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Cider and socialism

Everything is looking very rosy for British socialism, it would seem.  ‘Red Ed’ leads our party towards a glorious value-laden future, and the New Labour aberration has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

And strangely, I find myself only half-joking as cynically as usual, because like others on the Left, I am quite optimistic at the moment.  As Laurie Penny says:

The overwhelming impression is that anything could happen, and the room bubbles with breezy expectation and just a suggestion of naughtiness……It’s been a long hangover, but this morning, the British left is finally knocking back the alka-seltzer of humility and stumbling to its feet. After all, there’s work to be done.

Laurie Penny is not, I suspect, an ally of John McDonnell, but at a Labour Representation Committee fringe meeting last night, John was in positive mood too. 

Whichever of the usual ex-New Labour suspects now leads the party is largely irrelevant, he noted, expect that the one who did win the contest is the one who did most to be seen to bend to the views of real members of the labour movement and, as Don Paskini points out at LibCon, to the views of a significant section of the wider public. 

As it happens, the one who did win is the one I described as ‘a charlatan‘ the other week (in retrospect, ‘chameleon’ may have been a better word, and I do think calling him a ‘triangulating turd’ is completely over the top and regrettable).  In any event, I couldn’t vote for Ed M, but I do agree with John that, now that Ed M is leader, the Left has a somewhat greater opportunity to build a momentum within and beyond the party.  

If we can do this, come the general election, the party’s leadership may see the strategic electoral sense in providing a clearly articulated socialist alternative to the Tories, just as Ed M saw the strategic sense in reaching out to the wider labour movement vote through the use of a socialist-lite rhetoric.  

So, yes, I’m hopeful about the chances for socialism over the next two to three years, but I’m hopeful not so much because I listened to what John McDonnell had to say, or because I read Laurie Penny’s latest. 

Rather, I’m hopeful because I saw an advert for cider.

Making my tortuous way home to the Socialist Republic of Bickerstaffe last night, I got off a slightly delayed train at St Helens Junction to find I had missed the last bus, so I went into the appositely named Junction Inn, ordered a pint, and asked for a taxi number.

While waiting for the taxi, an advert for Strongbow cider came up on the giant screen.  In it, three  identifiably working class men – one who makes pork pies, one gas fitter and one who did something else – enter a giant cathedral-cum-masonic-hall, and walk slowly up the central aisle as hundreds of fellow workers look on in admiration, one with a tear coming to his manly eye.   At the front, they are given a pint of Strongbow cider and turn to their work comrades, raise their glasses, and drink their just rewards.

Now I’m no sociologist, but even I could see what was going on here, so when I got home I put ‘Strongbow advert’ into the search engine, and discovered that this is not the first advert of this type approved by the sellers of Strongbow cider.

The first such advert appeared in March 2009, and is both shown and commented upon in this interesting Guardian article.  It is a pastiche of the Braveheart film, with working class men brandishing satellite dishes instead of spears.   All very clever, and you’ve probably seen it (I don’t really watch television).  As interesting as the advert itself is the comment from the Strongbow brand manager:

While talking to consumers when researching the campaign we found that working-class men, while not vocal about it, feel undervalued….

In the 1980s there were considered to be a lot of working class heroics, such as during the miners’ strike – the working class was the backbone of Britain. Today there is a feeling that has been lost and it is about things like celebrities and how much you earn on the football pitch….

There is a middle-class distrust of manual labour, a suspicion of being ripped off but 99 out 100 times that is not the case. The core idea is workers as heroes.

Here, encapsulated in an advert for cider, it seems to me, is precisely the kind of solidarity building that the Left should be engaging in – building amongst the working class a new confidence that our labour does have value, that for too long that value has been ignored, and that only through solidarity can we ensure that we regain our rightful place in society.

I was struck by this as I moved on with my blog catch-up reading, only to find that Dave Osler was saying much the same thing about a new film ‘Made in Dagenham’ (which John McDonnell had also referenced in his speech at the LRC meeting):

It’s a long time since socialists have had many opportunities of that type. But just maybe ‘Made in Dagenham’ is a pointer to the coming zeitgeist.

Blimey, thought I, perhaps if even cynical old Dave O is talking of a socialist zeitgeist, and John McDonnell went to see the same film and said the same, and now even Ed Miliband is having to nod to the left….perhaps, then, there really is something good afoot, if only we get it right.

And to complete an evening of good omens, I shut down my computer, and read my book for a few minutes, which is a short tale in itself 

Earlier in the day, I had seen Jon Cruddas in the conference area. 

He was talking to people, so I didn’t go over, but I was sorely tempted to tap him on the shoulder and say ‘John, I know you supported David Miliband in the leadership contest, but at least a lecture of yours that I read pointed me in the direction of this book, which I happen to be carrying in my pocket and which is very good.’

The book is RH Tawney’s The Acquisitive Society, written in 1921, and this is the bit I read:

[W]hen the criterion of function is forgotten, the only criterion which remains is that of wealth, and an Aquisitive Society reverences the possession of wealth, as a Functional Society would honour, even in the person of the humblest and most laborious craftsman, the arts of creation.

So wealth becomes the foundation of public esteem, and the mass of men who labour, but who do not acquire wealth, are thought to be vulgar and meaningless and insignificant compared with the few who acquire wealth by good fortune, or by the skilful use of economic opportunities.

When the makers of piss-like cider agree with RH Tawney, thought I, as I closed my book and headed for bed, then there really is hope for the Left.

Categories: General Politics
  1. Conrad Barwa
    September 27, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Its also slightly northern in its imagery as well. The great thing about the Strongbow ad from the point of view of the advertisers is the way it can be recycled at low-cost and repeated – there are several versions of the ad being constantly updated. During the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, for example, they kept the same ad but at the crucial moment just had ‘groundsmen of South Africa’ with what was meant to be a Black South African in his working gear looking wonderingly up at the sight while sipping his strongbow.

    I think the later ads, particularly with the final section where a barmaid in a somewhat kitsch costume presents the pints; is meant to clearly mirror the end scene in Star Wars where the medals are handed out to the Rebel heroes who destroyed the Death Star.

  2. Bob
    September 27, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    That, comrade, (apart from the bits which describe our glorious new leader as a ‘charlatan’ or a ‘triangulating turd’) is a truly excellent piece.

  3. paulinlancs
    September 28, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Conrad @1: Thanks for that. There’s clearly a whole cider ad research area I’ve been totally unaware of. Nor have I ever seen Star Wars. I am so uncultured.

    Bob @2: Well I did say I was wrong to call him what I called him.

  4. David Bouvier
    September 29, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Dream on – of course it was Thatcher who tapped into the C2 vote. A hard days work under Labour would involve Gordon Brown drinking a good chunk of the pint, pissing on the floor around you, and spitting some tax credits back into it.

    If you think that pride in hard work, making a living for your family, honest enjoyment of the money you earnt, is identical to socialism you aren’t thinking hard enough.

    I missed the bit where they agreed to pool their earnings and buy everyone drinks regardless of contribution, not least because they are smart enough to know that tomorrow the laizer workers would work less hard, relying on everyone else earn “hard earn” the cider, until we end with no work and no cider.

    Again, altruism and support amongst mates is not socialism, it is doing stuff for your mates. It is the delusion of socialism that you can create a society where everyone is everyone elses mate. (lord knows Tony tried)

  1. September 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm
  2. March 3, 2011 at 12:44 am
  3. March 6, 2011 at 8:42 pm
  4. April 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm
  5. April 8, 2011 at 2:30 am

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