“Anarchy in Britain”! But who’s to blame? Well, try this, it’s straight from the same “shock jock” cesspool as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and the benighted Ann Coulter. So, welcome Phillip Blond:
Blame the killer kids on the middle classes
Meddling liberals have destroyed working-class culture
After that headline, it takes Blond a while to really get the boot in. He even starts in the same ball-park as some sort of reality:
Mrs Thatcher created an economic underclass in the 1980s…
Despite the endless targets of social programmes, it is harder now to climb up from the bottom than it was in the Edwardian age. Far from securing the benefits of economic growth for the working class, Labour has abandoned its original constituency for the 100,000 middle-class voters that can turn a British election. The fact that the bottom 50 per cent of the British population own less than five per cent of the wealth has not troubled Gordon Brown one bit.
Where to start?
Well, let’s work from the top.
Malcolm will not apologise for the Thatcher government’s economic policy, except that its cardinal error was to start a class war at the very moment Britain was hit by economic recession, the concomitant of the oil-price surge. Result: three million unemployed. In effect, Thatcherite economics were a frenzied response to that first miscalculation. This was compounded by the neglect of education and training: an essential area where the private sector could not or would not make good the lack of direct government action, and essential to re-skilling and raising productivity.
None of that, however, is anywhere near relevant to Blond’s hysterical headline.
The Edwardian myth
Next that nonsense about the social movement of Edwardian society. How can such a gross generalisation be proved or disproved? All Malcolm will note is that he had an aunt who went through life with the name “Minima”, because she was born in the 1912 Yorkshire Miners’ Strike. The issue of the strike and the basis for her name was the demand for a “minimum wage” of 12/6 a week (the younger element may need that explained: 62½p a week).
For comparison, the second Duke of Westminster inherited his title in 1899 and “a guinea a minute” from his London rents. He was a serial adulterer with fascist sympathies. Malcolm notes that the present Duke of Westminster is worth £6.6B, well sufficient to support his taste for call-girls, is still the country’s biggest landowner, and a very close associate of the Prince of Wales. So no similarities there, then.
The second Duke’s contemporary, the Earl Fitzwilliam died in 1902, worth the modern equivalent of £3.3B: his heir inherited a million a year from coal royalties alone (and still was not accounted in the same wealth league as Londonderry or Newcastle, those other noble coal-owners).
What price social mobility, then or now, in that lot?
Labour’s “original constituency”
The barb in Blond’s outburst starts about here.
We should start by recognising that the Labour Party was never the party of the most deprived tier of our society. The Party was the creation of, and for a long time the creature of the craft trades unions. Since crafts are less significant in modern business, Labour’s present natural “constituency” is the aspiring technological classes as much as skilled labour. That is recognised by any analysis of voters’ behaviour. NOP and ICM suggest that C2 voters (the traditional “blue-collar” workers) went Conservative by a significant margin in 2002 and 2005. Labour’s strength, and present “constituency” has been among mortgaged house-owners. There has also been a greater acceptance of Labour among women, the so-called “school-gate mums”, liking the social policy, childcare, health and education.
Blond’s Parthian shot is that bit about:
the bottom 50 per cent of the British population [who] own less than five per cent of the wealth [which] has not troubled Gordon Brown one bit.
Malcolm does not want to quibble, but the National Statistics table he is looking at says half the population share 7% of the wealth. That figure been pretty stable for at least 30 years. However, that share was worth just £19.6B in 1973, but is worth £265B now. There is a difference (for us ordinary folks) between wealth and income: we accumulate wealth in our working years, but inevitably expend it in our retirement. Our income is often at its highest when we have least disposable income (thanks to children, mortgages and our lifestyles).
Malcolm is aware that he has himself used this term loosely on occasion. He suspects it is another term that has been imported into the general (and therefore his own) consciousness without precision or context, and based on an inexact parallel between US and UK societies.
There was, some years back, an essay, applauded by Frank Field, by Alan Buckingham of the University of Sussex, which made this point. It went on to identify the characteristics of the British “underclass”, which amounted to 5.5% of a cohort sample. Apart from
the characteristic of long term unemployment, the individuals who make up that 5.5% have very little else in common which could identify them as a distinct ‘class’… The chronically workless are more likely to have been sacked, to have gone to prison and to be single parents. The qualitative part of the dataset, which is aimed at gauging people’s attitudes, shows a common trend toward lack of motivation, lack of commitment to work and family, and general apathy.
And therein lies the proper answer to Blond. He identifies a particular and limited social malaise with the “working class”. Blond uses “the poor” and the “working class” as synonyms:
the centralised and imposed system of the welfare state was a creation of the middle-class that ultimately destroyed the self-help culture of the British poor…
The working classes originally wanted a more mutual welfare state where entitlement was based on what they put in; instead the middle classes, irritated by the ability of the poor to organise themselves, determined their needs for them – creating a depressing dependency culture in our inner cities.
The poor might have survived this if middle-class culture had not invented progressive values. In the 1960s, the middle classes abdicated a wider social responsibility and decided that the culture of their parents was paternal and repressive. They bought the idea that notions of service and responsibility were an unjust imposition and embraced the pursuit of wealth, drugs and sexual liberation as self-evident positives, in the process repudiating any idea of a common national vision.
Ah, it’s that sex and drugs and rock’n'roll thing again. Perhaps nobody told Blond that Larkin
was prone to irony:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me)
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
Or perhaps Blond is impervious to irony, even his own:
While toxic to civilised middle-class life, such values were lethal to the working class. In the absence of a culture that was genuinely their own, the children of the poor embraced this middle-class decadence. They gradually abandoned each other and instead embraced glamour, greed and sexual promiscuity as if they were a form of liberation.
(Oh, dear: you weren’t trying to drink at that moment, were you? Don’t worry, the stain will wash out!)
Blond is right (very, very right) alongside, if not even ahead of Dave Cameron here:
[Cameron] has to give power, money and organisation back to the working class so that they can once again develop their own high culture. And he should remind the middle-class liberals he courts that it was their values (or lack thereof) that caused these problems in the first place.
(Now, Malcolm just warned you about drinking and reading at the same time!)
Don’t you just lurve that conceit about “high culture”? Where did that come from? Translated into real English, it means:
Phillip is an internationally recognised theologian and philosopher. Educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, he edited Post-Secular Philosophy, one of the founding texts of a new radical theology.
He has appeared as a commentator on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. He writes regular comment and editorial pieces for the International Herald Tribune. His aim is to make theology and philosophy culturally relevant and intellectually exciting.
Or, in short-hand, he’s paid by the line, needs an adjective, and “high” is about as neutral and lacking in overt condescension as he can get.
Where did he get this guff from?
Well, Aldous Huxley might be in the frame. Again, though, Blond seems to have missed the irony and social satire:
“Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able …”
How can anyone be so wrong?
Blond has this misconception:
Before the Second World War, working-class communities, though far poorer than today, lived lives largely free of violence and crime.
Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, ‘Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist’ and, if we get our way, Shakespeare will still be read even in school.
[Orwell's 'old maids' hiked, not biked. At least in Malcolm's text they did.]
More seriously, anybody, like Blond, who believes that the 1930s were a crime-free paradise should go back to the statistics. Then he should remember that it’s not comparing like for like. Two examples,
- the Metropolitan Police recorded “thefts” as “lost property” until the 1930s, and
- in the bad old days of capital punishment, with the unwillingness of Juries to convict, “murder” was a charge used in only the most extreme cases.
Malcolm is still horrified that a serious academic (being generous to Blond) can get away with this tosh, this windy diatribe, this ignorant babble, this con-trick on the reader, or be paid for it.
And even do it sober.