Sunday, September 4, 2011

Through A Class, Darkly

It goes like this: thirty-odd years of conservative (yes, small c) governments succeed in convincing half of the working class that they are middle-class, and the other half that they are an underclass. The former look down on the latter, the latter feel resentful and adrift. Result: divide and rule. The decimation of manufacturing means the former now work in non-unionised service jobs, the latter have no work at all. Result: any power base is gone. Meanwhile, the left’s agenda diversifies into race, gender and sexuality issues, forgetting that class underpins everything. Result: the emasculation of the working class.
Owen Jones’ book, ‘Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class’, reminded me that the class war is still being played out in the “classless society” and it is the privileged that are waging war on those at the bottom. It also reminded me that the Labour Party has played its shameful part in this betrayal and neglect of the people that it was born to represent. Whether post-New Labour, the courage to defend ordinary people will be found, rather than being in hock to some mythical middle England demographic, is yet to be seen. But as Jones points out, there is a crisis in affordable housing and secure jobs that goes all the way back to Thatcher's revolution in home ownership and industry. These must be Labour's priorities if they are to fight back against working class inequality.
Much of that inequality sets in early: the obsession with results and league tables in the education system has compounded the idea that only the best has value; anything less is a guarantee of disillusionment. This is an excellent book that crystallises many of the arguments against the almost silent inequities in Tory-led Britain. It should serve as a wake-up call to anyone who thinks that “we are all middle class now”.

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