Left-wing politics today is largely about categorising people at first sight. Ideas have been usurped by notions of identity. Sentences that once began with “I think” are now prefaced with ‘Speaking as a . . .”
This isn’t new of course; identity politics has been around for years. The real question is why race and gender have so thoroughly usurped social class in the supposed hierarchy of oppression.
Today’s activists are far more concerned with the colour of a person’s skin and their gender than they are with their social class. Projects such as the Media Diversified Directory seek (admirably in my view) to increase the presence of BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) voices in the media, while campaign groups such as the Labour Women’s Network and Panel Watch fight to ensure that public policy is not a testosterone-fuelled echo chamber for boorish men.
There is something to be said for all of this; but there are no comparable organisations seeking to do the same for the working class. I edit Left Foot Forward, a left-wing website, and consider myself a socialist. However, unlike many on the Left, I think social class is a far more accurate indicator of how much “privilege” a person has than either gender or race. I take this position because the evidence overwhelmingly points in that direction.But I find myself increasingly out of step with mainstream left-wing opinion, as evidenced by the vitriol increasingly directed at Dwems (Dead White European Males) by left-wing activists and the ubiquitous talk of “equality” when yet another upper-middle-class woman is parachuted into politics. Socialism today appears to mean half of a boardroom stuffed with middle-class men and half with middle-class women — not forgetting a sprinkling of middle-class ethnic minorities.
Yet perhaps this ought not to come as a surprise when the Left itself is so overwhelmingly middle-class. Being left-wing today requires far fewer sacrifices than in the past. You can wear a keffiyeh and wax passionate about white privilege while drawing a large private income with little chance of being knocked off your perch by a usurper from the lower orders.
Put like that, it is no wonder class politics has gone out of fashion like a bad pair of chinos. In obsessing about the comparatively superficial privileges that white skin and maleness bestow (superficial when compared to the disadvantages that come with being poor), student activists and “diversity warriors” may simply want to shift our gaze away from the economic inequalities they do very well out of.