A nation is a group of individuals who have found a community in the shared interest of a specific geographical location. As time progresses this groups actions become the basis of their history, which they often use in order to explain how their current situation came about. Thus those who find a prominent place within the nation’s history should tell us a lot about their collective aspirations.
Now ask anybody who they think is a good example of historic Great Britain and I’m fairly confident that amongst the answers you receive will come; Churchill, a member of the royal family, and possibly if you’re really lucky a mention of Lloyd George. Why am I so confident that names like these will come up, well that’s because our historical education tends to dedicates much of its heft to the monarchs of years gone by, leaders who exploited far off lands for national gain, and how since the late 1800’s great generals have been very successful in defeating foreign adversaries. All the while focusing on characters from privileged backgrounds who are almost always raised above a faceless mass, a historical white noise if you will.
This cherry picking of history, which is systemic to the British right, in short creates an unrealistic and downright dangerous view of a history that does not equate to the realities of modern day Britain. This version of history continually stokes the engines of capitalism by providing evidence that working hard, obeying the rules and showing resilience will allow you to progress through the ranks of our society. Like the pulpits of feudal Britain our current relationship with history for the masses, damns us through precedence’s to betrayal by flaws within an elitist capitalist system.
The real truth is that behind every great individual we cherry pick from the annuls of time, there are a couple of hundred individuals that were forced to remain in appalling conditions. Take the first Labour MP, Keir Hardie. We herald him as this great individual who rose from the working class to take on the establishment. But often we all too soon forget that he could only afford to be there, in part, through the hard work of others who paid for his salary. Focusing on individuals in this way fails to express the anarchic beauty of history. In this case it fails to acknowledge the wider narrative of British radicals like the Chartist, undoubtedly a leading inspiration for setting up the Labour party, that applied pressure that lead to the Liberal governments 1911 Parliament act
Whilst great men may shape history, it is the working man and women who move us on ever down the track. In rebuilding the national image of the Labour party, we should strive to offer a historical education that highlights the great power of people working together to collectively raise the standard of living. At meetings, in homes and out in public it is our responsibility to equip the young and old alike with the lessons we’ve learnt as a movement. To undermine the status quo by looking back at all the cases we were told were failures, finding the gems that lie within them, and applying them to our current predicaments.
Widening the historic debate in modern politics will reinvigorate the Labour party. By re-evaluating the important role played by workers; we not only damage the Right’s strong hold over nationalism, but also level the playing field that currently favours the history of wealth white men over the ingenuity and bravery of poverty stricken people who have called themselves British in the past.