Monday, October 22, 2007
#It seems to me I've heard that song before. It's from an old familiar score. I know it well that mel-o-deee...# When Tony Blair declared that the class war was over in 2000, most media outlets were happy to dance to this old tune, but some sage observers recalled that Harold Macmillan had said the same thing over forty years before. The regularly repeated news that British people still have some basic purchase on the reality of this class society (even though more people think they're middle class than can be the case, a result of a sustained ideological assault) is usually greeted with exasperation and disbelief in the media. This old thing again? Class is so, like, 1970s. Get over it already. Who would have thought that a country whose main forms of cultural intercourse include such enlightening sobriquets as "gippo", "chav", "tramp" and "Jeremy Kyle", or conversely "nob", "toff", "driveway crawler", "golfing gimp", "stuck up twat", and "posh git" would still imagine that class matters? After the industrial defeats for the working class in the 1980s, the capitalist class and its media went on an intensified ideological offensive. And throughout the 1990s, the spectacle constantly assured us that the class war was over, no longer mattered, and any mention of it came from horny-handed trade unionists and political dinosaurs. When polls repeatedly found that most people considered the class war to be ongoing, despite the dwindling number of strike days, the figures were so baffling that the newspapers largely ignored them. When people wanted more power for the unions, and less for fat bastards eating all the pie, it was assumed that this was some sort of unpleasant hangover from the glory days of union-bashing in the 1980s. A few months after New Labour was elected, the Daily Mail - a paper of the middle class par excellence - enthused that Britain was a place where "talent is the only class act", "a great meritocracy" with few "class barriers". The Daily Mirror had a poll inquiring about its readers' class some years back and was appalled to discover that most of them didn't think they were middle class. 80% identified themselves as workers, which is certainly accurate. A clumsily snooty editorial by Piers Morgan put it down to nostalgia and an awareness of 'roots' (class as an ethnicity rather than a social relationship).
And so it goes on. The Guardian suggests that the current prevailing concern with class is usually based on the status of one's parents rather than one's present income, but its findings undermine this: the poorest (ie the working class) are most likely to be conscious of the way class impacts on their lives; by contrast, the Institute of Directors is composed entirely of people who pulled themselves up by nanny's apron-straps through sheer force of will and talent. Another way to avoid the issue is to turn it into an accident of geography and accent - hence, "the north-south divide". It is as if there is some great mystery to be explained by some curious combination of contingent factors, when it is actually astoundingly simple: the ruling class, which consists of people who appear on television on a regular basis as representatives of business interests and also as part of the political class, has been waging a class-war against the working class. While the economic component has been partially successful, the attempt to befuddle and disorient people about what is being done to them has been less successful. Class issues are rarely out of the news, even though they are usually treated as 'consumer' or 'business' items (how will this affect tube passengers, local industry, holidaymakers, etc?). Class will certainly affect our experiences of any fall-out from the stock market dives. In fact, barely a day goes by when there isn't a big event in the country's life that doesn't advert to its increasingly ossified class structure. If statistics didn't say it regularly, people would know that social mobility is slight and declining from their own life experiences. If Her Majesty's Stationery Office didn't 'fess up about growing inequality every year, we'd know because it is obvious. And if it isn't obvious, you'll probably find someone selling this in your town centre who will gladly apprise you of the facts.