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In praise of Eric Joyce

20 December 2013

10:24 AM

20 December 2013

10:24 AM

Yes, Eric Joyce, the MP for Falkirk until the next election, has issues. Yes, his copy book is well blotted. He has a conviction for assault which scarcely reflects splendidly upon him (even if many members of the public themselves wouldn’t mind sticking-the-heid on any number of MPs) and in his dozen or so years in Westminster he has made energetic use of his parliamentary allowances. Yes, yes, yes.

But I have some time for almost anyone declared “unfit to stand for the Labour party”. It’s a kind of character reference.

Moreover and despite his troubles, Joyce possesses many of the qualities we should desire in our parliamentary representatives. Chief of these, intelligence and an independent spirit. He may be mistaken on many issues but that’s not the point. Everyone is mistaken about some things.

Anyway, Joyce is interesting. And he can write. His blog is consistently excellent. Take his most recent post, for instance in which he points out the absurdity of recent reports claiming there are only 25 “working-class” MPs. These reports are an excellent example of the new New Journalism in which “a study claims” serves to substantiate any kind of piffle and twaddle.

The 25 working-class MPs nonsense depends upon believing that only manual workers count as working-class and, yes, there may be no more than a couple of dozen MPs whose chief employment prior to entering parliament required manual labour (being a miner, for instance).

But that, as even quarter-brained bears can appreciate, scarcely defines the working-classes. There are many types of working-class background and employment. Joyce himself, for instance, enlisted in the Black Watch as a private. That he left the army as a major hardly invalidates his working-class credentials.

As Joyce observes, if manual labour is the shorthand for or definition of working-class then Alan Johnson (a Trade Union official) is not working-class. At least not by this definition. Nor are most of the other MPs brought up in council housing. David Davis? Not working-class because, hell, he didn’t work with a shovel.

So this is silly. Sillyness is fine. It becomes a problem, however, when sillyness is supposed to be taken seriously and considered the basis for doing something. Over to Mr Joyce:

But, not to worry. In response to this meme, the Labour Party has decided to include social class in its parliamentary selection parameters all the same.  And here’s a piece from Professor Cowley’s department about how Ed Miliband is stressing the need for more ‘working class’ MPs. Here’s a good one, too. It’s Michael Meacher MP jumping on the bandwagon, literally making a whole load of things up and saying 60% of all potential parliamentary candidates should be working class. If you actually read what he’s committed to print, it’s amazing. He begins with reference to a study that never took place, refers to evidence that doesn’t exist then, hilariously, proposes a selection process that would require the Labour Party to categorise members as “proper working class” (a small minority if ‘unskilled manual worker’ is used as the test) or, “sorry, mate, you’re a toff”.

I think parliament could do with more Joyce and less Meacher. Falkirk’s representative continues:

The fetishisation of a notion of ‘working class’ rooted in a different era, and the idiotic conflation of ‘unskilled manual worker” and ‘working class’, reveals a number of things.  One is that the Labour party is nervous about being controlled by an aristocracy of former special advisers who come mainly from relatively privileged backgrounds and whose political trajectories have been heavily influenced by their closed social networks. Sounds a bit like, er…….  Awkward.  Another thing is that Unite the Union wants to use the ‘working class MPs’ riff as cover for putting more of its officials and friends into parliament. To be fair, in the context of the ‘aristocratic’ control, that doesn’t seem unreasonable.

The primary danger for Labour in encouraging this meme, though, is that it appears to be ascribing special worth, in 2013, to becoming an unqualified manual worker. Want to be an  MP? Then don’t do well at school. Ignore your parents’ aspirations for you. Don’t acquire qualifications. Don’t upskill. Don’t get promotion. Don’t become a union official. Then we’ll find a special place for you. We’ll categorise you as ‘working class’ and patronise you by making regular aspirational people select you because they can’t know what you, as an unqualified manual worker, know. Michael Meacher’s on to it already.

Such a message is the epitome of intellectual and moral bankruptcy. It stinks of patronisation. It’s literally ridiculous.

And who’s listening to that message?

Everyone is.

Quite. Eric Joyce will be missed.

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