The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. – Thucydides
The Labour Party’s creation was a response to the government of the day’s brutal indifference to the suffering of the working class. Its successes until relatively recently made parliament, and hence the governments it ran, at least more representative of the UK as a whole.
Defining the working classes to include all those who depend on earned income, and could not support their existing lifestyle for more than six months without said income, the picture is bleak across the board for them. Workers across public services, from railway workers to hospital consultants, are taking strike action with absolutely zero support from the Labour front bench, and precious little within its parliamentary ranks.
Energy costs have skyrocketed, increasing interest rates are forcing both mortgages and bought-to-let rents up, and staple items are increasing in price way faster than the advertised rate of inflation. It turns out that one of the major causes of the inflation that’s hurting the working classes is the salaries of the 10% of highest earners, while everyone else’s have been more or less static. So much for “we’re all in this together.” Forget the “wage-price inflation spiral” – we are paying the cost of fat cat salary increases.
The government appears to have long since given up all pretence of doing anything other than filling the pockets of as many mates as they can for as long as the gravy train keeps rolling. As was made clear in recent comments by Lisa Nandy, Labour is devoid of any radical response to this desperate state of affairs, and indeed seems impotent to do anything much in the way of serious opposition to a cruel and uncaring government.
While Animal Farm is usually taken as an allegory of the Russian Revolution, it has a larger significance in warning us of the dangers of any authoritarian bureaucracy. Starmer’s current ruthless exclusion of left-wing members, and rejection of them as council and parliamentary candidates, is just as unprincipled as Johnson’s exclusion of anyone who refused to sign a statement of personal loyalty to him. Both parties seem immune to the sufferings of the citizenry and are proposing no policies that will even begin to redress the grotesque inequalities in income that the pandemic trailed in its wake.
Thanks to extensive research by Keltner and Piff there is now a body of evidence to suggest that the wealthier you are, the less likely you are to feel compassion for others. This would seem to be borne out in today’s Labour Party, which is not only significantly out of touch with its traditional base, but is demonstrating diminishing concern with the base’s increasingly desperate plight. The 125-year transition from the party of the self-educated James Keir Hardie to the university double-graduate Sir Keir Rodney Starmer has seen the party lose its way so completely it is now in danger of becoming the Comfortably Off Party. Of course it’s no use looking to the Conservative government for help. How likely is it that the male half of a Sunday Times Rich List couple with a reported net worth of £730 million feels even an iota of sympathy for anyone less well off?
In essence then, in terms of social progress and political clout, the working classes are in much the same position as they were 120 years ago. Now though, not only do they find little or no representation in parliament, many of their trade unions are little more than a façade for keeping the top dogs on top and the money rolling in. Such counter-examples as there are (the best known, perhaps, being Mick Lynch’s RMT) are excoriated in the media for wanting to fuel inflation with their demands that their members’ salaries at least leave them no poorer than they currently are.
However, with a general election due within eighteen months, there is no coherent left-wing response to this sad state of affairs. The best that most people notionally on the left can suggest appears to be “hold your nose and vote Labour,” though the many ex-members who feel that the party has lost its way will doubtless find ways to express their electoral discontent. Since it seems this is unlikely to result in radical change, the United Kingdom can no longer claim to be a representative democracy.