Fries to go
The recent row over The Labour Party refusing £30,000 in sponsorship from McDonalds in return for the fast food giant placing a stall at their conference left me in the unusual position of sympathising to a degree with all sides.
Firstly, Corbyn’s Labour, whose stated objections revolve around unionisation and zero hour contracts.
I’m no expert in the situation in McDonalds – whether these complaints are exaggerated or real (given that somewhere up to 30% of McDonalds UK and Eire are run by franchise operations, these objections may not relate to the parent corporation, but hey, let’s take it that they do), but taking them as real, this – one could quite easily argue – is a pretty sound reason for Labour to object to them.
A Labour Party that doesn’t stand up for those values would feel a bit of an empty vessel. Even the hated Tony Blair’s “NeoLiberal” New Labour stood up for and improved worker’s rights across the board. I was a worker at the time, I remember.
On the other hand, given McDonalds’ role in the labour market – which primarily involves them employing youngsters, students, part time workers, and so forth – I’m somewhat at a loss as to what the issue is with zero hours contracts.
Generally, such a job is a young person’s first step up into the world of work and the corporation relies on flexibility in its labour force.
The unionisation issue, and forcing zero hours contracts on less casual temporary labour is, of course, a good target for Labour to object to and a worthy subject of criticism, but there is a danger of painting perfectly defendable workplace practices with the same brush (Again, to be entirely fair on the critics of McDonalds, this painting could very well be the fault of the corporation themselves by blurring the lines between where zero hours contracts are acceptable and where they aren’t).
My personal preference in this situation would have been for Labour to take the money but use it to fund a campaign for the rights of workers in such industries – to highlight such a campaign in your conference speech.
But the idea of such money tarnishing the image of the sea-green incorruptible Corbyn would be too much for some to bear. Which leads us on to internal criticism.
Mr Corbyn’s party critics, on the face of it, I had less sympathy for. Cries of “snobbishness” and the like did seem, initially, like a slight bit of prolier than thou posturing.
However, the more I think about it, the more I feel there’s a germ of a point in there. Not in the sense that I believe – in this instance – that it is snobbish, but merely the reinforcement of a certain perception given off.
And while you could imagine – for instance – any of his rivals for last year’s leadership election as harassed parents taking the family to McDonald’s on a Saturday after a trip to the cinema, with Jeremy, it surely isn’t just me who can imagine a curl of the lip in distaste at the thought.
Jeremy Corbyn’s air is very much that of what he is – the north London socialist; all allotments, vegetarianism, cycling, herbal tea and corduroy elbow patches – a reason why a number of otherwise more moderate labour members and supporters feel such kinship with him – he is the teacher’s common room made flesh, the social worker in exelcis, the late middle aged Guardian reading public servant in full roar.
Whilst there has been a lot of talk of comfortable leftists indulging in infantilism supporting him (and whilst this in no way actually represents all of his support), there has been relatively little comment on how he is the living embodiment of a hefty part of the Labour Party membership. They feel such kinship for him because they are him.
And that would be fine if this was the only demographic Labour needed to reach. But they very much don’t. They need to speak to the land of the commuter belt, the new build starter homes within distance of the anonymous industrial estate with the drive thru McDonalds that the teenage son or daughter has just started working at.
And yet, even when they are ostensibly standing up for the rights of those teenage kids – it still very much feels like they don’t – that the only people they want to speak to are the charming couple who run that delightful stall in the farmer’s market that has those marvellous truffles.
Either that, or they want to speak to an ossified and romantic version of a working class that was – one that still shines with the glamour of heavy industry and the worthy nobility of manual labour.
This perception may or may not be unfair. It isn’t quite the same as “snobbishness”. But until Labour – with or without the superannuated Geography Teacher at its helm – starts to feel like it speaks to those who eat and work at McDonalds once more, it will continue to be the party political equivalent of a protest sticker in the back window of Mr Corbyn’s battered Vauxhall that the 6th form kids giggle at as they nip out for a Big Mac.