It seems as well as failing to instill “character” in our children, working class parents are failing to give our children an adequate cultural education as well! According to the Telegraph, “Working class children must learn to be middle class to get on in life; Lack of cultural experiences such as visits to restaurants and theatres and the way they dress are holding working class children back, says Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission policy chief.” The policy chief in question is Peter Brant writing on the Commission’s blog, Who’s Frightened of Being Middle Class? which was itself inspired by blogger, Michelle Brook’s description of her experiences as a working class student at Cambridge.
Perhaps, after 30 years of all sides of the political spectrum telling us we live in a classless society, it is now ok to acknowledge that class exists again? Perhaps we can start talking about it again? But of course we are only identified in order to be blamed for our own problems. That this comes from Alan Milburn’s unit is all the more galling as, being one of the cheerleaders of New Labour and the Third Way, he had a chance to address inequality – but failed. What’s worse is the paternalistic tone, which is one step from being pejorative in the way working class people are again told that our lack of social mobility is our own fault. It is no surprise that working class kids grow up feeling uncomfortable in middle class settings – but of course, the assumption is that our attitude is the problem – not theirs.
Like Michelle Brook I am from a working class background. Unlike her is was fortunate enough not to come from a dysfunctional family. I was never in a position where my family defined what I did not want to be – indeed I have always been flattered to be compared to my father – but being working class still impinged on my development. My father was a postman and my mother was what I guess would now be called a nursery school assistant. They took me to museums and things and I remember going to the cinema and the odd circus but we never went to the theatre. As far as restaurants were concerned, a Bernie Inn for birthdays and anniversaries was about it. I was about 24 years old before I went to a proper restaurant! That was a Chinese and I spent the entire evening worried I’d be “found out” and asked to leave. This isn’t some “poor me” story. It’s just how it was – and it’s how it was for a lot of my contemporaries. But that wasn’t through a lack of care or lack of intelligence on the part of my parents – it was through a lack of funds. Do these patronising bastards think that being middle class somehow makes them pre-conditioned to appreciate the finer things in life? That, through some Professor Higgins type intervention, us working class yobs can become fine lay-dees and gentlemen?
The elephant in the room is wealth. There aren’t many parents who would not want to take their children to restaurants, museums and theatres if they could afford it – but as wealth inequality widens, fewer rather than more are able to. I was lucky enough to live in an age when TV offered us more than cop shows, reality shows, Nazis and sharks. My mind was open but any sense of entitlement was coached out of me by church, school, scouts and the parents of school friends who I knew looked down on me and the other kids of blue-collar workers.
I learnt my politics as much from reaction to this snobbery as from my father and my punk records. But punk empowered me to go out and do things, from organising gigs, to making demo tapes to protesting. Punk rekindled a sense of entitlement – and burning resentment. But it wasn’t until my union offered me a reps course that I learned to articulate my resentment with more than a “fuck you!” Then my union offered me the chance to do a degree – a chance that is as rare as rocking horse shit now that first Labour and then the Con-Dems introduced tuition fees. I can now articulate why “fuck you” is the appropriate response. I can quote theorists to support my contention that you should go and get fucked. And I can statistically map the probability of any correlation between me saying “fuck you” and you being a patronising cunt having a causal relationship.
Lucky me! No, seriously, lucky me! Thanks to the actions of successive governments those opportunities aren’t there for the next generation. This exposes their meritocracy for the sham that it is. As Michael Young pointed out, meritocracy can also be used to blame the poor for their condition – if we live in a classless meritocracy the poor are poor because they HAVE NO MERIT! It’s the old story of victim blaming, dressed up with a little bit of Victorian philanthropy. So spare us your hand wringing. Spare us your efforts to make us more “cultured” so we don’t offend “polite society”. Just give us the fucking money! The cleaner is as valuable to society as the banker – more so. So why shouldn’t they be paid a comparable wage? Obviously you see such “menial tasks” as beneath you – but they’re not. Indeed you may well not be up to them. Financial equality would offer true social mobility – but you won’t offer that. You won’t relinquish your advantage. The best you can offer is cultural patronage for a select few – to support your lie of social mobility. Spare us your patronising lies. Fuck off!