Despised – Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class by Paul Embery ~ book recommendation

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This isn’t a review, it’s a recommendation of a book I think raises some very pertinent points, and more importantly offers some solutions.

Paul Embery is born and bred in Dagenham, which was Essex in my childhood but which, since 1965 is now part of Greater London. Most of his family live or lived in Dagenham. His family were originally from the East End, his wife’s people were from India.  He became a fire-fighter, an energetic member of the Fire Brigade Union and most recently a full-time official of that union.

Regular readers may recall that my family also originated in the East End and that I used to live in Dagenham (but only for 10 years, although family and friends are still there) so much of what he describes I know, and from my own experiences and observations I can confirm that he is true and accurate.

Labour MP Kate Hoey describes him as “a long-standing Labour Party member . . .  a socialist with deeply felt principles and an active supporter of Blue Labour — a grouping that wants to return the Party to its original roots and values of work, family and community.”

The book is in five parts or chapters.

He starts in the Chapter The Gathering Storm by describing Dagenham as it was, and how it changed too rapidly for comfort.

He writes, “The people of Barking and Dagenham (the two Essex boroughs that were joined into one and placed under London control by decree in 1965) had been treated like cattle for years…”

Then, quoting journalist Matthew Parris on Clacton and Brexit (a seaside town on the Essex coast where so many people from Dagenham have moved to that it is often called Little Dagenham, or I have heard it called Dagenham-on-Sea) “we should not be careless of the needs of struggling people and places such as Clacton…but we should be careless of their opinions”

If I hadn’t added that this was about Brexit, and therefore recent, you might have thought that was a Georgian squire and mill owner despising his factory fodder.

Mr Embery says about the people of Dagenham (and they are not unique, I believe this is true of many communities all over England, but Dagenham was his home, as it once was mine) that they are communitarian and parochial. New Labour, calculating that these voters had no where else to go was able to disregard them and elevated the cosmopolitan over the communitarian. I’ll come back to that word ‘cosmopolitan’ later.

He mentions the contempt Gordon Brown showed (when he thought his microphone was off) to Labour voter Mrs Gillian Duffy who mildly queried the wisdom of uncontrolled immigration (he wanted to know who was responsible for ‘that bigoted woman’ getting anywhere near him) and the distain expressed by Labour MP Emily Thornberry (married name Lady Nugee) for a house decorated with St George flags and a white van (as used by tradesmen to carry tools and materials to work).

He then speaks of David Goodheart’s book The Road to Somewhere. That speaks of the conflict between those of us who have roots, who know where we come from, even if we have moved, and maybe more than once, due to circumstances. We come from Somewhere.  And those who describe  themselves as citizens of the World, or of Europe, who have no attachment to any particular place. They could come from Anywhere.  That word ‘cosmopolitan’ crops up again.

Embery described an incident at the Labour Party Conference of 2018  when a delegate from Blyth Valley was booed as he spoke of the deleterious effect free movement of people had had on his community. In the election the following year the constituency of Blyth Valley returned a Conservative MP for the first time in its history.  

Labour took the working class for granted for too long.

In the chapter We Need to Talk About Immigration he described his own attitude in his youth, welcoming ‘cosmopolitan liberalism in action’.

But then he saw the pressure it put on wages. These effects are well known but he does no harm to repeat them.  That such cheap labour means that innovation in some areas has gone backwards. He mentions the observation of journalist Paul Mason that “a car wash used to mean a machine, now it means 5 guys with rags. 20,000 hand car washes in Britain, only 1000 of them regulated. In 10 years the number of rollover car wash machines has halved.”

On the phenomenon sometimes sneered at as ‘white flight’ which saw the proportion of white British in the borough decrease from 81% in 2001 to 49% in 2011, he says “when they left it wasn’t a flight from non-whiteness; rather it was a flight to familiarity.”

This is another valid explanation of our differences. The image recurs several times and I think it’s a good one.

“Liberals see the nation as a shop, the main purpose of which is business, the inhabitants are merely customers. The working class see our nation as a home, and their fellow citizens are family.”

The next chapter is called A New National Religion – Liberal Wokedom.

Throughout the book, unless he needs to delineate the white element of the working class for specific reasons (eg definition of ‘white flight’) he speaks of the traditional working class, because he sees the working class as including people like his wife’s parents from India, the bus drivers and Ford workers, and now their grandchildren who came from Jamaica as part of the Windrush generation, and others.

The rather unpleasant, journalist loudmouth  Ash Sarkar tweeted about this phrase “Traditional working class? jesus fucking christ, just say ‘white’ with ya whole chest.”

It is at this point that I will remind readers of the delightful Miss Sarkar’s support for convicted serious criminals when she was one of the signatories to an open letter calling on airlines to refuse to transport murderers, rapists and drug dealers back to their homes in Jamaica after they had served their sentences.

She is in the news again this week accusing Julie Burchill of Islamophobia for asking a reasonable question about the behaviour of Mohammed, and orchestrating a fuss such that Miss Burchill’s publisher has cancelled her forthcoming book, Welcome to the Woke Trials.  I’ll pass over the incongruity of a young woman outraged by supposed Islamophobia who blasphemes my own religion with a coarse phrase like “jesus fucking christ”,

Paul Embery has a good observation to make about ‘woke’ culture. He says that so many young people these days have university degrees that many struggle to demark themselves from the working class. “Wokeness” has become an alternative method of distinguishing themselves from the less-educated masses. Expressions of “wokeness” are now something of a status indicator.

“Labour today has virtually nothing to say to small town and post-industrial Britain. It is no longer the ‘people’s party’ but the party for the wokes, the Toytown revolutionary and twitter”.

Then we get to the really optimistic section, the potential solutions.

The Case for the Nation State.

The world needs to de-globalise. Rapidly. Easier said than done, of course, but at last it is being said, and as Paul Embery writes, despite the nation state under attack by the twin prongs of big business and the progressive purveyors of cosmopolitan liberalism, the nation state refuses to wither and he sees signs of a resurgence. The Covid 19 pandemic has demonstrated the weakness of over dependence on a global supply chain, and the need for a nation to have its own industrial and manufacturing base.

He makes a good case for the revival of the manufacturing industry, both for logistical and social reasons. The benefits to society of the breadwinner having dignified useful work and a regular earned wage.  He speaks favourably of things that were mainstream thinking a few years ago, during his childhood when I was a younger working adult; full employment, controlled immigration, our independent currency.

He quotes George Orwell, that the Labour party/the left must understand the patriotism of the working class. This book has been compared to Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier; I recognize similar thinking, but possibly from Orwell’s collected essays.

Labour should embrace an English patriotism in step with the best of the labour movements radical and democratic traditions, “Tony Benn, Michael Foot, the Levellers and the Diggers, George Orwell, Wat Tyler and Thomas Paine”. I might add Mary Wollstonecraft to that list, but let’s not quibble.

The final chapter is What is to be Done.

He still has faith in the potential to reform and revive the Labour party if only because he sees that as more likely to achieve a result than the formation of a new party, a task which has not been done with any electoral success for well over a century. He has no time for the view that Labour should accept that the working class have gone, and remodel itself as a party of the socially liberal middle class.

First and foremost he says the party should stop hating large sections of the working class.  Their worldview is rooted in the politics of the 1960s, a rather unappealing blend of Lennon and Lenin.

There has always been a place for the middle class intellectuals and liberals but this has historically been a compromise. Draw together “a disadvantaged white voter from Mansfield, a Polish catholic in North London, a patriotic Sikh from Slough, a Muslim from a northern mill town and a self-employed man from Essex” then appeal to a sufficient layer of graduates and professionals.  All types of people who attach a high value on family and place.

All work brings dignity but not everybody needs a degree so we need more vocational skills and training, we need and should not have to import plumbers and electricians. He recommends a new and decent apprenticeship scheme.  He is wary of the idea of Universal Basic Income; it is well meaning but workers need jobs not pocket money.

But it’s not all about money. He wants policies which promote social stability. It is possible to support the traditional family without stigmatizing those who have alternative arrangements. But study after study show that children tend to do better in a stable family and family breakdown is contributing to industrial scale suffering.

He speaks with optimism of the groups Blue Labour, the English Labour Network and Labour Future.

He concludes, “The British working class has found its voice . . . The Left, if it is to halt the slide towards irrelevance, had better start listening”

This has turned into a bit of a precis but it’s worth reading the whole thing from a man who has been there and got the tee-shirt. Going from school into a job in Dagenham Asda (confusing car park, good household section) then the Fire Service he didn’t go to university. But nobody qualifies as a fire-fighter without having a damn good brain. It’s too technical these days, and too dangerous and too much responsibility for idiots who can’t think on their feet, or on a ladder and quickly. So sneers at lack of formal education are snobbish and not grounded in fact.

It is the reaction to the book which is quite illuminating and goes some way to proving his point.  There are some very favourable reviews. Spiked and Unherd, (he writes for both) have been helpful and supportive.

There is also criticism. Well there would be wouldn’t there. Ash Sarkar is only the start.

Socialist Resistance has pounced on his use of the words, in separate form, ‘rootless’ and ‘cosmopolitan’. Most notably in the section where he describes those of us from Somewhere, as distinguished from those from Anywhere.

Stalin used a phrase, in Russian I would imagine, or maybe Georgian and translated into Russian as an antisemitic insult, and that phrase has been translated into English as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’.

Paul Embery uses words meaning rootless, and he uses the very word ‘cosmopolitan’ so, according to Socialist Resistance he is at best naïve or historically blind to use a Stalinist euphemism for anti-Semitism. So the left will stand up for Jews when it suits. Which is usually when weaponizing the anti-nazi movement; harking back to the Anti-nazi league which members went on to join Antifa and Black-bloc.

The Guardian accuses him of crude caricature, but admits he has a point (or two)

This young man writing in the University of Manchester student magazine says Paul Embery’s arguments are convincing and that his general diagnosis, while lacking the bite of George Orwell, is sound.

One of the more hurtful criticisms came from a former fire-fighter who described him as a devout ethno-nationalist, to whom any appeal for decency is a waste of time. As his Trade Union representative Paul Embery had taken up this man’s case against the Fire Brigade and won it for him; but on the left a man is only as worthy as his most recent compliance to the woke party line.  

Even more important last year Paul Embery spoke, as a private individual and in his own time, at a pro-Brexit rally. His role on the National Executive of the Fire Brigade Union was never mentioned. However the General Secretary of the FBU took umbrage that Union officials and Labour MPs had attended a joint rally with the likes of Nigel Farage. He was suspended from the executive council, then dismissed. But it wasn’t about Brexit; it was about his expressing his opinions to those who found them challenging. I don’t know the result of his claim against the Fire Brigade Union for unfair dismissal, but I don’t imagine this book will endear him to the executive.

The front line firefighters are a different matter and his twitter feed is full of individuals praising the book and telling him that quietly it is being well received by the rank and file.

I am not one of life’s long-standing Labour voters and I will admit to being bitter about losing my job at the hands of a Labour administration determined to increase diversity by jettisoning experienced, honest and competent old-school officials to be replaced by malleable, inexpensive and inexperienced youngsters.  But we need a decent and upstanding opposition party on the left, and at the moment the Labour party isn’t it.

Even if you do not vote Labour, and are unlikely to do so, I recommend this book. It is widely available and I managed to get my copy from the on-line sales department of a smaller independent bookseller.

3 Responses

  1. I’ve read this book and Esmerelda is spot on in her summation of its contents. I’m not a Labour voter and it’s unlikely that I would vote for the Labour Party as it is at the moment; nonetheless this book is a must read for all of us interested in the process that has deprived us of a Labour Party that we could have voted for — at a stretch, I’ll admit, but I could have so voted if it had become a necessity. Paul Embery’s diagnosis of the ills of Labour and the unheard working class is correct. I suspect that they will not go unheard for much longer.

  2. This is my first ever book review. As a keen fan of the writings of George Orwell I stumbled across “Despised” whilst bookshop browsing in the political section. As a former “Dagenham” boy and West Ham supporter his introductory biography really caught my attention. I found his sections on “The Gathering Storm” and “We need to talk about immigration” to be very convincing. I lived through the period in Dagenham he referred to. I know he is spot on with respect to his observations. If the left is to reconnect with the real working class of this country it needs to take his recommendations on board and stop shooting the messenger. I believe this book has the capacity to be a gamechanger if the left at least gives it some thoughtfull consideration.

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