Friday, July 13, 2012

John Major in 1992 said he wanted a 'genuinely classless society'; few would say he made any real progress towards this objective. Apart from those within the Tory Party who calculate that by denying any difference between the classes helps defer any interest in investigating such contentious issues. Previous Conservative Prime Ministers were not so coy.

'The Class War is over and we have won it' claimed Harold Macmillan in 1959. Perhaps even more persuasive is the mega rich financier, Warren Buffet who observed: There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning".

One young man, from my very own current home town, Stockport, has written a compelling book about the reality of a class war. He's Owen Jones and his impressive book is 'Chavs' (Verso Books); his subtitle is 'The Demonization of the Working Class'. His argument is that society is divided into a small, rich, property owning elite who dominate, through its privately educated progeny, most of the key positions in society. They have sought to propagate the narrative that the old traditional aspirational working class has melted away into the middle class, leaving an 'underclass' rump of feckless undeserving poor. By demonizing this partially invented grouping, the right wing hope to undermine attempts by the left to organise any widespread political opposition.

He gives examples of this popular 'tarring and feathering' of the poor. Karen Mathews, the Dewsbury mother of several children by different fathers, arranged for her daughter to be kidnapped so that she could reap a financial reward. Jones argues that her appearances on television released a wave of class hatred, focused on the very poor living in areas like Dewsbury Moor. One journalist, Carole Malone is quoted, saying that Mathews' estate was very much like the one close by where she lived:

"It was full of people like Karen Mathews. People who'd never had jobs, never wanted one, people who expected the state to fund every illegitimate child they had - not to mention their drink drup and smoking habits. Their houses looked like pigsties-dog crap on the floor, piles of clothes and unwashed dishes everywhere."

Jones claims that individual offenders were held up as typical of a whole class, who therefore could safely be condemned in the public presses. The real extent of such behaviour he claims, is minuscule compared with the huge sums involved in middle class tax avoidance and other white collar crimes. Conveniently actions which are probably the result of poverty and empty lives were used by the right to smear and blame millions of the poorest, blaming them for their own poverty, rather than conditions created by corporations aided and abetted by government.

My own view is that: there has been a class war in progress for several centuries in which the rich have sought to maintain and justify their privileges, particularly via the creation of a party designed to represent and bolster such privilege: the Conservatives. It is also true that middle class people greatly enjoy making fun of working class caricatures- witness the popularity of Shameless and Little Britain sketches featuring the likes of Vicky Pollard.

But one cannot deny that there are people like Karen Mathews, even the fictional Vicky Pollard. I recall the exposure of the Bardsleys, a family earning $40K from benfits whereby the fearsomely able bodied Mark Bardsley who had been drawing invalidity benefit in respect of depression brought on by grief at this father's death no less than six years earlier. The genuine question also remains as to whether values like self reliance have been severely eroded by the culture of welfare benefits.

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