Without understanding the appeal of non-league football, Labour are stuffed.
Laura Pidcock is insufferable. The moral indignation, the rage behind her beady eyes, the calls to ‘never befriend a Tory’ and the apologism for antisemitism created a MP that is well and truly a character out of a fantasy socialist novel. Thankfully, for the people of NW Durham, and for our politics in general, she lost her seat on Thursday. The greatest irony here is that she loudly and proudly proclaimed that if you’re even ever so slightly to the right of Jeremy Corbyn, ‘you should go join the Tories’; well Laura, working-class people up and down the country went and did exactly that. These voters are voters that Labour will, at-least for the foreseeable future, never gain back because quite simply, they just don’t understand the things that form the appeal of non-league football for the vast majority of this country: community and identity.
The biggest mistake the Labour leadership made in this election is not recognising that communitarian politics exists outside of the state. Non-league football is the greatest personification of this.
The autumnal mixture of rain, wind and the pungent smell of Carling wafted around the Leamington Town FC FA Cup 3rd Round qualifying match against Darlington. The game was well-attended by people of all ages; unsurprisingly I was one of the only ethnic minorities, but not at any point did I feel out of place. I think, what really stood out to me highlighting the communitarian nature of non-league football was something quite subtle. At half-time, a rather old man walked around the stadium with a charity bucket collecting for the upkeep of the club. Here is someone way beyond the age of 70 who felt compelled enough with the love of this institution, this football club, to walk around and help his club. What is it about the club that he loves? It’s certainly not the quality of football which, with all due respect, was pretty abysmal. I am obviously projecting here, but, what I believe this gentleman loves about the club is the sense of community that it creates; a sense of belonging that pervades across the stadium.
Leamington FC, 2019
Men, women and children all united in supporting their local team. Chatting to each other, singing, laughing, smiling, eating, drinking all united with their love and determination to support their local club. These people form bonds, they form relationships that stretch across social class and that break down barriers. In-fact, the Darlington contingent also joined in the procession of communitarian spirit. For the Labour leadership, communitarianism exists only through the state and through state institutions like the NHS. To love ones community external to this is nothing but a form of false-consciousness to the most academic of Marxists at the top of the Labour Party. But, what I witnessed was certainly not a ‘false consciousness’. The emotions were real: the despair when Darlington scored, the humour when we chanted at the away goal keeper, the anguish when Leamy FC came so bitterly close to scoring. These emotions were shared together and in a spontaneous melee of community spirit. Until the Labour Party recognises that people attach a great deal of value that emotions are formed through their attachment to spontaneous institutions of community. To dismiss these institutions and look down upon them as ‘working-class’ or irrelevant is to fail to recognise the value people, including myself attach to them. We don’t need the state to tell the people to come together because we do it ourselves.
In the election campaign, the Labour Party focused a lot on austerity and the NHS. They were under attack from the evil Tories was a cry that pretty much anyone on the Corbynista left. Aside from the fact that the attacks were of questionable legitimacy, for a lot of people in northern seats what was increasingly on the attack from a metropolitan political class was their cultural identity. At the risk of sounding overly general, these people have their cultural identity rooted in their community. The local rugby league team, the football club, the pub, the small businesses on the high-street, these are all community institutions that form their cultural identity and they are proud of their cultural identity. I think the pride is critical to understanding why they abandoned the Labour Party.
For many on the metropolitan Labour Left to have pride in one’s nation, a nation that is effectively made up of a large number of disparate but related communities that is formed of local sports teams, local pubs, local chip shops and the like, is to be shameful. One cannot have pride in one's community because it is the site of numerous oppressions bellow people like Emily Thornbury. These communities internalise racism, sexism and homophobia shout people like Ash Sarkar from Novara Media. Instead of caring about the cultural pride and capital generated by these community institutions, unified in the nation, we ought to care about global issues. Indeed, what is perhaps most perverse and shockingly short-sighted for the Labour leadership is that their identity is formed more with global issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, Kashmir or whatever trendy Islington protest is on rather than the real things we ought to celebrate in our communities up and down this nation. We ought to celebrate our Leamington Town FCs and care about them in the same vein as metropolitan liberals care about their pet issues. But, alas, at-least under Corbyn and Co, these issues of local communities were abandoned because they just don’t fit in with the Islington world-view. People in places like the Blyth Valley or Blackpool South see these dichotomous values and the identities that they have spawned and shudder: they just cannot relate to the traditional party of Labour anymore. Instead of Disraeli’s one nation, these people sense that we are now two nations. A nation that cares about their local communities and their communitarian institutions and another nation, the one that rules, that cares about global issues that just don’t chime with these traditional Labour voters anymore.
Of-course, the question then is why Boris? Johnson is a Eton-educated Oxford classicist who was parachuted into a cushy journalism job and then thrown into politics. He sounds, looks and speaks totally different to the voters that he now represents. The great beauty of this election is however, that class war turned into class collaboration. The accent no longer matters, nor your education and nor where you live. In Boris Johnson is someone who believes in, or at-least seems to believe in local institutions. He believes there is value in the sense of community and that our nation is one not be ashamed of but rather one to have pride in. This nationalism is not insular either; it is one that is global at its core. The idea of a global Britain is one of a Britain that takes pride in it’s communitarian institutions while simultaneously looks abroad to be more international whether this be through FTAs across the world or with increasing intervention to look after our own and our allies interests. Boris personifies this value and yes, he is a toff, but he’s a toff that unlike the Labour leadership at least seems to care about the identity of voters rather than treating them as a purely economic tool to gain revolution.
Without gaining the Leamington Town FC man and grounding themselves in the politics of belonging to somewhere, the Labour Party are well and truly finished.