Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Guardian scores twice in two days ..

I used to be able to guarantee a 100% hit rate of disagreement with anything published in the Guardian, but an anomaly has given me two opinion pieces in two days I unreservedly agree with.

I blogged in response to Milburn's proposals on social mobility that it was necessary for the working class to adopt the mores of the bourgeoisie in order to advance. This flies in the face of Labour's social engineering model, which holds that the working class should have access to all the rewards of the middle class without changing their attitudes or behaviour. I disagree. It's not about the accent you speak with, but the values you exhibit in living your life; it's not about losing your cultural identity but demonstrating you can act appropriately to your social status. These things matter.

Today Jenni Russell writes in the Guardian;
International companies are frank and practical about class and culture because profits depend on employees fitting in. Here, where our own internal migrants' lives and hopes can be shattered by such misunderstandings, we often keep expectations opaque.

A headhunter I bumped into last year told me about the difficulty she'd had in finding suitable staff. That week she'd taken a candidate with excellent paper qualifications for a meal. Which was where it all went wrong. "His manners were just unspeakable. Shovelling food on to his fork with his fingers. Talking with his mouth full, but holding his hand over it. Licking his fingers." And that was that. "My business is done over lunch. That's where you persuade people and do deals. I can't employ someone if people won't want to eat with them."

Teenagers need to spend time with adults outside their social groups as mentors, friends and employers. And we need to find a way to talk about behaviour, manners, codes. Not because one set is better than another, but because it's the way humans recognise their groups. Pretending rules don't exist or matter only has one result – it freezes social mobility, and entrenches elites.
All well and good, and something of a Damascene conversion for the Guardian's editorial policy if not for the beliefs of its readers.

A couple of years ago my colleagues in the admin office downstairs took on a working class single mum for work experience under some government programme. There was the prospect of a permanent job at the end of it, but after a few weeks the negative comments that filtered back put paid to that. She was awful. Almost completely unsocialised, she would interrupt when she should have waited to be recognised, threw inappropriate comments at senior staff, was far too loud, was unskilled in recognising subtle signals and in conversation unable to grasp abstract concepts. What was more damning, she couldn't learn from the behaviour of her colleagues in admin. Bigger fleas have little fleas, and 'admin' regards itself as a cut above 'manuals', in which category they placed her. They didn't want her.

Monolithic welfare estates are as much to blame as crap comprehensives. The products of both have limited direct experience of the mores and standards that exist outside them. For years Labour have derided the standards of the middle class, and in so doing they have entrenched poverty and inequality.

Let's not pretend that these things don't matter. They do.

4 comments:

Nick Drew said...

whisper it softly (and in a genteel manner) but the Graun scores more often than some imagine

and the readers' letters are generally good for a belly-laugh too

Elby the Beserk said...

And CiF is better than bread and games.

On welfare mothers (they make better lovers, so Neil Young says), my ex worked in job centres and the DWP serving two shitty estates in North West Bristol. She said there were families there which had had no working members for two generations (apart from working hard on producing the next generation of non-workers).

She noted that the real problem was that they are in fact now incapable of work; they don't know how to, they don't understand managing their day, and if they do get a job never get there on time and are incompetent when there.

Good eh? New Labour have made this worse, rather than better.

JuliaM said...

Actually, the comments to that piece aren't as 'oooh, how awful to say such a thing!' as you'd imagine.

Maybe the penny is finally dropping? Or maybe enough people have come across someone fitting the description of Jenni's piece or Raedwald's example in their working lives?

Henry Crun said...

On the other hand though, I have had to attend corporate functions where the "high-ups" are so far up their own arses, they are almost inside out.

That said, there's a fine line between "salt of the earth" and uncouth.