It is not the working class that Labour needs to engage with – but simply the ‘overworking’ class

In my efforts to think about Labour’s failure to connect with what the media calls the ‘working class’ – whereas the Tories are supposed to have found that connection, I have discovered that the working class that the Tories have connected with are mostly retirees who own their own homes…

But I have come across rather a good summary from an unusual source on why Labour is ‘losing the working class.’

Yes, the author bemoans the fact that Starmer is not cutting through with a ‘story’ – or even policies. But it is pretty difficult in the middle of a pandemic, although perhaps because he is a lawyer he seems reluctant to talk about the Good Law Project or even the Electoral Commission’s investigation.

The author continues:

In 2018 Claire Ainsley, now his [Keir Starmer’s] Director of Policy, wrote a book which argued powerfully that our political idea of the working class was wildly out of date.

No surprise there then.

The author adds:

When properly defined, it is also not a great deal dissimilar to Ed Miliband’s “squeezed middle”, Theresa May’s “just about managing” or even Nick Clegg’s instantly ridiculous “alarm clock Britain”. As such, it would need repackaging (for what it’s worth, my suggestion would be “the overworking class”).

He rightly continues:

More importantly, it has the not entirely negligible benefit of being unequivocally, materially, right – the way we talk about class in this country has not moved into the 21st century. Starmer should articulate that story confrontationally and clearly, challenging the hackneyed romanticism that infects both the media’s Red Wall monomania and his own party’s insipid nostalgia. There is no doubt it would be a high-risk move. But the time for caution is over.

I find myself agreeing entirely.

And the ‘overworking class’ is what this is all about – not the very ex shipbuilders or plumbers who are prosperous enough in their retirement, but their grandchildren who are either in indebted studenthood or – and compatriots possibly, as well – jiggling two or three zero hours jobs in order to pay the rent – never mind start a family. Or most members of the NHS, many of whom are equally indebted and equally ‘overworking’ – if not indeed now almost burned out.

Labour and progressives in general need to be putting forward the policies of working less and not more. Most of the powerful in today’s society do not work but simply extract rent.

What has been called the invasive knotweed of neoliberalism has indeed led to our society being dominated by an economy that seems to positively require an overworking class.

And that is certainly one class which all progressives could and should campaign loudly for its abolition….


  1. Richard Bond -

    Looks like you’re on the path to UBI…

    1. Peter May -

      Initially I’d be happy if we could just all work less – like our rentier compatriots….

  2. MigT -

    I suspect Labour realise all this. Problem is, the young ‘overworking’ class don’t reliably vote, come polling day. The propertied pensioners do and they’d be the losers of affordable housing and rising wages

    ..the knotweed of neoliberalism.

    Combine this with FPTP + loss of Scotland to the SNP, and Labour have an electoral arithmetic problem that no narrative will fix.

    Only time will fix it as the “gammons” die off and the overworking class start voting.

    The alternative is an anti-Tory electoral alliance with a view to forcing PR. Most of the electorate still vote for parties to the left of the Tories.

    1. Peter May -

      For the alliance to work it seems to me that it has to be elected with the sole legislative objective of delivering PR and then dissolving itself once PR is passed so we can have a fresh start.
      Yes some of Labour’s radicals will be unhappy that their policies may be less achievable – but that’s got to be better than what we have now where there is basically not a chance in hell of their radicalism being realised…

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