Champagne Socialism is not the problem, but hyper-individual progressive liberalism

Yesterday, I posted on the real problem with champagne socialism. Specifically, I wanted to argue that it misses the point of what socialism actually argues for and the jibe really missed its target by, in the specific case in question, sneering at working class people for having or doing anything nice. It smacked very much of classist elitism, suggesting working class people ought not to rise above their station. When even Boris Johnson is distancing himself from your comments as a bit much, given his history of saying similarly sneering things, you surely have to hold your hands up and say you have dropped a massive clanger.

But, as long term readers will know, I am nothing if not all about equal opportunities. So, step forward Stella Creasy. Creasy, in my opinion, is Labour’s version of Evan Harris. In fact, why she is not a member of the Liberal Democrats I cannot say. She stands for the very hyper-individualism that characterises liberalism and that has been, at least in part, a significant problem for the modern Labour Party. As I commented here:

Many of Labour’s travails among the working-classes – who they were historically setup to represent and whom they insist they still support – owe much to their push towards progressive liberalism; a stance that almost always tends to focus on and favour bourgeoise middle-class concerns. The obsession with identitarian politics and conflicts in the Middle East – matters that have little to no interest for most working-class people – did not endear them to the ordinary folk of Oldham and Rochdale. As Lisa Nandy rightly noted – before taking her own deep-dive down the ID politics rabbit hole during her run for the Labour leadership – ‘most people in Wigan just want a working bus service’. Instead, as Kathleen Stock entirely rightly notes here, Labour instead offer bourgeois feminism, solutions to problems that almost exclusively impact middle-class people and/or those living in London and focus on matters that may be of concern in Hampstead but have little traction in Harpurhey.

It is no coincidence that Kathleen Stock’s article that I referenced focuses on Stella Creasy, for she epitomises these very things. On almost any live political issue of the moment, she continually stands on the side you wish she wouldn’t.

The reason this has come up as an issue again is because the House of Commons have just recommended that MPs should be banned from bringing their babies and children into the chamber and committee meetings. Stella Creasy – using her baby as her own personal political prop – has repeatedly done exactly this as part of a concerted campaign to provide childcare for MPs to allow more women to go into politics. And whilst I am quite sympathetic to her desire to see it made easier for women to enter politics, just as I would be pleased to make it easier for women to work in general should they want to, as well as given the ability to stay home and care for their children if they want to as well (more on which shortly) – most people manage it by putting their children in already existing child care. Indeed, Creasy’s campaign – if you can bear the use of ‘champagne socialism’ – would be a prime example of what most critics mean. She wants rules to make it easier in parliament – and brought her children into the chamber consistently and inappropriate to make a point – that most ordinary people simply have to work around other ways. And those options are freely available to her.

Of course, one of the ironies of Creasy’s position is that she would bring her child into parliament to suit that campaign whilst also debating in that same chamber for the right to terminate its life in utero if she had fancied it. Indeed, her latest argument is that abortion ought to be enshrined in a Bill of Rights being brought in by the Tories. Never mind that this is an overwhelmingly middle class concern. You are more likely to keep your children if you are working class.

Leaving aside the whole issue of why we should not want a bill of rights in the form being proposed at any rate (another discussion for another day), it is not a human right to be able to abort children. Indeed, such a right would necessarily undermine the rights of a whole other groups of humans, namely unborn children! And, as Christopher Hitchens right argues here, and Peter Hitchens argues below (and how rare to see the Hitchen’s brothers agree on anything at all!), the insistence that a child in utero is not human is hard to maintain philosophically, scientifically and morally. Even conceding that it is merely a potential human life, as Christopher Hitchens notes, ‘cuts athwart any glib invocation of “the woman’s right to choose.” If the unborn is a candidate member of the next generation, it means that it is society’s responsibility.’

It is notable that she – along with many other middle class liberals – got deeply upset at an MP suggesting there is no right to absolute bodily autonomy. Not only is this a basic fact, they argue themselves into a position which even they do not believe, as outlined here:

Then, of course, there is Creasy’s ongoing insistence that the Labour Party should be blaming all our current travails on our decision to leave the EU. Apparently worldwide inflation affecting non-EU countries (and the EU itself) is not relevant. It seems the economic issues, again affecting everyone globally, as a result of covid lockdowns hasn’t registered. The war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, driving up gas prices and causing serious problems on food supply chains from the region to Western Europe are all moot. It is leaving the EU wot is doing it all.

Of course, she is entitled to that opinion. She is entitled to voice it freely if she wishes. But she fails to accept or recognise that the majority of working class Brits voted for it. The majority of Northern, post-industrial towns voted for it. It was the metropolitan middle classes – the sorts of people who are bothered by the issues her bourgeoise feminism is designed to help – who voted to remain and who were the biggest beneficiaries of EU membership. Her contempt for working class people is seen in the double-whammy of refusing to support the RMT in their industrial action and – when Mick Lynch continues to insist that the RMT were right to encourage their members to leave the EU – tells them they were wrong and that we should seek to re-join! It doesn’t seem to enter her head that this might not lead the working classes to come flocking back into the Labour fold.

And this is Labour’s problem. They are overrun with people like Stella Creasy making cases on matters that are either not of concern to working class people or actively stand against their interests. Paul Embery hit the nail on the head when he said:

Indeed, their priorities are their own interests. What concerns middle class, bourgeoise liberals. If there is such a thing as champagne socialism – if by that, what is meant is an elitism that allows some to enjoy certain conditions while having little concern for that of the lower paid – it is hard to see how it is not encapsulated by Stella Creasy.

Rather than arguing for the right to terminate children in utero at will, and enshrining that right in an American-style Bill of Rights that we do not need and does not fit easily within our constitution, we would be better to help address the reasons why people seek terminations in the first place. A common comment when it came to the US removal of Roe v Wade was this:

Of course, in the UK, we have some of these things already. I happen to support all of them. I would further support better adoption agencies, processes and the making it easier to adopt. I would support better childcare facilities. I think all of those things would be good for families and would give women more choices rather than simply killing off their unwanted children.

Indeed, I would go further. I believe having children and raising them within stable family units is an actively good thing. Frank Field, many years ago, suggested targeting at least £25,000 on early years intervention to be given to families to support their children. This is money that is currently going to other things that he said ought to be given directly to families. They can use that money to free themselves from the need to work so they can care for their own children in their early years if they wish. Or, they could use that money to help cover childcare costs so that they are freed to work. If we really care about giving ordinary people choices, we must provide the infrastructure and the money for them to do meaningfully have them. I think this sort of move says we value children and families as a societal good (which they are) and we recognise the needs of ordinary people, freeing them up to make choices that are available to others.

Instead of campaigning on issues that are of no interest to working people, when they are seeking settlements on pay and conditions, Labour ought to support those very things. If we really care about improving the lot of working people, a Universal Basic Income (another Creasy policy) will not help. Working people do not need handouts and pocket money, they need the dignity of proper jobs with credible pay and conditions. To bang on about trans rights or the Middle East and yet not bother to so much as lift a finger in support of working class people seeking a settlement in the face of rising costs, decent profits in the company they work for and yet years of pay freezes and real-terms cuts – all whilst going wild at the thought that your already high-salary and excellent benefits for your MPs job, which you vote on to increase yourself routinely – are not quite good enough and strain every sinew to campaign to make them better. If that doesn’t smack of the very elitism that Labour often want to hang on the Tories, I don’t know what does.

As Jon Cruddas has entirely rightly said:

A long period of political turbulence lies ahead. We need to reframe the argument into an ethical one of taxing wealth and growing profit margins rather than working people… This will be tough, but there is no safe ground. It requires real leadership from Labour. There is no way of hiding from this, no tactical dodge. Actually, it is why the party was created in the first place.

If it wants to avoid accusations of champagne socialism, Labour would do well to learn this lesson. It needs to avoid the hyper-individualistic progressive liberalism of Stella Creasy and instead resolve to do what it was first created to do: represent the interests of working class people in parliament, seeking to raise their living standards, pay and conditions and bring what may belong to the elites within their grasp.