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Sam Fender: Culture wars undermine working class support for Labour

Battles for LGBTQ+ rights, and race and gender equality must be fought, Sam Fender said, but the left should not forget about the impact of class on people’s lives.

The left’s focus on “culture wars” at the expense of class issues has cost Labour support in working class areas, according to Brit Award winner Sam Fender.

Speaking to The Big Issue for a wide-ranging cover feature, Sam Fender, who experienced poverty growing up in North Shields just outside Newcastle, said that Conservative wins in the north of England are the result of the broader left’s abandonment of class as a unifying issue.

Pointing to the fact that nearby Blyth Valley went Tory in 2019 for the first time in the constituency’s history, the 27-year-old star said: “You’ve got to ask yourself why that’s happening. And I think it’s because we’ve got a lot of culture wars being fought at the moment, which need to be fought, for things like LGBTQ+ rights, and racism, and gender inequality.

“It’s about fucking time that we’re having the conversations we’re having. But what I think isn’t really spoken about much is class. I don’t think a lot of the left-wing, liberal papers talk about class as much as they probably should. Or they forget that class is threaded through all of these discussions.”

Sam Fender grew up in North Shields, a traditional part of the so-called ‘Red Wall’ of safe Labour seats which has been shaken by Conservative parliamentary gains in recent years. He experienced poverty as a child when his mum was unable to work due to health issues.

He describes himself as a “borderline socialist” and expressed support for Jeremy Corbyn: “I mean, he fucked up a lot of things. But I think his heart was in the right place and that’s something that we’ve not seen for a long time.”

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But he said the way prominent figures on the left talk about privilege has made many people feel alienated.

“I completely agree that there is such a thing as white male privilege,” he said.

“But try and tell a lot of people from Easington [in Durham, notable for being the town with the highest percentage of white residents in England] that they’ve got white male privilege when they’ve grown up in a fucking estate, in poverty. It doesn’t fly with them. They’ll probably feel like they’re being preached to by a bunch of really privileged people.”

Labour needs to recruit a younger generation of working class voices to turn things around, he added.

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“They need to start having more working class representation. Like your Dennis Skinners and stuff like that,” he said. “You need people like that, and young people like that. Who don’t sound like the fucking Guardian when they’re talking to people.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, seen by many as the hope for younger working class representation in the party, made a play to reach working class voters following disappointing local election results for Labour last year. She admitted the party had faced issues in reaching its traditional voters.

Writing in the Guardian, she said: “For too long we have given off an air of talking down to people and telling people what they need, or even what they should want or what they should think. There has been too much of Labour doing things for people and communities, and not enough doing things with people and communities.

“Working-class people don’t want a handout or someone telling us what we should think. We want the opportunities to do it for ourselves.”

Looking ahead, Sam Fender expressed hope that the current ‘partygate‘ scandals facing Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party would cut through.

“It doesn’t look like they’re going to survive this one,” he said of the Conservatives. “My friend’s mother was dying in palliative care, while they were having that party. She wasn’t allowed see people because of covid. And that’s the reality.”

Fender made the comments after spending an afternoon helping out at the Newcastle West Foodbank, at The Big Issue’s invitation. He said the volunteers there had given him hope.

“Community’s important to me,” he said. “Community’s what kept me and my mam afloat at times. Especially up here, it’s so important to because a lot of people rely on these things to keep them afloat.”

Read the full interview with Sam Fender in The Big Issue, available to buy from your local seller from January 31 – February 6.

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