One of my favourite quotes on British society comes from Nick Cohen: “To say that class doesn’t matter in Britain is like saying wine doesn’t matter in France.” I first came across it in Owen Jones’s polemic, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. I thought of it again this week, when a comment piece by David Boyle titled “Why we all need the middle classes” was published on this site.Class is indeed our national obsession, so I’m not surprised Boyle’s piece was one of the most read on Comment is free, or that friends texted me to discuss its contents. But do we really need the middle classes? Or I should say, do the working classes really need the middle classes – since, it transpires, this was in fact the argument Boyle was making.Boyle writes that the middle classes’ “fierce determination to retain some [independence from tyrannical landlords or bosses] is a vital underpinning for the liberties of everyone else. Without the middle classes, there is no hope for the poor either.” This strikes me as such a remarkable assertion, offered without evidence, that I’m still wondering if I’ve understood it correctly. Is that how it works? Is it really thanks to the middle classes that working-class people have a modicum of freedom?For one thing, I would argue, a thriving middle class is often the home of tyrannical bosses themselves. I suppose Marxists might call these people the petit bourgeoisie. When I left university, I worked in a series of low-paid jobs for middle-class people, where I was undervalued and overworked, as were my colleagues. Eventually one of these employers made a significant number of staff redundant without paying them, and many former staff members took legal action. These employers weren’t part of the global financial elite (or the haute bourgeoisie if we’re sticking with Marxist terminology); they were just comfortably middle class. What about working-class employees’ freedoms in this case? Is the middle class a good thing for them?In his argument that there is no hope for the poor without the middle class, Boyle seems to be adopting the logic of trickle-down economics: the idea that the mere presence of a wealthy class automatically raises the living standards of those below it. But the gap between the richest and the poorest in the UK has been widening since the 70s. Middle class or none, the income of the poor certainly isn’t improving. Instead, I’d argue that incessant focus upon the middle class, especially culturally (Boyle suggests the middle classes are the gatekeepers of culture and leisure), erases the idea of a thriving working class altogether. Now politicians focus upon the needs of the “squeezed middle“, or “alarm clock Britain“, as though “middle class” is now a synonym for the respectable majority.It is true that working-class culture has dwindled over the last 30 years. When Margaret Thatcher smashed the trade unions and British industry with them, she also smashed solidarity, community and hope. But those are the values that need to be recaptured if decent living standards are seen as a basic right for us all. Working-class people don’t need a middle class to act as a buffer between them and global elites: they need what they’ve always needed – to get organised and fight back. If working-class people want to resist tyrannical bosses and landlords, they need to represent themselves, not have the middle class speak for them. That is how the women and girls working in the Bryant and May match factory in east London achieved better living standards in the match girls strike of 1888. It is how dockers working in the Port of London strengthened the British labour movement a year later, which has since won concessions such as standardised holiday pay, the minimum wage and the eight-hour day.In the end, Boyle calls for both classes to “develop a new politics that will protect them from the power of the new financial elite”. It’s a sentiment I can get on board with, but that new politics must recognise that progressive change only comes when oppressed people stand up for themselves, not when some are free enough to make the oppression of others seem a bit more acceptable.
Marina Hyde hits the bullseye again…
But back to reality, if you can call it that, and the endlessly engrossing Westminster debate over whether, in the case of Nadine, the Tories’ loss is Ukip’s gain. What we can say of madam’s readmittance to the Tory fold is that it appears to have been Tory high command eating the humble pie, quite possibly washed down with a kangaroo testicle chaser. Back when she bunked off for I’m a Celeb, Nadine promised that she would reveal how much she was paid for her appearance in the Register of Members’ Interests. Perhaps it escaped Sir George Young’s attention that she has yet to deliver on this pledge – or perhaps he is mindful of Nadine’s own advice that most of what she says should be taken something other than literally. “My blog is 70% fiction and 30% fact,” she once explained. “I rely heavily on poetic licence and frequently replace one place/name/event/fact with another.”
Either way, the polarised reaction to Nadine’s return seems the political illustration of William Goldman’s famous dictum: “Nobody knows anything.” Goldman was explaining how no one really had a clue about how a movie would do before it opened, but his words might easily be applied to the likes of Nadine, who is either totemic or comic depending on who you’re listening to.
On the one hand, there is never a shortage of lateral-thinking Westminster experts scrambling to trumpet her “connection” with ordinary Tories. And on the other are those weird unknowable folk – the electorate – whose radios and TVs are, it always seems, tuned into a different frequency to the sets warmed up twice weekly by these commentators. If anyone bothered to ask them, these people might confirm that when Nadine’s jungle plans emerged, you couldn’t move on talk radio for her constituents dumping all over her. These same Westminster outsiders might point out that she was the very first contestant voted off the show, and while I wouldn’t dream of extrapolating the psephological implications of that, I doubt that Nadine’s 2015 election leaflets will bear the slogan: “Less watchable than Limahl and that dullard off Made in Chelsea”.
One can’t help but wonder where in the UK this is…
Etre fan d’une série, c’est bien. Transformer son appartement en vaisseau spatial quand on est fan de Star Trek, c’est de la dévotion … Une domotique digne du vaisseau Entreprise.
Being a fan of a TV show, that’s fine. Transforming one’s apartment into a spaceship when you’re a fan of Star Trek, that is a commitment …
Place/ Appartement/ Apartment, Angleterre/England
Information / Inthralld
Fast food workers strike at a Jimmy John’s in Soulard on Wednesday, May 8th. (Photo from Ben Zucker)
Fast food and retail workers in St. Louis, Missouri, walked off the job Wednesday in the third major strike of its kind in recent weeks. The walkout came after a citywide fast food and retail workers strike in New York on April 4th and another in Chicago on April 24th.
Workers at the New Era Windows Cooperative are celebrating the grand opening of their new unionized, worker-owned and operated business. Almost a year to the day after their window factory closed, a group of former workers have launched their own window business without bosses. They successfully raised money to buy the factory collectively and run it democratically. In 2008…
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With Fox News continuing its all-out coverage of the ongoing Benghazi hearings in Congress, it was only natural that Jon Stewart go after his least favorite cable-news network on The Daily Show last night. And Fox has been throwing around a lot of “ifs” when it comes to the president’s role in the attacks on the American consulate last summer. Fox is outraged that the media at large isn’t more outraged, Stewart says, except Fox’s argument for outrage is predicated not so much on facts as many “if” clauses.
“I think I see the problem here,” Stewart said. “You can’t understand why everyone else isn’t as outraged as you, when it’s because the rest of us aren’t sure if what your saying is true. And to be quite frank, you do have somewhat of a history of hysteria.”
Related story: Whistleblower’s yarn fails to tie Benghazi lapses…
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More than 200 federal workers, including a large contingent of IRS employees, rallied at Federal Plaza in New York on May 7 to demand that Congress end the budget sequester that will cost Service staff as many as seven unpaid furlough days by the end of the fiscal year.
The sequester “is just a fancy word for Congress’s failure to do its job,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which organized the event. “And because Congress failed to do its job, now you are being prevented from doing your job.” When the IRS closes for Service-wide furlough days starting May 24, it will be the first time in modern history that the agency has closed its doors during the regular business week, added Kelley.
NTEU members, depending on the agency they work for, face the prospect of between five and 14 unpaid furlough days between now…
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