Tim Nailsea reviews Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class by Paul Embery, Wiley, 2020, 216pp, £15.99
Despised by Paul Embery is a new book which attempts to explain the results of the 2016 Referendum and 2019 General Election, and the seeming disconnect between the left and “traditional” working class voters. Embery was an official of the Fire Brigades Union, serving on its National Executive, and the national organiser of Trade Unionists Against the EU. He was sacked from his job in the FBU, according to Embery, for his pro-Brexit views. This experience conferred upon him (in his own mind at least), the status of martyr on the alter of cancel culture.
The book is for the most part a repetition of the “Blue Labour” argument, which has become quite common in print in recent years, which we have dealt with here. The idea is that the left generally, and the Labour Party specifically, have in large part become dominated by middle-class liberalism, at the expense of support from its “traditional” working-class base. Economic and social liberalism are both, so goes the argument, counter to the values of the working-class majority, where social democratic economics and conservative social values remain popular. The left, therefore, should not just advocate economic reforms, but also embrace traditionalist values such as nationalism, opposition to liberal multiculturalism, the importance of family, and so forth.
There is, however, something much more insidious than the standard Blue Labourism to be found in this book. Not stopping at rhetoric about ordinary working-class people’s “concerns” about immigration, Embery makes the case that multiculturalism is a direct threat to the social cohesion of “traditional” working-class communities, and thus crosses the line into outright racism. He depicts changes in his hometown of Barking and Dagenham as a breakdown in cultural homogeneity brought about by mass immigration. Despite his repeated assurances that these are most definitely not racist views, he argues that the transition of communities from white, settled communities to multi-cultural areas is an “upheaval” that threatens “social bonds”. He bemoans, Farage-style, the increase in foreign languages spoken on the streets of Barking and Dagenham, and the fact that now under fifty percent of residents identify as White British, before hurriedly adding that this is just to illustrate the dramatic “demographic changes”, insisting that he regards race as “unimportant”.
This last is an example of one of the more contemptible aspects of the book. Embery takes pains throughout to counter any possible charges of “racism” being levelled against him. He complains that there are fewer white people in his hometown, then claims that race isn’t the issue. He complains about migrants, then adds that migrants themselves aren’t to blame, but the politicians that let them live where they wish. He fills an entire book with grievances regarding immigration and racial diversity, and then expresses bemusement as to why anyone would think he might be racist. This is the argument style of a coward. Someone who knows full well that they are making racist arguments but hides behind inuendo and disclaimers to avoid accountability for them, reacting with knee-jerk sensitivity and faux confusion when met with criticism.
This informs the big chunk on the book which deals with “liberal wokedom”. While, of course, many complaints about some of the whackier aspects of liberal “woke” culture can be made, Embery appears to deploy such arguments to invalidate any criticism of his bigoted views upon arrival. Any argument in favour of immigration and multiculturalism can simply be dismissed as woke virtue signalling by the metropolitan elite. Embery projects onto the “traditional” working class all of his own racial insecurities, reactionary hang-ups and intolerant views, before then casting himself as their champion by virtue of having aired his own grievances in their name. “Intolerance” towards the working-class is “proven” by the number of people willing to call Embery a racist on Twitter.
Embery clearly considers himself a provocative and radical figure, willing to voice unpopular “truths” and face opprobrium for doing so. However, reading this book conjures up the experience of being cornered in the pub by a reactionary anorak in love with the sound of his own voice. The ideas are unoriginal, the style obnoxious. Far from being brave and challenging, Embery is just a bore.