As the professional classes lose their jobs to technology, opportunities arise for the leftby Ben Judah / December 11, 2015 / Leave a comment
Oldham is a good place to think about the future of Labour. But not for the reasons that you’d think. The important thing here is after all the punditry, there was no Corbyn effect in Oldham. Nothing particularly positive; nothing particularly negative.
So why is Oldham interesting? Because this town, that has long since ceased to matter to Britain economically, is important to our understanding of Labour because it is one of the sites of Britain’s last great jobs disaster. Oldham was once Britain’s Shenzhen: at its zenith the town spun more cotton than France and Germany combined—making it the most productive cotton town in the world.
The industrial disaster in Labour’s north is something that haunts the Corbynites: what could have been done to save the factories? Could the mines have been kept open? What could Labour have done to keep these communities going? It always informs their sense of the future. The new Labour leadership is acutely worried that technological change could once again put millions of low paid Britons out of work and status.
“In the social democracies of the 1960s there was intense excitement about technological change,” says James Schneider, one the organisers of Momentum, the pro-Corbyn group which was campaigning in Oldham. “Now there is fear. What’s changed isn’t the Left’s attitude to technology. Nobody has become a Luddite. It’s the fear that in a much more unequal society the benefits and the burdens of technology transforming the nature of work will not be distributed evenly.”