Years ago I used to spend one evening a month in some dank and frowzy local authority hall attempting to prevent crazed and scary lesbians from becoming my local MP or councillor. This was during my time as a Labour party activist in south London — and attendance at the staggeringly dull ward meetings was compulsory for a small group of us who hoped that one day the party might select candidates who had not whizzed in from the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Zone, that strange, dark and cold place on the edge of our solar system from which all manner of trouble emanates. But we were in a minority and the local party always selected crazed and scary lesbians, Roz Termagant from the important steering group, Streatham Wimmen Against Everything, Fran Harridan from the Brixton Radical Lesbian Workshop and so on. Their lesbianism wasn’t a problem, although it was worn as a badge of honour. It was everything else.
Now, I was on the Tribunite left of the party — nationalise the top 200 companies, tax the rich, give up the nukes etc — but this lot were in a very different place indeed. They were very radical on issues like, uh, lesbianism and the patriarchal society, disability, race awareness and the loathsome white hegemony. But they were also implacably middle-class, however much they might wish to deny it, and they clearly hated and despised the working class for what they perceived as its reactionary impulses, lumpenness and stupidity.
This was my introduction to what we might describe as the metropolitan faux-left, a grouping which within the Labour party was far more estranged from the roots of Labour than even those loons in Coventry and Liverpool who signed up to the Trot entryist cabal, Militant Tendency. Nobody outside London would have even understood the metro faux-left, let alone supported it. This was a movement swathed in hypocrisy; it should never have been in the Labour party at all. And yet within London its manifesto quickly became the dominant paradigm, from County Hall SE1 to the BBC at White City. It’s still there, pretty much, and has even infected the Conservative party. Beyond London, its aims and aspirations are seen as absurd.
All of which brings us very neatly to Diane Abbott, the Labour MP who is standing to become leader of her — and my — party. A clever and capable woman, she is nonetheless the metro faux-left incarnate — a hypocrite who cannot abide the working class and who, by her own admission, is ‘indefensible’ and ‘intellectually incoherent’. Yep, Diane, that’s about right.
Abbott is one of several Labour MPs — all of them London-based, most of them middle-class — who decided to send their offspring to a private school. She has been defending this decision recently, despite having admitted at the time that it was ‘indefensible’. Obviously, a left-wing Labour MP who disagrees with private education and then sends her kid to a private school is a hypocrite whose public pronouncements about education are at odds with what she really believes.
But there’s another slice of hypocrisy which the press has not picked up on just yet — and it is absolutely typical of the metro faux-left. Diane is a doughty campaigner against raaaaacism; she can see racism in a handful of dust. She has, like plenty of others from her political neck of the woods, called me a racist before for having alleged that certain crimes can be largely laid at the door of a certain sector of the population characterised by its race, gender and age. And yet what were the reasons Diane gave for sending her son to a private school? Simple: she didn’t want him mixing with other young black kids. ‘Once a black boy is lost to the world of gangs it’s very hard for a mother to save her son,’ she said. Hang on a minute, what ‘world of gangs’? Is she saying that Afro-Caribbean boys are more likely to slip into criminality than other young boys? It seems that she is.
She has also talked about the ‘catastrophic failure of black boys in British schools’. Now, from where does this catastrophic failure emanate? Is it a consequence of discrimination by teachers, as those on the metro faux-left continually aver? Doesn’t look like it, otherwise Diane would not have sent her son to a posh private school, unless she believes that teachers in the private sector are less discriminatory than those in the state sector. What she means is this: ‘There is a culture of low educational achievement which eventually leads to criminality among boys from an Afro-Caribbean background. It is a problem which we can put down to race or culture. But my kids will be all right, because I can afford to send them to an elitist white institution where their peer group will consist of nicely brought up middle-class boys.’ And yet if you were to say this to her, she would call you a bigot.
I’m not sure she’s right, either. My two boys go to a state comprehensive on the borders of her godforsaken constituency and there are, in their school, plenty of thick-as-mince badass black kids talking patois and causing trouble, whom everyone else finds obnoxious and avoids like the plague. But there are also black kids who reject this stereotypical behaviour, work hard, talk normally and get along with everyone else. One assumes that they come from black parents who have inculcated a different sort of culture into their kids. The middle-class approach, Diane, is to take your kids away from the local school because you don’t wish them to mix with the hoi polloi, and blame it all on schools for the sake of political expediency. The working-class approach is to send them to the state school and bring them up properly.
Ms Abbott has been castigating her opponents in the race for the leadership because they are white and middle-class. This seems to me a bit hard on Andy Burnham, for one. But politically, Diane is also white and middle-class, if you judge her how she might wish to be judged, by her behaviour rather than by the colour of her skin.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated June 26, 2010