Book Review: Paul Embery, Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class


In 1936, Victor Gollancz, founder and lead publisher of The Left Book Club, commissioned a young author by the name of Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, to write a book on life in the industrial north, in the wake of the infamous 1935 election, in which Clement Attlee`s Labour Party returned just 154 seats. Attlee had only taken over the party days before the election after pacifist leader George Lansbury resigned as delegates voted in favour of sanctions against Mussolini’s Italy. Gollancz, who paid Orwell some £500, was horrified when Orwell returned The Road to Wigan Pier, which was not only an account of life in the industrial heartlands, but why, considering the Labour Party were the only Party that offered tangible solutions to the problems in the north, they were unable to garner mass support. Gollancz reluctantly published the book in 1937, but only after writing an introduction to the book that warned the readers of what he claimed was ‘half-truths’.

Fast forward eighty-three years and step forward Paul Embery. Like Orwell, Embery is undoubtedly on the left, despite frivolous claims otherwise.  Embery’s book Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class, sets out how the British Labour Party has lost the support of the section of society it was created to represent, and how that relationship might be repaired. Set against the backdrop of the 2019 general election, in which the Labour Party suffered its worst defeat since 1935, where the former strongholds of Blythe Valley, Greater Grimsby, Wakefield and Don Valley – to name a few – turned to the party of Benjamin Disraeli and Margaret Thatcher to represent them. 

From the Gillian Duffy – Gordon Brown, ‘bigot’ Incident, to Emily Thornberry`s sneering at a white-van-man in Rochester, Paul Embery takes us on a journey of how the British Labour Party went from representing ‘the kind whose loyalty and endeavours the success and prosperity over generations has depended’, to being an organisation ‘comprised largely of urban middle-class liberals, students and social activists’. Within the first chapter (of five), titled The Gathering Storm, Embery sets out the changing demographics within the Labour Party, which in 2010, won more votes from the middle class voters than it did from the working class. 

Embery accuses the British Left of ‘taking the side of the establishment over the people’, over Brexit.  Joining forces with the elite financial establishment broke somewhat of an inviolable rule for the role of the Labour Party within British Politics. Which come with significant consequences, as the working class plumped for the Tory Party (48%) over Labour (33%) in 2019.

Embery puts them all on trial. None more so than the trade unions who abandoned working people against the market forces of the capitalist European Union, whose free movement policy has meant that ‘for every 10 percentage-point in the proportion of immigration in semi-skilled or unskilled jobs, there is a 2% reduction in pay.’ Embery writes that the ‘moral bankruptcy of the trade union leaders on this subject border on the criminal’. 

The trade unions are not the only ones to experience the wrath of Embery. Tony Blair, the former leader is accused of ‘making peace with not only the market itself but with the most severe strains of market ideology.’

The newly Independent MP and former Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is not let off the hook either. Whilst Embery praises the shift to the left on the economy under Corbyn, under what Embery calls a ‘broadly Keynesian’ economic manifesto (whilst acknowledging that within the economic structures of the EU, which the Labour Party urged to remain under Corbyn, how much of it would have been possible remains to be seen – pun intended). Embery writes that whilst Corbyn made strides on economic policy, he made ‘no progress at all in closing the cultural divide’. 

In a concise, 200-page account, Embery  frequently returns to his own experience of a working class/communitarian upbringing in Barking and Dagenham. Where he went from knowing all his neighbours, to being stopped in the street by someone ‘asking if he spoke English’. Well laid out chapters include: The Gathering Storm; We Need to Talk About Immigration; A New National Religion: Liberal Wokedom; A Case for the Nation State and finally, What is to be Done? Each chapter consisting of thought-provoking and direct sub-chapters: The Brexit Revolt; Whiteness as Original Sin; Pressure on Wages – Time for an Honest Discussion; and The Gender Madness, to name a few. 

Embery states ‘until the British Left can shake off the growing perception as unpatriotic or, worse, privately ashamed of its own country, it will struggle to recover the support it has lost in the working class communities’. Unfortunately, it appears as if Embery’s calls are already falling on deaf ears. Since Despised was announced, the left which Embery talks about have attempted to discredit Embery by comparing his views with that of Nazis and Fascists. Like Orwell in 1937, Embery has returned an honest appraisal of the British Left, of which they have not taken too kindly. Surprise.

Anyone with a sane, open mind can see that Paul Embery is nothing more than a Democratic Socialist. And despite his, at times, scathing critique of the left, it quite obviously comes from a place of love for the history and traditions of the British Labour Movement, ‘the banners, the flags, the songs and the people’.

In the final chapter, What is to be Done? Embery advocates a more egalitarian economy, observing ‘voters across all classes and backgrounds want a fairer economic system’. As well as promoting family values and incentivising two-parent families for the benefit of children, Embery argues that the ‘consequences of family breakdown for children are dire, with an increased chance of them turning to drugs or alcohol, suffering from depression, performing poorly at school and living in poverty’. Embery goes on to say, ‘what on earth is socialist about turning a blind eye to this?’.

The suggestion that the statements above are in anyway resembling fascist or totalitarian ideology is, frankly, ridiculous. The modern left should take note of Embery, before it’s too late. As Embery states at the end of Despised, ‘the British Working Class has found its voice. Politics in our country is realigning at speed as the old tribalisms crumble. The Left, if it to halt the slide towards irrelevance, had better start listening’.  


Photo owned by the Mallard.

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