Wednesday, November 15, 2006

White Riot: Iain Duncan Smith and the white working class

I am white working class. Top university-educated white working class. First generation middle class white working class. White working class, despite finally having worked out which fork to use while sitting through an expense account business lunch in an overpriced London restaurant.

But still, always and forever, white working class. I’ve lived in two-up two-downs and council flats, done the dead-end jobs, skipped the meals when the giro ran out. The white working class are ‘my people’.

My family were the railwaymen, the nurses, the dockers, the coppers, the carpenters, the steelworkers, the poor bloody infantry when the ruling classes wanted their killing done. Oh dear, this is starting to sound like a Billy Bragg song, isn't it?

Given where I’ve ended up, it almost seems precious to point this out. It’s as much as anything an emotional identification, something very difficult for someone who didn’t share a similar upbringing to understand. It's a working class thing, baby. You wouldn't understand.

I am well aware that far too many middle-class lefties romanticise ‘the workers’. Yes, many of them are politically rightwing and viscerally racist. I don’t have to go outside some – but only some - of own family to understand that.

I’m also aware of the other side of the picture. Again, I don’t have to go outside of my own family to find militant blue collar trade unionists and dedicated communists.

If I didn’t believe in the capacity of the multiracial working class - in Britain and across the world - to one day build a society without exploitation and oppression, without poverty, hunger, violence and racism, I wouldn’t remain a socialist.

North London Muesli Belt dinner party cliches about the working class dependence on state handouts paid for by upper tax band lawyers and journalists still have the capacity to reduce me to incandescent rage. ‘Scuse French, but who the fuck do these people think are doing the real work around here? ‘We’ are certainly not paying for ‘them’, Tarquin.

Don’t even get me started about how angry I felt when I saw the London School of Economics student union flyers advertising a ‘dress up as a chav’ mid-term party for its arrogant little merchant bankers in the making.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, can I point readers in the direction of this article in the Daily Telegraph today?

The Tories’ Social Justice Policy Group – headed by former leader Iain Duncan Smith, pictured above - has today published a preliminary report on the situation facing, yes, the white working class.

‘Boys from low-income white families are bottom of the heap in school performance, trailing behind every other major ethnic group,’ it details.

Much of the blame is down to cultural factors:

‘The report argues that family breakdown, parental breakdown and peer pressure that it is not "cool to study" are the key factors in the collapse in educational achievements. It also cites drug and alcohol abuse by parents.’

Almost all of these issues are, in turn, rooted in educational failure. It’s not an argument that I dismiss out of hand, and I await the publication of the full document next year.

But I’ll bet here and now that the final report won’t even begin to look at how that culture came about. There will be not a single word on the deliberate policy decision taken by the first Thatcher government to deindustrialise Britain and destroy the raison d’etre of white working class communities from Corby to Easington.

That’s just one more thing for which I’ll never forgive the Tories, or the class that Iain Duncan Smith represents.

But where the hell are we in British politics when it is down to the Conservatives to raise these very real questions? Hello New Labour, are you listening? Because the BNP certainly will be.

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