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Corbyn’s Enemies Within: Working Class Heroes or Right Wing Populists?

Simon Danczuk has courted media attention in recent days by suggesting that the floods in the north of England would have been preventable if the government were not so generous with foreign aid, particularly to Bangladesh. Although in the grand scheme of things this assertion is hardly controversial – after all, it wasn’t so long ago that torrential rain was being blamed on gay marriage – there is one crucial difference about Simon Danczuk. Danczuk is not a member of UKIP, nor is he a member of the Conservative Party.

Simon Danczuk MP is an elected representative of the Labour Party.

Although extreme, Danczuk, unfortunately, is far from anomalous within the Labour Party at present, both in parliament and in local councils. Following the expulsion of socialists in the 1980s and 1990s and, later, the creation of Tony Blair’s nefarious “New Labour”, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) has been dominated by neoliberal apologists and class collaborationists. What differentiates Danczuk from this clique, however, is his constant and calculated appeals to a speciously defined working class culture in order to justify his divisive views.

A prominent theme of Danczuk’s political diatribes has been the alleged unrepresentativeness of the “metropolitan elite” Labour leadership. In a recent article he writes that:

“The ‘new politics’ [under Corbyn] was about rediscovering our roots and standing up for working-class concerns. But three months into Corbyn’s leadership, questions have to be asked as to whether there’s really been any change. Has one bunch of sniffy metropolitan elites running the party simply been replaced by another?”

Danczuk goes on to describe Corbyn’s privileged upbringing “in a seven-bedroom manor house on the Duke of Sutherland’s estate,” and the appointment of Seumas Milne as Labour’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, and James Schneider as one of the main spokespersons for Momentum. Both of these men, Danczuk notes with mock outrage, were privately educated and both either come from wealthy backgrounds or have since acquired vast amounts of wealth.

To be fair to Danczuk, his bile and invective has not just been reserved for Corbyn but has also been sprayed in the direction of Ed Miliband, who he famously described as “aloof”, a “toff”, and a “fucking knob” in the run up to the 2015 General Election. By contrast, we are supposed to believe that Danczuk, and his colourful language, is in-tune with the needs of the working classes.

Danczuk was born in Hapton, Lancashire, and took his first job at the age of sixteen making gas fires in a factory. A regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Danczuk has gathered a reputation as one of Labour’s firebrands – not surprising given his continued attacks on the Labour leadership in a newspaper owned by the tax avoiding Tory Lord Rothermere.

As well as being a vocal critic of the Labour leadership, Danczuk has courted infamy by comparing Labour’s Momentum movement as a left equivalent to the British National Party and, more recently, by using the floods in northern England to launch an attack on British foreign aid. Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester earlier this week, he said:

“Why do we spend money in Bangladesh when it needs spending in Great Britain? What we need to do is to sort out the problems which are occurring here and not focus so much on developing countries. That has to be our priority.”

Compare these words to UKIP’s Nigel Farage just two weeks earlier:

“The government should divert some of the ballooning foreign aid budget to help those affected by Storm Desmond.”

The fact that Danczuk sees fit to highlight the issue of foreign aid, instead of, say, the 14% cuts to flood defence funding this year, belies his agenda to deflect blame from central government – unsurprising really, given that he currently works within a Labour majority council that is providing uncritical support for Tory cuts. More than this, however, since being appointed to office in 2010, Danczuk has persistently voted against greater regulation of corporate tax avoidance, which, according to a 2013 study by PCS Union, amounts to £120 billion a year.

Danczuk was also one of the 66 Labour MPs who voted for the bombing of Syria, against the wishes of their leader and in violation of policy established at the Labour Party Conference earlier this year. If he was so interested in using money to sort out local problems, one has to wonder why he voted to drop bombs on a country over 3,000 miles from his constituency.

Not surprisingly, when Danczuk does choose to highlight problems with public services it is invariably in relation to the burden of immigration rather than insufficient government funding:

“Greater Manchester is handling one in six of the country’s asylum seekers and my constituency is among the ten towns and cities in the country with the most asylum seekers.

This is an unfair burden and is putting considerable pressure on communities and public services.”

Immigration in Rochdale, Danczuk’s constituency in the North West, has become quite a pressing issue in recent years and has frequently been connected with spiralling poverty and joblessness. According to a 2011 study, Rochdale is one of the most deprived regions in England, ranked 25th out of 354 Local Authorities, and as of 2012, child poverty in Rochdale was 28%  — 7% above the national average.

New Labour’s (and Danczuk’s) persistent failure to counter right wing populism with a program of social investment and job creation has provided fuel to anti-immigrant scapegoating. Indeed, charting the trajectory of Rochdale election results since the emergence of New Labour, the gains that have been made by the right (Tory) and the far right (BNP, National Front, and UKIP) are difficult to ignore. In the 1997 General Election, which elected Tony Blair to the premiership, the combined right wing vote in Rochdale amounted to little over 10%; in 2001 this was 13.4%; in 2005, 16%; but in 2010 this increased to 27.4%; and in 2015 exploded to 36.8% of the total vote.

That the right wing has seen such a surge in this period can be partially explained through a massive decline in Rochdale’s voter turnout, which saw 70% in 1997 fall to 56% in 2001 – the lowest turnout since before universal suffrage! The disillusionment that followed New Labour’s total capitulation to the capitalist class drove vast numbers of people away from polling booth. In lieu of a socialist alternative, these voters were eventually driven into the hands of hard right populist parties such as UKIP. This is true in Rochdale but also true across the country more generally, particularly in the North.

The fact that Danczuk, despite being a Labour Party MP, cites immigration as one of the key issues behind poverty and joblessness in Rochdale belies his commitment to the ruling class. It also indicates clearly the intimate relationship between New Labour and UKIP – i.e. that the failures of New Labour policy to provide a left alternative provides the preconditions for the ascendance of the latter, just as the failures of the French Socialist Party has led to the massive growth of the Front National.

Now that a socialist has been elected to the Labour leadership, the time has come to begin calling for the deselection of hateful and divisive figures as such as Simon Danczuk. His brand of politics belongs to the cynicism of New Labour, not the optimism of today.

More articles by:

Thomas Barker is an independent journalist and PhD student in Aesthetics and Politics. He can be reached at https://durham.academia.edu/ThomasBarker

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