Yes, Jeremy Corbyn does have a problem relating to the northern working class – and his new comms appointment proves it

Paul Mason is entitled to have a conversation without fear of being recorded, but the sentiments he privately expressed ring true – there is a disconnect between the top level of Labour and the experiences of the working class 

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The Independent Online

Paul Mason has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle, after he was recorded in a bar saying that “Corbyn doesn’t appeal to the mainstream working class vote” and that “he has no cultural references to the way they live”. He continued by saying that the movement surrounding Jeremy Corbyn is a “cultural thing about London”, which alienates the northern voters with whom he apparently has nothing in common.

Now, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Mason’s views (well, not actually a fan at all – but he is entitled to have private conversations without fear of being recorded), but I have to agree with him on this – there is a distinct rift between Corbyn’s movement and the views of the working class, particularly in the north. Corbyn has lived in the London borough of Islington for most of his life and those who occupy the top jobs in his shadow cabinet – the Shadow Foreign Secretary, the Shadow Chancellor and the Shadow Home Secretary – all now live in the surrounding north London boroughs. There may be 10 members of the shadow cabinet who represent northern constituencies, but none of them have been put into the most prominent positions. Corbyn has nothing in common with vast swathes of the country, and neither do his closest political allies.

James Schneider has joined Labour’s comms team from Momentum this week – a capable, friendly man, but he is exceedingly priviledged (having grown up in a £7m mansion), white, privately educated and attended Oxford (oh, and used to support the Liberal Democrats, lest we forget). Milne, still in the top comms position for the past year, is privately educated at Winchester College (having also attended a prep school in his infancy, meaning he has never set foot in a state school at any point during his life), and obscenely posh.

The prevalence of rich white men in the top communications positions is disconcerting – the point of their job is to engage with the electorate, but their appointment screams “rich white blokes tell you what’s best for you while they live in mansions and see your annual salary as spare cash”. I personally don’t need rich men telling me how to live my life – we’ve dealt with that for too many years under the Tories, and it isn’t really change to replace one elite administration with another. When a good chunk of Labour’s team had more selective and expensive educations than the Tory prime minister, you do start to wonder who they’re really representing.

Mason is correct – too much of what Corbyn represents is a “London culture thing”, a bunch of super-privileged people who feel bad about their opportunities but at the same time want to use them to climb the political ladder. Forgive me if I don’t believe people like that will “change the world”. I don’t doubt that their efforts come from a good place, but it’s difficult to remedy the problems of society when you’ve never experienced hardship yourself.

For too many people at the top of Labour, the problems of poverty-stricken people in the UK have never been more than interesting sociological studies to read about and shake their heads over. I feel much more comfortable listening to people like Angela Rayner kick off, because she has experienced a tough life and can bring that knowledge forward to suggest useful and relatable policy. Why aren’t there more people like her getting promotions?

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This is where the dangerous disconnect arises from, the one between the working classes and the Labour Party that Paul Mason diagnoses. The intentions may be pure, but the knowledge, experience and emotional connections are lacking – hence why Mason’s call for Clive Lewis to take over in the future is sound if the party wishes to engage with the wider electorate, and not just 300,000 members.

Lewis grew up on a council estate in Northampton, attended Bradford University (not Oxford or Cambridge, unlike a third of MPs, which is refreshing) and spent time in the TA, serving a term in Afghanistan. Mason is right: that is a man who can engage with the wider electorate. He is one of us, while Corbyn and his team sit on a pedestal above.