different housing estates. The working class were still living together but they were no longer the tightly knit coherent communities which had existed for generations. Instead it was strangers living together and living together not in housing which allowed an easy social life to develop, but more often than not in high rise buildings which destroyed social intimacy.

Ironically the new welfare state damaged the white working-class because it weakened the informal traditional social supports deriving from a well established community (help from friends and extended family) and led to the decline of formal supports such as friendly societies and the co-operative movement.

Education subverted

In the 1960s came the disaster of comprehensive schools and progressive educational theory. Comprehensivisation took away the ladder by which the bright white working-class child progressed, the grammar schools. The secondary modern -technical school- grammar school established by the Butler Act was far from perfect because it left large numbers of children labelled as educational failures, but that which replaced it was far worse a system. Most comprehensives simply did not have the resources or the will to provide a grammar school level education for their brightest pupils.

Progressive educational theory caused a general diminution in educational standards through a combination of its “discovery” method of learning, i.e., do not actually teach them anything, and a self-denying ordinance which forbade any criticism of a child’s work. Stir in the lunacy of producing school exams to be taken by children of all ability (GCSE) and the incontinent expansion of higher education from the late 1980s onwards, season with the quasi-commercialisation  of schools and universities through money following the pupil or student, top with school examination boards becoming overtly commercial, and you have the recipe for the mess which is modern British education, where exam grades rise inexorably while performance moves just as remorselessly in the opposite direction.

 The percentage of working-class children at university is actually lower in 2006 than it was forty years ago. Of course the numbers of children in higher education has expanded massively since the mid-sixties and in absolute numbers far more white working-class pupils go on to university in 2006 than 1966. But it counts for nothing. If more white working-class pupils may have GCSEs, A Levels and degrees now, the standard of the education they receive to gain such qualifications is so degraded from what it was forty years ago that the qualifications are next to worthless as guides to employers of a person’s ability and the education received while taking them fails to equip students for the world of work even at the basic level of literacy and numeracy.

 Had the major sources of traditional white working-class employment not been largely destroyed in the 1980s and 1990s, comprehensive education would not be so dire in its consequences for the white working class, because they would still have been employed in secure jobs which do not require much education. Instead, millions  are trapped in unemployment (admitted unemployment or disguised as ill, retired early or attending worthless courses in higher education) or in insecure and ill-paid jobs, stranded without the education to find decent, well-paid work.

 Any society also has to take into account the fact that any population contains many people who are naturally poorly equipped to do anything other than unskilled jobs. Ten per cent of the British population has an IQ of 80 or less. An IQ of 80 is the level at which psychologists generally agree someone begins to struggle to cope with the demands of an advanced society such as Britain. Such people require jobs they can do. Immigrants take those jobs and depress wages. The white working-class are being left with less and less.

 With their traditional employments largely destroyed, subject to a state educational system which leaves them ill-equipped for any job other than the unskilled, beset by cheap immigrant labour competing  for unskilled jobs and crippled by the cost of housing, the white  working-class are ever more dependent on public provision. That provision is becoming increasingly uncertain as immigrant demand for social provision multiplies, public spending soars to dangerous heights and Blair’s mania for introducing private money and companies into public provision runs riot.

 What were once the public utilities – gas, electricity, water, the railways – are becoming dearer and dearer despite providing an increasingly poor service through a lack of investment in maintenance and the shedding of jobs (the government cannot do anything to subsidise utility prices because of our membership of the EU). The poorer you are the larger part of your income is taken by these vital products and services.

 Benefits and the state pension are linked to the Consumer  Price Index (CPI) but this understates inflation substantially, primarily because the cost of housing, is not included. This understatement of inflation means that benefits and the state pension are gradually losing their value in real terms.

 There are also many people for whom the basket of goods and services is unrepresentative. For example, 14% of the index is devoted to motoring expenses which means that the RPI figure is barely relevant to non-car owners. RPI also excludes from its spending pattern such inconvenient people as OAPs surviving on the state pension because they are not “typical”. Generally, the poorer you are, the less representative of your spending RPI will be.

 Wages are also affected by official inflation figures because they are used as a benchmark for both public service and private industry wage increases. I say inflation figures because more than one index is used. The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) is the index used these days to give the headline rate of inflation. This is even less accurate a guide to the true rate of inflation than RPI because it excludes housing costs altogether. Where this figure is used to guide wage increases the real value of the wage decreases even more rapidly in real terms than benefits and the state pension.

 Then there is taxation. The poorest people in work in the population pay by far – in direct and indirect taxes combined – the highest proportion of their income in tax of any part of the population.


The crime of the post-war British elite of all political colours has been to destroy the social and economic structures which gave security and viability to white working-class society without replacing them with something else. The elite mashed their communities through slum clearance, thrust mass immigration into the areas in which the white working-class lived, destroyed through “free trade” the great industries which traditionally employed them and hamstrung the unions by a mixture of legislation, cheap foreign labour both at home and abroad and the creation of a perpetual “reserve army of labour” from the native population. At the same time the white working-class were deprived of the means to create new lives and social structures through a decent education. Whatever the white working-class are now, they are the product of decisions made by the British political elite since 1945.

I am not a sentimentalist who imagines that the ideal world would be one in which the white working class continued unchanged as noble “sons of toil” or that ” working-class culture” should be preserved in aspic. Had every white working-class person in the country been converted into part of the middleclass by an unforced process of improved education and rising wages I would have seen that as part of a natural sociological change. But that of course did not happen, probably in principle could never have happened in a country the size of Britain. The white working-class have been disenfranchised. The British middle class have been at best complicit in the attack on the white working-class and at worst have taken an eager and active part in it. For decades they thought themselves personally safe from the consequences of immigration and, later, imagined that they were immune from the effects of globalisation. They find themselves unable to buy houses because of the absurd prices.  They are beginning to learn the hard facts of sociological life: mass immigration and globalisation eventually affects all but the truly rich, a poetic justice but one which harms the country.

This entry was posted in Economics, Immigration, Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The white working-class and the British elite

  1. outcast says:

    The white working class has not been just disenfranchised but disposessed & alienized.

    Who speaks for the millions of white working-class driven out of London since 1945 by the destruction of local jobs to be replaced by the super rich & the foreign?

  2. Pingback: The 2011 British riots and the white liberal’s great lie « Living In A Madhouse

  3. Pingback: The 2011 British riots and the white liberal’s great lie | England calling

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