A response to— The New Working Class —How to Win Hearts, Minds and Votes by Claire Ainsley
By Favour Ezeifedi
Political strategists have long pointed out that there is a huge gap between what political parties think they are communicating and what people take on board. To address this, parties need to understand the changing nuances of the electorate’s demographics. And understanding the changing nature of social class in Britain is vital.
What most political debate misses is that what is talked about as working class does not really correlate with what it means to be working class today.
Picturing a ‘typical’ working-class person in Britain 30 or 40 years ago would have brought to mind a worker employed in a large workplace like a factory, doing partly-skilled manual work - most likely a man and most likely white. That is no longer accurate. Just about every aspect of the way we work has all changed.
The changes in the British economy over the past 40 years have created a new working class which is multi-ethnic and comprised of people living off low to middle incomes. They may have a formal full time contract, but are more likely than the middle class workers to work part time with inconsistent hours and shifts (sometimes by choice, sometimes not). Likely occupied in service sector jobs (catering, social care, retail, delivery) or self-employed, working somewhere different every day because they are contractors. They occupy multiple social identities.
A majority of us today identify as being working class which hasn’t changed over time. (People’s own social class identity may be different to the given chosen by statisticians.) This phenomenon, of being ‘working class of the mind’ has deep roots: some who self-identify as working class would be middle or even elite by today’s standards but may associate themselves with working class because of their family background or origins.
Humans have a strong tendency to align with those of shared characteristics. Successful political communication will identify and communicate signifiers that help connect with the new working class. A political party has to look, feel and sound like the voters it is trying to associate with.
Policies need to be understood in the context of the relationship between the voter and the party (or leader). Parties need to get to know voters, their friends and family, interests and taste, before they secure their trust. In this was, they can be forgiven for inevitably not getting everything right. This is how to win hearts, minds and votes.