Owen Jones, when writing of his visit to Doncaster and after quoting a select few residents there, wrote the following closing summary to his recent article in the Guardian...
“Here is a town that played a critical role in forging the Labour party. Its older, working-class residents have a view of the world that is utterly different and in conflict with much of the next generation, particularly in big cities. How Labour overcomes such divisions and rebuilds a broader electoral coalition will determine the future of the party – and the country, too.”
It is an interesting perception, one which perhaps reflects the accepted media view, of a broken Labour Party struggling to find its place in a country politically transformed as a result of the EU referendum. It suggests division exists between the older generation and the new, which may be insurmountable, threatening the very existence of the Labour Party and by extension the political make up of the country.
However interesting it may be to read, it is also a shallow representation of the people of Doncaster. By his own admission, Owen spoke to around thirty people during his visit and he quotes what they said to him.
That is fair enough, such varied views of the current political landscape certainly exist. Doncaster is no different to any other town in the country in that regard (including Hackney). Certainly in the EU referendum, the people of the town voted in greater numbers to leave than they did to stay, but it isn't a foregone conclusion that the views expressed by some he spoke to are representative of the reasons why the town voted the way it did.
To understand that takes a lot more than a day trip Doncaster. Contrary to the perhaps prevailing view of thick northerners, disengaged from the political debate and obsessed with an influx of migrants,
Doncaster is just one town in the north which bears the deep scars of post industrialism. A town proud of its heritage and furious at the neglect it has suffered from governments of all shades over decades.
That fury manifests in many ways and one such way has been fed by the rise of UKIP and the relentless barrage of blame for the state of the nation throughout the mainstream media. 'Its the fault of benefit claimants,' 'Its the fault of immigrants,' 'Labour is to blame,' and of course, 'Blame Europe.' Mud sticks, and if enough is thrown, these narratives feed into popular opinion.
No surprise then, when such views are expressed by random individuals on a random visit to the town; of course such views are represented. It would be a greater surprise if they were not. But represented is not the same as representative.
Had Owen Jones wanted to gain a real feel for the people in Doncaster perhaps a few weeks talking to more than thirty people would have left him better informed. Yes there are those who make negative comment about immigrants etc, but when one digs a little deeper it rarely has anything to do with racism, xenophobia or bigotry of any kind.
These are more manifestations of a greater dissatisfaction. It is more to do with low paid jobs, zero hours contracts; an inability to make ends meet because there is always more month left at the end of the money.
People disconnected from politics, 'because politicians are all the same,' easily succumb to the populist rhetoric and bile spewed out in the Sun, the Mail and the Express. They're told who is to blame and they repeat it ad nauseum, but when push comes to shove, in reality they are sick of the same old drudgery of working hard for a pittance and being ignored by the political elite.
The challenge for Labour is not a stark divide between the old and the young as implied by Owen Jones. The deep rooted problems and frustrations are shared by both. They may express them differently, but at the heart of the matter is an anger at establishment politics which has for too long let them all down.
It is the same anger which while manifest in different ways, drove Labour from Scotland and the UK electorate to vote 'out' in the EU referendum. It is the same disillusionment which made UKIP the largest UK representation in the European parliament as that which saw the USA elect Donald Trump as President.
Labour's challenge is to harness that frustration and it can't do that without changing what it has been for the last few decades... it is that very same Labour that has been roundly rejected by the national electorate twice.
For all the criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn, he is the only political leader who speaks for those very people in Doncaster (and the whole country) who are sick of business as usual. He offers a change to Labour politics. His politics are those of hope, of solidarity against the very same vested interests that have long taken Doncaster for granted.
His politics of public investment in areas too long left behind are the right message for Labour. A party which promises that in government it will build affordable housing for those who want to buy and social housing for those who need to rent is a far better prospect than a party who blames immigrants for the shortage of houses.
A party that funds education so all children have access to high quality learning, is far better than a party that supports selective education through the building of new Grammar schools.
A fully funded NHS is much more desirable to the population at large than a US style privatised system, just as stopping corporate welfare is an idea more popular than living in a country where even working people need foodbanks just to feed their children.
Whatever the reason for Owen Jones' snap visit to Doncaster, I hope he enjoyed it. People there have long been recognised for their warmth and welcoming nature. I trust he found that to be the case as he asked for their views.
I only wish he had perhaps dug a little deeper, travelled a little wider in the borough, and engaged with a more diverse group than he found in the town centre or by the railway station. I am sure had he done so, he would have found a much wider range of views and political expression, but almost all with one common root cause.
It doesn't matter which way they voted in the referendum, nor how old they are; nor does it matter which party they voted for at the last general election. One thing every Doncastrian knows is that they have been taken for granted and left behind for too long. Something has to change.
I know because I am one of them and Doncaster deserves better. It isn't a broad coalition we need, it is a compelling case for a socialist change in the way our country is run. Jeremy Corbyn makes that case... maybe Owen Jones ought to start listening to him and following his example rather than suggesting Corbyn stand down to allow another to take the helm... Now that would be a disaster in the making!
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