Keir Starmer has once again written an article for the right-wing Telegraph. And once again, it’s behind a paywall. But this time, he and the Labour Party have a new catchphrase. And already a sociologist has pulled apart this new, decidedly worrying, slogan.
Starmer in the Telegraph. Again.
Starmer has a habit of writing for the Telegraph. He has, to date, not seemed bothered by the fact people have to pay to read his five articles. In his latest piece, the Labour leader has taken aim at Boris Johnson. BBC News reported that the Tory government is changing the council tax rules. It will allow local councils to increase bills by up to 5%. The government has changed this figure in the past. For example, in 2020/21 it reduced it to 4% from 5% in 2019/2020.
The Labour leader isn’t happy about this. He wrote in the Telegraph that:
It is absurd that during the deepest recession in 300 years, at the very time millions are worried about the future of their jobs and how they will make ends meet, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are forcing local government to hike up council tax.
Fair enough. But it was something else Starmer said that caught the eye of a sociologist.
Gayle Letherby noted a new catchphrase from Starmer, who said in the article:
Under my leadership, Labour will be the party of the family. That starts with helping families through the current lockdown and protecting family budgets.
Letherby took issue with the phrase “the party of the family”. She tweeted that:
Starmer has declared that Labour will become 'the party of the family' (in an article for the Telegraph behind a paywall). Some concerns:
Just what does he mean by family and who does this include/exclude?
Historically, and to date, there has been a hierarchy of 'family'…1/6
— Gayle Letherby🌹💙 🎓#WeAreCorbyn #PeaceAndJustice (@gletherby) January 10, 2021
She continued, saying that the “hierarchy of family” translated to:
the most valued being heterosexual, white, able-bodied, married, financially secure, not too many children, not too few children, father as breadwinner… against which other family forms have been found wanting, even defined by some as ‘unnatural’, ‘abnormal’.
And she noted that:
This focus also excludes MANY people who do not live – either by choice or circumstance – within a family.
Indeed. Because the idea of a “family” in 21st century UK is completely diverse.
What is a family?
Figures for 2019 show that in the UK there were:
- 2.9 million lone parent families; of these, 14% were lone parent fathers.
- 8.2 million people who lived alone; a rise of a fifth in 20 years.
- 212,000 same sex couples living together, up 40% since 2015.
- 297,000 “multi-family households” that consist of two or more families.
Moreover, 16.3% of families with children were cohabiting (not married). Also, in 2018/19, one in seven adoptions were to LGBTQI+ couples. So, Starmer calling Labour the “party of the family” seems a bit odd. Because aside from excluding millions of people living on their own, “family” is a word with a now-sweeping meaning. But why did he say this?
Blue Labour rearing its ugly head?
Letherby noted that:
I’m old enough… to remember [Margaret] Thatcher’s focus on ‘family values’ which translated as traditional (Victorian) patriarchal, middle and upper class (so called) morality. Yes Victorian values; when poverty, exploitation of children and abuse within households was rife.
Starmer’s use of the phrase may well be playing into this “traditional” right-wing idea. The Canary has repeatedly written about his seeming affinity with the Blue Labour movement. It noted that the ideology is:
a concept founded by Maurice Glasman based on socially conservative values of ‘family, faith and flag’ but more socialist economic policies. It is rooted in the values that Glasman perceived existed in the party pre-WWII.
The Canary wrote in May 2020 that:
Starmer is not the biggest socially left-wing liberal going: his muted support for trans rights has been criticised, and during the leadership election he didn’t sign a pledge card committing to expel “transphobic” members. Moreover, he’s come out recently and said Labour should be “proudly patriotic”. And he even got a front page in the Telegraph.
So is this more of the same from the Labour leader?
Misunderstanding working class people
Possibly. The idea of Labour being “the party of the family” seems to build on this narrative. It’s one that may well be trying to win back so-called Red Wall, working class voters. But in doing so he’s excluding millions of people. Moreover, by doing it in the pay-to-read Telegraph, he’s intentionally speaking to middle class, right-wing Tory voters. So, Starmer is just playing into socially conservative narratives, as opposed to challenging them. As Letherby said:
just who is doing the research for Labour now? Whoever it is I’d advice a quick chat with any sociologist before proceeding further with an agenda likely to be limited, limiting, judgemental and open to easy critique before it begins.
Happy #SocialistSunday everyone.
Indeed, happy socialist Sunday; a sentiment unlikely to appear on Starmer’s Twitter timeline any time soon.
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