Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Milburn's fundamental errors

The French bourgeois virtues as catalogued by John Updike, for which I have found a useful mnemonic in 'all English men chew toffee on dreary Mondays', are perhaps unknown to Alan Milburn. Assiduité, Economie, Mediocrité, Conjugalité, Temperance,Optomisme, Dynamisme, Modernité. Mediocrity, you understand, in the sense of 'the middle way' rather than poor quality. And whilst we have a middle class, the French still have a bourgeoisie. The characterisation of both, however, is not by birth, by accent, or appearance, or postal code, but by a shared set of values; deferred gratification, quiet aspiration, self-help and mutual assistance, a certain respectability.

Over the years I have found a sure-fire way of determining the nature of an unfamiliar company of persons in the way those present introduce themselves; forename only, or forename and surname. Go to a pub such as Soho's French House and fall into conversation with one of the bar-props there and it will not be long before they hold out a hand and declare 'John Smith' or whatever. It's a middle class thing. It means 'I'm somebody'. It means 'I might know your family or you might know mine'. I once arrived on site to meet the archaeologist from an Oxford firm who was impeding my foundations. The sight of a young man in dreadlocks, beads and combat trousers didn't bode well until he introduced himself; the surname was familiar from research for my long-gestated biography of the last Emir of Bokhara (a work still in progress). "There was a chap of that name up at Worcester during the war" I replied, "any relation?" "That would be my father." From then on we got on crackingly.

This sort of socialisation doesn't mean abandoning your roots or your accent. Dennis Skinner, I'm quite sure, is proud to announce himself as such, in the rich tones of an ex-Derby miner, yet for all his working class credentials it was Tupton Grammar School that enabled the character that Margaret Thatcher would later call 'a marvellous parliamentarian'; Skinner exemplifies all the bourgeois virtues par excellence.

But it doesn't take a grammar school, or a place at an ancient university, to enable upward social mobility. There are remarkably few barriers to entry to the middle class. And I use the term 'middle class' as shorthand for all the shared characteristics I have described above. No, all it takes is a desire to belong.

And this is why no amount of State designed social engineering by Milburn or anyone else will work whilst our entire government and administration spends so much effort on deriding, undermining and destroying the manifestation of middle-classness. You simply can't on the one hand encourage people to be upwardly social mobile and at the same time, in every public pronouncement, denounce the very existence of the milieu you are encouraging them to join.

Labour have destroyed the old working class with Welfarism. It is fifty-two years since Young and Wilmott published 'Family and Kinship in East London' - which documented a world rich in social relationships, social networks, interdependence and mutual aid, and the world that Arthur Seldon and Ralph Harris grew up in. That society evolved in mutual self-protection against insecure and low-paid work. When Welfarism removed the threats, the threads dissolved, leaving a whole cohort of society either to take the path of the stereotypical Thatcherite white van man to owning a 1930s semi in Essex or the other path to an amorphous underclass. Indeed, the growth of the underclass from the late 1970s has been phenomenal, along with its visible manifestations of bastardy, drunkeness and casual violence.

Labour can never resurrect the old working class. They can, however, make middle-classness an object of desire and aspiration rather than the scapegoat for all socialism's failures; only this will encourage the sort of upward social mobility that Milburn tells us he desires.

5 comments:

davidncl said...

A short investigation into the precise nature of the people involved in the establishment of the "modern" british state will reveal how much they despised both the bourgeois value of the decency of the working classes.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes how wonderful it was in the good old days. Victorian working class areas for instance, with their notable lack of basterdy, drunkeness and casual violence. And we didn't have to lock our doors neither...

Raedwald said...

Well, Family and Kinship was published in 1957 - hardly Victorian. Labour have destroyed the one-nation consensus of the mid century with a class hatred agenda and lunatic social engineering that have succeeded in taking us back to Victorian times in many places - is that something you are proud of?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:59, it may not have been paradise but by God things have gone downhill.

When I was still in primary school I used to travel from our home in the eastern suburbs, all the way across London to the Albert Hall, to attend the Proms. With my mother. And then we came back, by tube, late at night. We thought nothing of it.

Would you do that now? A middle-aged white woman and a small child, on the London Underground late at night, all the way from South Ken to Stratford?

To ask the question is to answer it.

This is what the class war hath wrought - admittedly with a little help from unfettered immigration.

Henry Crun said...

Listening to a few minutes of the phone-in on FiveLive there were the inevitable "11-plus ruined my life" callers. Oh boo hoo hoo.

Whether people go to grammar school or not is immaterial. It is up to the individual to be self-motivated to improve his or her lot in life. If you sit on your arse you get nowhere, get off it and you might achieve something.