Over the Dinner Table…

5 12 2009

Tonight my parents have had a dinner party, with a small band of their friends encircling our dinner table to laugh and talk about various things with a few bottles of wine handy. As seems inevitable, the conversation turned to politics. Having been invited in to grab some pudding, I found myself unwittingly dragged into the conversation (I hesitate to use the word “argument”), and found myself understanding so many things about the frustrations of the older generations.

To say I became scared of some of the stuff they were saying is perhaps taking it too far, but, through the course of the hour or so I spent listening, there was a frightening amount of stuff that the BNP’s publicist would have been proud of. Starting off with the premise that there are simply too many people in the country, thus necessitating a dramatic cull (we moved from Nazi Germany – with echoes of Nick Griffin’s comment about Hitler going just a bit too far with the Jews – to modern day China in the conversation), one particular member of the party exhibited his own take on the state of the country. Those we kick out of the country (roughly the 15 or so million people which would see our population be taken back down to about 50 million) would have to go somewhere else. Anywhere else. It doesn’t matter, as long as they aren’t on British soil. Look after your own first, then see what’s left to share with the rest of the world.

From there we moved through the problems of industry, religion, education, and class. The continuing theme was not, as I was perhaps expecting it to be, the fault of the current government in these issues; but was instead the larger issue of the psyche of the population. The phrase “white underclass” was one which was casually tossed around and seemed to be the common denominator in the matters. Laziness is to blame for the lack of industry in Britain (we have the know-how, so why don’t we do it anymore?). Religion is emphasised by varying gang cultures which is a product of the “underclasses” (I must have spent roughly ten minutes trying to explain that not all knife and gun crime is committed by black people). The education system is too saturated with children who know too much about the dole, about how to play the system to maximise laziness and reward. So ran, in a nutshell, most of the points that were made.

However, it was not only the fault of the white underclass, it is also the fault of immigrants (we take in way too many for our resources to cope). Having tried to explain Malthusian principles of a checking factor to the group, the response was that it will not be disease as we will simply find a cure. In short, for too many years we, as a country, have been to lax with too many things that we are now at a point where we are going to suffer greatly. Our import/export ratio is woefully imbalanced, our manufacturing industry is all but gone, and our gas and oil reserves are all used up. Or, to put it another way, we’re doomed.

Nor is the future any better, as younger generations are being taught too much in the way of other religions (apparently being indoctrinated into them) by our schooling systems, and they are being taught about gay rights from the age of four. They are becoming adults too quickly, a problem exacerbated by shops selling clothing which encourages them to grow up and act more like an adult from a younger age. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids any more. Apparently.

The problem was, that despite all these problems there were no real workable solutions offered. Getting rid of 15 million people to somewhere else and looking out for ourselves was the ideal principle. Cutting our imports down to provide a stimulus for our manufacturing was another suggestion (but failed to ignore the knock-on effects that that would have on various other trades and indeed, other countries who then grow disillusioned with the severence of economic ties). Starting again and establishing British industry once again to its former levels should be the aim. This industry which grew out of the industrial revolution will be pretty east to kick start as we have all the know-how, it’ll just take a bit of hard work. Apparently.

And yet, despite all this, they all freely admitted that they would not be joining their local political party. They would not be taking any actions as there is simply nothing they can do to stem this tide. And it was at this point I began imagining the same conversations happening in living-rooms, kitchens, dining-rooms, or over the garden fence up and down the country. Whilst the BNP are still largely discredited, it suddenly became so much clearer to me why people would want to vote for them. I maintain it would still be a protest vote, but it is not, as I’d thought, a protest vote against politics, it is a protest vote against the country. And it was then I began to feel uneasy. I’m pretty sure most of the party tonight would not vote BNP, as, for all their gesturing and posturing, they are not racist fools. The tide with which politics is battling is not against the BNP, as I’d have thought. Instead, politics must grapple with the consequences of the last 50 or so years, the decline of the empire, the industry, the rising dissatisfaction at all that has come to pass.

The Conservatives will likely come to office next year, and will be faced with the same problems. Industry will still be gone, the number of migrants will still remain “too many”. Bureaucracy and red tape will have to continue as a definition of our society. What seems to be needed is the foundations of stability need to be relaid. Industry played such a large part in British life for so many years, something needs to replace it, or it needs to be re-grown. I’m really not sure what the solutions are, if indeed there are any.

Tonight was an interesting eye opener, and it was nice to have another view of the world. However the hugely annoying uneasy feeling with which I left the conversation as the coffee arrived still lingers in my stomach, and I’m really not sure how to combat it.

Pure Class…

29 10 2008

I sat down to watch John Prescott’s programme on class yesterday on IPlayer in the hope that he would bring something constructive to the discussion about class. It was a fools hope though, as I became increasingly bored of good old JP reciting his own personal history and his utter damnation of the upper classes (and to a lesser extent the middle classes). The programme, rather than being a useful tool to stimulate discussion (as it had the potential to be), actually proved to be a vehicle for him to waste an hour of BBC scheduling time with left-wing working-class rhetoric.

When the trailers for the programme appeared on our TV’s a couple of weeks ago, my Dad remarked to me “why would anyone want to watch that drivel, we’ve all had enough of him“. Indeed the programme itself seemed to reinforce the point, with low levels of people queueing up to get signed copies of his autobiography in Asda, Hull, his home town.

His insistance on repeating that he was still very much working class, despite his manor and croquet playing tendancies throughout the course of the programme was a major irritation to me, as was his apparently closed minded approach to the topic. Whereas the programme should have been posing questions such as “is class still relevant to today’s society?” or “how much of a class divide still exists in Britain where most would define themselves as middle-class?” it instead followed ‘Prezza’ as he visited various examples of the different classes and used them as a microcosm of society. This in itself was a flawed approach, the examples chosen were as close as possible to social stereotypes, picked, very deliberately, to paint a picture of Britain that Prescott himself was happy to criticise. Whereas to my mind it would have been much more worthwhile for him to have visited more communal places, with a wider demographic, instead the programme makers chose to pick lunch with an Earl, a meeting with three young girls who were very definately not chavs (apparently), and a meeting with a couple of young men at a private school to help Prescott vent his spleen about why class is bad.

The trouble the programme had was that it never really tried to define what class was, it worked on pre-supposed ideas of the viewers, all the time influencing thought with outlandish examples of the various classes, “oh the upper classes must all live in manors, with butlers and posh crockery” or “the working class must all be completely ignorant of the world around them because society has failed them“.

The trouble with stereotypes is the familiarity with them that society has. Hence, I suppose, why they are stereotypes. No-one dares challenge them, they are accepted. They are, by social ignorance, the ‘truth’. The programme makers capitalised upon this, and ran with it. Not once did they appear to think that perhaps the stereotypes were maybe not a fair reflection of todays multi-cultural society. Such thinking would have made the programme much more watchable and interesting, but would have obviously contradicted the point of having Prescott as the front man, the selling point.

If some unknown presenter had run with it then the programme would have been infinitely better as we would have been able to have some degree of impartiality. With Prescott though we were always likely to have him plugging left-wing commentary, given his history.

Needless to say I shall not be tuning back in to watch the second part. It barely seems worth my time to listen to Prescott’s agenda for another hour. There is much more to be said about class and the current state of Britain’s class system, but it is too contentious a topic for the BBC to cover adequately in an hour. Perhaps Channel 4 could do a better job…

A Touch of Class…

10 09 2008

Today Harriet Harman has been harping on about narrowing a class gap in Britain. She has explained that greater equality is needed in Britain, going on to imply that inequality stems from “where you live, your family background, your wealth and social class”. Great.

I find this really hard to pin down though. During the writing of my dissertation I tried to understand, and explain what ‘class’ was in the 1940’s. I found this hard work, as, obviously, there are no clear boundaries. As I was writing my dissertation though, I became aware that the class boundaries were more obvious in the 1940’s than they are nowadays. I also thought that if I was struggling to pin down various class boundaries for that period, how could it be done in today’s politically correct climate?

As I see it, ‘class’, as a label, is just one set of prejudices imposed upon someone different to yourself given their accent, wealth, or where they live. All the things that Harman talks about. That said, it is obvious that there are different classes, not only in this country, but worldwide. The trouble is, there are these unfortunate people who straddle the lines. There are quite a lot of them. In fact, I would go onto suggest that there are no explicitly ‘middle class’ people for example. You are either now ‘upper’ or ‘lower’ middle class. There is no ‘middle’ middle class. The same applies for the lower classes too.

The upper class is different. It is an entity unto itself. I don’t think there are such variations of the upper class, either you are, or you aren’t. For the upper class it’s easy. For everyone else, it’s much harder.

So how do you define class? Using Harman’s suggestions is a good place to start, but only to start. In my work I used other indicators too, such as language, how someone talked, the words they used, the accent they spoke with. Again, in the 1940’s this was, I feel more apparent than today, but we could still use such methods of identifying which class someone belongs to. It isn’t a water-tight indicator, there are people who vary their language for the situation they are in. There are people who naturally talk ‘posh’.

I considered other things too, like the person’s job. It was easier to place someone in a lower class if they were a miner, for example, or a factory worker. The doctors, or lawyers, tend to be placed into the upper middle classes. Traditionally, MP’s were upper class. Obviously that isn’t true now, in that you don’t need land, or be very rich to become an MP (a peer however…). Defining class has changed through the years, what is now upper class, is vey different to what was upper class 100 years ago. As a consequence, it has become harder to define class. Most people now own some land, a century or so ago, that would have made you upper class. But not today.

As I worked through my class related issues, I also worked out that everyone’s definition of class is different. There are obviously many permutations and combinations to someone. You cannot necessarily define someone by where they live, or what job they do. To do that is foolish. Which is why I would be interested to hear what Harman’s definitions of class are. It’s no good to simply say that we need to narrow boundaries.

At some point, I may post the section on class I wrote for my dissertation. I make no promises about it’s thoroughness, it was obviously limited by time and space, and it was not the important part of my dissertation.