The fiction that Britain was divided into upper, middle and working class peoples was out of date even in the 1970s when John Cleese filmed that famous sketch with the two Ronnies. Only the LibDems pretend that the entrenched privilege of the upper class is significant any more. Scaffolders and plumbers are as middle class these days as were once bank clerks; their kids will go to uni, their wives shop at Waitrose. The rewards of trade and profession, once so diverse, have become indistinguishably close in economic terms. And apart from all this is a pervasive, suppurating underclass who could almost be living in another country so alien are they to our everyday life experiences. There are men of 30 living in Peckham who have never boarded an aircraft, never seen a farm, never slept a single night away from their council estate (unless in a prison cell) and many of those will only have visited central London with its plethora of museums, galleries, monuments and spectacles a handful of times in their lives. They live and die in a tiny two-mile radius, living alongside but apart from the rest of us who know the airports of the world and the smell of a tropical rain shower. These are the victims of a century of Welfarism.
Yes, the National Insurance Act 1911 is a century old. This was the point at which the political class lost faith in the ability of the working class to make rational economic choices and took the matter out of their hands. This was the dawn of Welfarism. Arthur Seldon, co-founder of the IEA, was born into poverty in the East End, the orphan of Russian immigrants. He wrote
I was appalled by the insensitivity of governments to the efforts of the working classes to help themselves - the belief that they could not do all the necessary things. They were most anxious to ensure that they used all the opportunities of insurance to safeguard their families in times of sickness and loss of work. I began to sense a sort of anti-working class sentiment in all political parties. They wanted the State to do these things. They didn't like people to do things for themselves. They thought that ordinary people weren't capable. They forgot all the history of the working classes.The IEA's Ralph Harris himself wrote
Liberty carries with it individual responsibilities. Responsibility for yourself, and hopefully your family and as far as possible your neighbours. But it does throw responsibility onto our own shoulders. Well, that's what living means; it doesn't mean shrugging off responsibility and taking soft options.In a superb post from November 2010 that I have kept bookmarked, Chris Mounsey writes here of the way in which the State destroyed working-class independence. Welfare destroys lives, makes slaves of the least capable, locks the slow and the talentless into a hopeless pit of despond and condemns lives as worthwhile as our own to a life of struggle without self-respect and to an early death.
So today when I think about the body of some pale Welsh kid with ribs visible hanging by the neck from his cell bars from his torn pants with the agony suffused on his distorted face a better alternative than the life to which Welfarism had condemned him I shall think also about Polly Toynbee and Ed Milliband and all the other corrosive fools sipping chilled champagne in celebration at a century of cruelty and inhumanity and feed my righteous anger.