I had no intention of writing about the current BBC series “The White Season,” as for me it typifies the middle class arrogance that has driven almost all positive images of the British working classes from the pages of the national newspapers and off the UK’s TV screens. Not least by painting a middle class caricature of the working classes, which portrays us as work shy thicko’s, who live a demoralized empty lifestyle and who are putty in the hands of BNP racist bigots. Our TV screens are full of programs such as Little Britain and Katherine Tate, that portray us in the aforementioned manner; the common thread that runs through all these programs is that they are made by prejudiced middle class people who have about as much understanding of the working classes as a pea; and the ‘White Season’ is no different.
However when well intentioned leftist columnist like Seumas Milne fall into the same trap whilst attempting to defend working class people, I thought I would give my two pennies worth as an authentic son of the working class, although I ought to admit having a Harry Ramsden’s chain of chip shops on my shoulder when it comes to my class. Firstly lets get some facts out into the open, those who are behind the White Season are not centering on the working classes as they claim, but that section of the lumpen-proletariat that has existed since, if not before Marx and Dickens day; and who the media of the 1990s insultingly termed the ‘underclass.’
Whilst it is true that this lumpen element had an influx of working class people who fell hard and never recovered from the deindustrialization and anti trade union legislation introduced by the Thatcher government. [Which has been kept on the statute book by New Labour] There numbers still only make up a tiny fraction of what can be loosely described as the UK’s working class, and to get their numbers out of all perspective as the White Season does and bracket them as ‘the white working classes,’ is to display either crass stupidity and ignorance or down right middle class prejudice.
To suggest as Seumus has, that some of the worst racism can be found in working classes areas is a complete negation of the truth and worse it refuses to place the responsibility for racism where it initially lays. It was not the working class who institutionalized racism in the Metropolitan Police, nor maintains it in institutions like the British army, elite universities such as Oxbridge, the legal profession and dare I say it journalism. Remind me Seumas, how many black columnists and section editors does the Guardian employ? Before you blanket others as racist perhaps you should wield your extremely talented pen a little closer to home.
The British working class whilst not perfect by any means, is one of the most racially integrated groups of people in the world, why? Because it is amongst us the overwhelming majority of new comers to these islands live. I live in an area which since the 1950s has seen an influx of newcomers from Ireland, Scotland, the Indian sub continent, Bosnia, Poland, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, China and countless other nation’s, plus workers from every corner of the UK. Within a short period of time, after the initial shock of the new has worn off, they became our friends, neighbors, work-mates, son in laws and loved ones, etc, etc.
They join our social and sports clubs and trade unions; and these clubs and trade unions also became theirs, which kinda makes a nonsense of this ‘white working class.’ What you will find is working class people who are white, black and god knows what, living as harmoniously as it is possible for human beings to live. Of course amongst us we have people who suffer from racial prejudices, petty jealousies, and a host of other human weaknesses. Draw back a curtain on Britain’s middle class communities and you would find much the same, what you would not find is the ethnic melting pot that is working class Britain. Yet far from rejoicing in this, the media attack those who cannot bite back, that is the reason the so called ‘underclass’ is targeted in programs such as The White Season, Little Britain and the rest of the middle class crap.
If the media wished to hunt out bigots and racists they would do better by-passing Dagenham and going to the nearest middle class golf club, or if they really want to meet some first class bigots who do much harm, I would suggest the City of London, or perhaps a visit to the so called ‘gentleman’s clubs’ that line London’s Pall Mall, before stopping off at the House of Lords and then on to Rupert Murdoch’s media hub at Wapping.
The reason places like Dagenham has so many disgruntled people is because the multi national company Ford, that directly and indirectly used to employ 50 thousand people in the town, upped and left without a backward glance, leaving thousands without work and a large part of the area a desolate wasteland. Lets put the blame where it lays, not on some mystical bigoted white working class.
What the New Labour governments of Blair and Brown have done, is give confidence to the English middle classes to help claw back the social gains the working classes made in the three decades after the ending of WW2. In the process this has revived and reinforced the age old prejudices and contempt many middle class people have traditionally had for their fellow citizens who are working class. The UK media is putrid with class prejudice of the type a previous generation of middle class people had discarded, due to having fought the second world war and rebuilt post war Britain along side working class people and in the process they had come to understand and respect us. Sadly those heros have now left the stage, to be replaced by middle class in-breads who have been programed with Thatchers brand of neo-liberal hate.
No where is this middle class takeover more obvious than on the nations airwaves, especially in the TV soaps, where even the actors who portray working class children now come from a middle class background, thus we are witnessing the return of the “cor blimey gov, you’re a gent” style of acting.
Search for a regional accent on the BBC and you will search in vain, the front of mic broadcasters are middle class to the core and so are their prejudices. It is the same with those who write the TV shows, these days a Johnny Speight would not get a look in the door, nor would those great working class character actors who learnt their craft in the 1960 and 70’s, Phil Davies and Ray Winstone. As to Michael and Sean forget it, if they were starting out today, they would be seeing out their days at the meat market and on the milk round, for the chorus lines are once again full of nice middle class boys and we are back to the la de da style of acting, epitomized by Hugh Grant and Jude Law.
As to us working class people it is true far to many of us have withdrawn from the political fray, but can you blame us when not one of the mainstream parties represent our best interest but work actively against it. Nevertheless life goes on, we work, feed our families, have fun, take pride in our children and do our best to stand with our aging parents. True we are not the same class that we were in the 1950s and 60s, although in some ways we are better, we are less deferential, many of our children have gone to university, but still not yet enough.
Our employers try to treat us like shit as they always have, we do all we can to see they do not, our trade unions are still battling on and amongst us are more trade unionists than in almost any other Western nation. The difference between now and the past is that employers also treat their middle class employees like shit, some progress ah?
If we are to see any real political progress in this country that benefits all, the middle class must stop taking bites out of the working classes, whether culturally or economically; and join with us in a common crusade, for who can really doubt when this last occurred and jointly we created the NHS and the Welfare State, it was socially the UK’s finest hour. However if the middle class choose to continue to go down their current road, they would do well to remember if you put your head in a sleeping tigers mouth, you can hardly complain when it gets bitten off.