Home > General Politics > Labour, UKIP and the crisis of male rage

Labour, UKIP and the crisis of male rage

A week on from the UKIP earthquake, there are three main views being expressed by Labour MPs, Labour grouplets and Labour-supporting commentators:

a) The UKIP surge provides further support for my/my grouplet’s view that we must not descend to UKIP’s level, but focus on outing UKIP as a racist party so that non-racist Labour to UKIP switchers switch back (e.g.);

b) The UKIP surge provides further support for my/my grouplet’s view that we must not call UKIP voters racist, but focus on outing UKIP as a Thatcherite party so that Labour to UKIP switchers switch back for fear of Thatcherism (e.g.);

c) The UKIP surge provides further support for my/my grouplet’s view that we must address the concerns of Labour to UKIP switchers, mostly notably about immigration and its perceived-or otherwise economic impacts (e.g.).

All of these miss the point, because they regard these vote switches as the result of expressed preferences for one polity over another*.

But having spent a lot of time on the doorstep asking people to vote Labour over the last month, it seems pretty clear to me that the UKIP surge has little to do with expressed preferences, and that the answer to Labour’s UKIP problem has little to do with Chris’s question of how far Labour responds to populist demand or stands its ground with the experts**.

UKIP’s surge feels and sounds to me  like an expression of male rage.

Of course not all Labour-UKIP swtichers are men, but that is where it’s core support comes from – older, white men from outside the big cities.   And for anyone who’s ever canvassed a house and heard “I’ll check with my husband but I think we’re Labour”, it’s easy enough to compute why female votes might follow in smaller but not insignificant numbers.

With this gender split so well recorded, it seems odd then that no-one seems to see it as the key to Labour’s or the left’s problem.  Even self-defining feminist writers like Laurie, who get that the rise of the populist right vote is rooted in “a feeling of humiliation and hopelessness” ignore the gender dimension.

Fortunately, there are other feminist writers at hand to explain what’s going on.

There’s Susan Faludi’s Stiffed: The Betrayal of Modern Man, a meticulous study of how deindustrialisation – a key feature of areas where UKIP has grown – has ripped away masculine security and created a whole generation of working class men who feel socially useless and inept, especially in comparison to their strong and silent fathers:

[An] important aspect of such a masculinity was the importance of commanding the inner skills to work with materials. Workmanship generated a pride founded in the certainty that what you did bespoke a know-how not acquired overnight. “I was good at it” was a frequent statement that the shipyard men made to me about their work, a remark offered withou  inflection or posturing, just as a matter of unassailable fact, a truth on which a man’ s life could be securely founded. Out of that security grew  authority-an authority based, as in the root meaning of the word, on having authored something productive. (p. 86, italics in the original).

That was written 15 years ago, and researched 5 years earlier.  Now these men,and many of their sons who grew up hoping against hope that they might still enjoy both the security and the usefulness of real work, are not just saddened. They are angry.

And, not entirely unlike the angry men in described in Bird Featherstone et al’s superb new book Re-imagining Child Protection, that anger is expressed through deliberately hostile acts:

Their status and definition of themselves as men is given meaning through protest, an acting out of being everything that is seen as socially valid (p.121, quoting Ferguson and Hogan 2004)

Of course most men don’t lash out in the way with which Bird is concerned, by inflicting torment on women and children  (though many more do than is acknowledged, – but what they can do , and did so last week, was lash out on the ballot paper.

So if Labour’s problem is a male problem, the solution need to be a male one too.  Labour, as I’ve suggested, is a little way from joining the dots on that. In one of the more thoughtful contributions on Labour’s response (written before the elections), Jon Cruddas makes some headway, though again it doesn’t really convey the sense of male rage:

We can see the consequences across the economy and society in the stagnation and fall in wages, in the rise of low skill, low paid work, in workplace stress, and in the growing levels of mental illness and loneliness.  The loss of this institutional expression of solidarity has resulted in two things. It has given greater prominence to expressions of national, regional and local cultural identities. And it has led to a politics  of victimhood and resentment.  UKIP grows where these two trends converge.

The solution is the standard stuff:  regional banks, pro-wealth creation measures, better political institutions, free childcare.  All good stuff in their own right, but still the stuff of preference politics, not the stuff to dampen the rage.

Jon is right, inadvertently, to aspire to

an inclusive society that builds our common life together, invests in preventing social problems.

What he’s probably getting at here is the tackling of “problem families” and the need for upfront investment.  Again all very well, but not enough.

Because the (loss of) masculinity is the social problem.  It’s already here, and if we don’t deal with it now through radical investment in male security and usefulness – and this is not a call for a return to the gender inequalities of last century- then the UKIP and post-UKIP age may be a very bad place for all of us.

How do we do this?

Well, good old state intervention – while perhaps not the best route to and contented society if we had more time – is probably our best best given the speed with which the age of rage has now come upon us.  Massive investment in genuinely useful jobs in housing, public transport and green technologies, for starters, with deficit spending as necessary, has become a social must in the past three years or so.

Of course that’s not in the In the Black Labour manual (at least the first version before it lost a lot of ground to political reality and clever Labour planners), but this, comrades, is a crisis.  And just as for Cameron when his core vote was flooded, money was no object, so too for Ed Miliband, investment in the working class man must now take precedence.

Jobs, good ones, social worth, solidarity, the revitalisation of trade union councils, the Tawney-inspired vision of  not so long ago, depend on the courage to recognise the deep shit we’re in.  On that I even agree with Richard.




*It may be that commentators are unwilling to go beyond how to respond to expressed preferences in their analysis for fear of been seen to patronise those who chose UKIP.  For myself, as an older white male who might, had it none been for a bit of good old conscientisation a few years ago, have fitted neatly into the Labour-UKIP switcher demographic, I have no big problem with talking about ideological control over the working class and UKIP’s success in that.

* *Here, Chris makes it clear that experts on immigration, for example, include those in cities that have experienced it, not just the pointy-headed metropolitan elite.



Categories: General Politics
  1. May 30, 2014 at 9:31 am

    I suspect you might be onto something here; there seems to be an aspect of white male resentment about UKIP. But I’ve 2 questions:
    1. The shock of deindustrialization – and loss of traditional masculine jobs – came 30-odd years ago. Why is it now that its victims are expressing their loss of role in rightist ways, rather than years ago?
    2. Are Ukip voters really the victims of deindustrialization, or just old Tories, as Evans & Mellon suggest?
    Eg there’s a lot of kippers here in Rutland, but whilst they might be “useless and inept”, but they’re not conventionally working class.

  2. paulinlancs
    May 30, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Chris, I don’t pretend to have all the answers but:

    1) UKIP have now provided a very effective conduit for that latent rage (which I’ve been hearing on the ‘doorstep’ for all the 15 years I’ve been a Labour acitivist) in the way that the BNP and others weren’t able to.

    But more importantly in terms of the social crisis, I think it’s becoming a cross-generational issue, all to do with fathers’ despair at their own kids’ prospects, and kids – many now moving into middle age – sharing and actively seeking to outdo their fathers on the rage scale (as in the aggressive ‘hypermasculinity’ as coping mechanism I refer to in the quote).

    2) Yes, there are lots of Ukippers who are old Tories, some from solid middle class backgrounds but who now find themselves more insecure than their fathers, but some just rank old Tories who think Cameron’s too wishy-washy. But these are not my principal concern as they’re not a fundamental bit of the social crisis – they’ve not changed much and a few cranky guys at golf clubs are not a major threat to our democratic fabric in the way that an increasingly uncontrollable UKIP-and-then-after surge will be (though they may become useful in the legitimization of that surge.

  3. BruceK
    May 31, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    This makes a lot more sense than almost anything I have read about Ukip, although how you would draw out the implications and test them I have no idea.

    In any case, at one time I think Ukip were simply the Old Fartonians, but they have obviously expanded beyond this.

  4. June 23, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Hi Paul,

    Haven’t managed to catch up with this before now. I’m reading this having just come across an article from The Times of May 8th. David Aaranovitch mentions a book called Revolt on the Right by Robert Ford & Matthew Goodwin which seems to back up your thesis.

    The relevant quotes that he mentions from the book seems to be that “it [UKIP support] is ‘anchored in a clear social base: older, blue-collar voters, citizens with few qualifications, whites and men.’ These are people, they write, ‘with obsolete skills and few formal qualifications (who) have struggled in a post-industrial economy.'”

    Since the elections I’ve been thinking about the need for politics (and therefore also government, although they are not necessarily the same thing) to focus on “capacity building”. It strikes me that one of the reasons that it doesn’t (aside from political ideology, whether or not it is disguised as economic or other forms of pragmatism) is that this needs to happen at so many different levels. Most of these are very difficult for government to access without partnerships which give them this access. Local government offers much more hope in this respect but it’s by no means easy… My biggest problem with this personally is not actually how difficult it is, but how it can be integrated within the current party-political system. The coalition experience of the last few years has offered some hope of “partnership working” but the combination of the Conservatives’ frustration at not having things their own way and the LibDems dismay at being “tarred with the Tory brush” has made it even more difficult to see positives in this than it would have been anyway.

    I’m interested in your closing reference to green technologies as one possible job area. Bringing this together with community-level politics is an idea for an unstarted novel, not least because it’s a great metaphor for capacity building….

    Not sure how much of interest any of this is – I’ve even delayed putting on the cricket until finishing it…

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