Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Despised—A Review

By Henry George, Quillette

A review of Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class by Paul Embery. Polity, 216 pages (November 2020)

In the 2019 British general election, the Labour Party was eviscerated, losing 60 seats and handing the Conservative Party a massive 80-seat majority. The most dramatic repudiation came in the Midlands and the North, where seats that had never voted Conservative fell to the Tories. It was an electoral catastrophe, and Paul Embery’s book Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class is intended to provide an autopsy and an analysis of the Left’s deeper ideological and cultural errors.

Embery comes from within the left-conservative, Blue Labour tradition of Tory Socialists like John Ruskin—a left-wing form of post-liberal politics that leans left on economics and right on culture. Cultural distinction without exclusion; relationality over autonomy; community self-help over government centralisation. In clean, clear prose over 200 pages, he mourns the destruction of his party as a serious political force, and sets out what he thinks it must do if it is to be able to fight again effectively.

In the book’s opening chapter, entitled “The Gathering Storm,” Embery sifts through the rubble of 2019, a blasted landscape of shattered Labour hopes in which the working-class have been cleaved from their old tribal loyalties. Given his repeated warnings that something like this would happen, his bitterness is understandable. But his anger is matched by affection for the people and places that made him who he is. Of his old home in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, he writes: “We were rooted. We were parochial. We were among family and friends. People looked out for each other, and there was a tangible social solidarity.”

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