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The Secret People

by John O'Sullivan

Working-class voters on both sides of the Atlantic have been forgotten

‘What about the workers?” That was the traditional cry of Labour hecklers in Britain to disrupt a Tory orator and to imply that his policies ignored the interests of the working class. A fine specimen of the genre can be found in an early Peter Sellers sketch in which the suave-tongued Tory rides mellifluously over the interjection with, “What about the workers, indeed, sir,” before smoothly resuming his recital of inoffensive platitudes.

The phrase has been rarely heard in recent years, and almost never from Labour speakers. Even before the advent of Tony Blair and New Labour, Britain’s main party of the Left had become more a polytechnocracy than a workers’ collective. And the “workers by brain” had an attitude of suspicion toward ordinary working-class people: They had heard in Sociology 101 that the latter were racist, sexist, and homophobic.

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