Sunday, May 16, 2010

Well, that's like hypnotizing chickens

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.


Politics and the English Language

Dylan Thomas defined an alcoholic as "someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do." Our Nick defines 'middle-class' as people he doesn't like, who earn less than a national newspaper columnist.

Satirists caricature Liberals – and I think we can now stop calling them "Liberal Democrats" as their alliance with the right has sundered their links with the social democratic tradition – as muesli-munching, Observer-reading, real-ale-drinking members of the progressive middle class. The events of last week have smashed that caricature into 1,000 pieces. Instead of going with Labour, the leaders of middle-class liberalism went into David Cameron's coalition. Far from adding grit to an administration dominated by the children of the rich, they toffed it up and raised the average cabinet member's net worth by tens of thousands of pounds.


Oh, good grief. First, all alliances in various European Parliaments - well, they must have sundered the myth of social democracy there too. For instance, Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU):

From 2005 to 2009 she led a grand coalition with the Christian Social Union (CSU), its Bavarian sister party, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), formed after the 2005 federal election on 22 November 2005.


This shows convincingly, I believe, that so-called Social Democracy is just a pragmatic sham behind which the reactionary running dogs of bourgeois capitalist oppression continue to oppress the honest hard-working sons of toil. Etc. Or something.

I have my muesli in front of me. And I'm partial to real ale. But you can stick progressive where the sun don't shine. "Toffed" doesn't mean that the LDs in the cabinet can trace their ancestors back to William the Conqueror or Henry VIII, it means that their parents were rich. And that net worth has to include Nick Clegg's parents. (Clegg isn't broke by a long way, but some of his money comes from his wife, who is a partner of international legal practice DLA Piper. I can't remember what Cherie Blair did. Wasn't she a cleaner, or did she take in laundry? I'm sure scanning at a checkout in Sainsbury's would be practically middle-class, what with staff discount on wine and organic tofu.

As so often, foreign journalists see Britain more clearly than we do. During the campaign, a puzzled Susanne Gelhard, London correspondent for German radio station ZDF, noticed that the British media talked incessantly about Cameron's privileged background, but never added that Clegg's was no different.


I've a good mind to dig up George Orwell and give him a good dig in the ribs for not including that highly ambiguous word 'never' in Politics and the English Language. Who knew in the pages of the Observer (before they become bespattered with fair trade coffee and muesli with organic soya milk) it could mean 'very very often'? Like in the Daily 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts' Mail. An old BBC profile mentions: Mr Clegg's father, a banker, is half Russian and his aristocratic grandmother fled St Petersburg after the tsar was ousted....Mr Clegg was educated at Westminster school, one of the country's top public schools.

On leaving Cambridge, he [Clegg] behaved in a manner any young Tory on the make would recognise by...


Working for Christopher Hitchens at The Nation, a left-wing magazine? And being a civil servant? Look, you can all hate Clegg as much as you want. I voted LD and I'm happy I did. But Clegg's background is pretty much on a par with Tony Blair's if not slightly more left-wing. (Will no journalist comment that Adam Lang in both the book and film The Ghost was an actor, as was Clegg, who acted with Helena Bonham-Carter?)

Lord Adonis, one of Labour's negotiators in the frantic talks, hints strongly that a freemasonry of the privileged determined the fate of the country. "The Liberals are pretending there was no alternative," he told me. "But they could have formed an alliance with Labour. Nick Clegg went to the Tories not because he had to but because he chose to."


Seriously? I don't trust the Murdoch press, but here's the News of the World:

It has also emerged that Mr Cable repeatedly told Gordon Brown he didn’t want to team up with the Conservatives.


It seems that the Tories were prepared to make a deal. Labour wasn't. It could have been Gordon Brown's arrogance, or Ed Balls's or Alastair Campbell's or even the party not wanting a deal because Brown would stay on. The Lieberals (if we're not calling them Liberal Fascists this week) could have made a deal. George W Bush could have sent Americans to Mars. 'Could' is a good word.

When the then Conservative establishment made Sir Alec Douglas-Home our last Etonian prime minister in 1963, comedians ridiculed him to within an inch of his life. He was an establishment relic stopping a supposedly meritocratic country realising its potential.


As we all know, comedians of the time (the anti-Establishment David Frost, John Cleese, Peter Cook, the Private Eye crew) were all unemployed Edinburgh heroin users living in Pilton. Wait, that's Trainspotting, my bad. Didn't they all go to public school and Oxbridge? Why, so they did.

Here's a short video about life for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at school at Fettes (the Eton of the North, don't you know) and Fife.



The rage of the suffragettes in the 1910s and the second wave of feminists in the 1970s has declined to a whimper, and succeeded merely in propelling the docile figure of Theresa May to high office. The children of the new Commonwealth immigrants of the 1950s feature not at all among the cabinet's elected members. Meanwhile, the Thatcherite revolt of the 1980s is now so infirm it could not bring David Davis, the only senior Tory left who can speak the language of the lower-middle class, back into Cameron's circle.


Isn't the point of revolutions is that the beneficiaries are more docile than the revolutionaries? Who can forget Diane Abbot as a high-ranking Cabinet member under Blair? You have? How very strange. I think Norman Tebbit can "speak the language of the lower-middle class" (as well as the language of Begbie, or at least he used to give the impression that he took 'tete-a-tete' rather more literally than most) and he's not included either.

I really should give up this lark. Only read Nick because Jack of Kent said 'Nick Cohen in fine form in the Observer'.

56 Comments:

Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

their alliance with the right has sundered their links with the social democratic tradition

[...]

Vince Cable is [...] A good social democrat

it's incredibly poor, this article. For someone who complains that others have 'lost their political compass', Nick's all over the place.

The children of the new Commonwealth immigrants of the 1950s feature not at all among the cabinet's elected members

Maybe so, but did they really feature all that much under Labour? And Nick is elsewhere damning of positive discrimination. What does he want, exactly?

word verification 'bullymp'!

5/16/2010 10:23:00 AM  
Anonymous bensix said...

Poor old Orwell. The more revered he seems to become, the less influence he actually carries.

5/16/2010 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

BTW Nick's citation of Gelhard comes from a Guardian article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/may/02/general-election-foreign-correspondents-views

her actual words:

But then there's a number of things that are slightly perplexing for Gelhard. "Such as the fact that Nick Clegg has the same type of background as Cameron and yet he manages to be the Robin Hood of the poor. How did it he do that? I think he must have very good PR management."

Nick pretty much invented that 'never'. The Westminster thing was often mentioned in election coverage.

Fleet Street and BBC editors, who once looked for street-wise crime reporters or war correspondents who could file under fire, are scrambling to hire Old Etonians so they can cover the social order of the 21st century. They are often the editors' old chums, for as Sutton Trust has shown, no business is as dominated by public school boys as the media

well, there's no evidence that the hiring scenario Cohen is outlining has ever actually happened. But in any case this is just tedious prejudice. I'm guessing Rory Stewart for example is pretty 'streetwise'. The BBC etc haven't stopped employing war reporters and replaced them with stuff from Tatler either. Cohen's world seems to be located in a Richard Littlejohn novel.

5/16/2010 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Vinny said...

Old Eric Blair has some rather odd fans nowadays including the pinguid Simon Heffer of the Telegraph

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/simonheffer/7696846/The-undiluted-joys-of-a-literary-genius.html

It must be his essential Englishness...

Turn elsewhere in the same edition and Heffer is in a state of apoplexy about the Con-Lib coalition. Cameron has "destroyed the Tory Party", he is apparently "a Lib Dem" and the Cameroons "cultural marxists".

Whoddathunkit eh?

As for Cohen I have to agree with the CiF poster (not me) who writes: "This fellow has to be the most ideologically confused journalist writing in Britain today"

5/16/2010 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Vinny, you can take 'ideologically' out of that sentence and it's still true.

Also, I forgot His Spanish wife Miriam is not only a successful lawyer bringing in a six-figure salary, but is also a Catholic. Her belief in the supernatural has the advantage of allowing the atheist Clegg to avoid the worst of the state education system and send his children to a faith school.

It's not just that Miriam = Cherie, it's the pure self-pity of how Nick as an atheist has to send his kid(s) to 'the worst of the state education system'. I don't even think it's true that faith schools are better than non-faith schools. Didn't DA argue that the Milibands went to a state school? I'm quite impressed at how Nick can offend both sides with just two sentences.

Anyway, the David Davis reference is presumably with regard to his being from South London: what about Michael Gove, who was adopted by a working-class family? I'm not saying that the Cabinet is representative of the diversity of Britain, but Nick overlooks any counter-examples. Nick went to Oxford; I didn't. I don't know if I'd have hated it like Justin, but I got a better education at Cardiff.

5/16/2010 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Off-topic, where David Jones (as credited) came up with the drum riff at 2:40. 'That was the little dose of Western culture.' (Non-Western in this case meant living in Berlin, presumably west of the Wall.) Poor guy, can't even afford a shirt.

5/16/2010 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Back on topic: from the LD conference: David Hall Matthews says Ed Balls refused to concede anything in coalition negotiations and helped to scupper them. IIRC, the Sun said the same.

And Mike Power just reminded me of the vapidity of Nick's opening: ...the [Labour] party's equally exhausted staff assumed they could relax. Instead of being allowed to recuperate, however, they were overwhelmed by thousands of angry men and women clamouring to join

But don't all parties see a rise in membership following an election campaign. If your side lost, you (briefly) want to do something; if they won, you may want to join the winning side. Elections are just about the only time parties knock on doors, and if they can't do some recruiting once they've doorstepped you, they're not trying. If party workers are surprised that new members apply after a defeat, they're fools. And I don't believe that they are. Besides, Labour lost far more during the Blair years, perhaps mostly due to illegal wars.

5/16/2010 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Yes, yes, yes, but this:

Nick Clegg went to the Tories not because he had to but because he chose to

is true.

The Lib Dems weren't obliged to go into coalition with The Tories, regardless of whether or not a deal could be done with Labour. They did it because by and large, they were happy to. Not all of them - Charles Kennedy, a far more admirable man than his successor, plainly wasn't, but then again, one of the reasons Kennedy was got rid of was that a lot of his party thought he was too close to Labour.

The Lib Dems opted for government with the Tories. The Tories are a party of wealth and privilege who on instinct and principle follow policies that support people like them and punish people who are poorer. What do the Lib Dems think of that? Well, they deliberately overhauled, indeed overturned, their economic policy in order to bring themselves far closer to those Tories than they had been before. Clegg is manifestly more comfortable with the party of privilege than he is with the party of labour, and it simply is not an adequate response to criticisms of his outlook and choices to say "well, the Blairs are posh as well". It's not the party of privileged people. It's not their natural home. The Conservative Party is, and Nick Clegg, having positioned his party close to theirs, opted to join their government.

They've made choices, conscious choices, choices which an awful lot of people feel they are going to suffer for, and it's perfectly OK to lay into them for it. Plenty of their supporters are, are they not?

5/16/2010 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Justin, if you'd written a piece for the Observer for that niche, I wouldn't be slagging you off in the same terms. Yes, OK, many LDs feel sold out - including Charles Kennedy and Vince Cable. It's true that they weren't forced into talks, but I voted to try to elect a government, not to register a protest, so I'm glad that some LD policies may make it into law. Better a few than none at all. I regard the Labour Party as a coalition, anyway. I'm not happy that Frank Field seems to have won a place in the government, but I wouldn't be happy if he had the same place under Labour.

But Nick just writes a stream of nonsense. Not all the cabinet is posh: Gove really isn't. He went to grammar school on merit, as a lot of older Labour MPs did too.

At least you're bothered by the policies the government may develop. Nick's just inflamed by what they eat and how they talk. He clearly believes state schools are rubbish. Well, that's hardly the fault of this government yet, is it? (I don't agree with Nick: I'd defend Labour here.) "Schools are bad" is a good reason to vote the incumbents out, isn't it?

5/16/2010 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

At least you're bothered by the policies the government may develop. Nick's just inflamed by what they eat and how they talk

No, I don't think so. I just think that

(a) he has a keen sense that we live in a situation of Us and Them

(b) he often writes badly.

A lot of people who voted Lib Dem were indeed trying to elect a government, but not a Tory one. That was the opposite of what they were trying to do. Of course I think they should have known better, because the facing-both-ways party faces both ways, but nevertheless, I think they're entitled to their anger. And I really don't believe a few Lib Dem policies are much of a bargain for a whole shedload of Tory ones.

5/16/2010 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

We're not going to agree on this. From where I am, earning wise, Nick is Them. But I don't believe it's as simple as 'Us and Them' (not that you said it was). I didn't vote for a Tory government either. My vote was actually pretty much wasted: I believed the LD leaflet that said they were the only party capable of beating the incumbent, Alun Michael - they were a distant third. (As they were last time, but I hoped things had changed.) Had I known the outcome, I wouldn't have voted Tory. I hoped that my vote would at least contribute to the LDs overall percentage, and get us, in its very very small way, a decent proportional system - that didn't quite work out.

Seriously, I hate Labour much more than you clearly do. Economically, the Tories are strangers to me, but they've already cancelled ID cards. That's a win. Cameron and the rest voted for Iraq, but I believe they're more likely to change than the Milibands or Balls. I'm quite happy Labour has been punished. I did vote for that.

Nick doesn't just write badly. He serves to prove the whole system of privilege. Put him up against, say, John Major (no university education) or George Orwell (ditto) and he's clearly greatly inferior. Something must go on at Oxford. It clearly isn't education.

5/16/2010 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

And I really don't believe a few Lib Dem policies are much of a bargain for a whole shedload of Tory ones.

Agree basically, but the problem is when the Tory policies are coming from Labour.

5/16/2010 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Economically, the Tories are strangers to me

But to many other people, not strangers but enemies.

I don't think that liberal social policies are much compensation for fuck-the-poor economics. I think that's the real issue, and it's not an issue so much as a divide of various kinds. It's a divide between the people who implement it and the people who suffer from it - it's not just a case of holding different views on the process.

But as far as views are concerned, it's a huge divide between liberals and socialists. I made some remarks on Crooked Timber a few days ago about expecting a lot of fights between liberals and socialists in the period ahead, and this is why. I have no interest in a politics which inflicts pain on working people but which invites them to support it on the grounds that its social policies are liberal, and among the reasons I'd count that I don't think they do either. It's pretty badly understood, by liberals, I think, that if you're a liberal in government and you attack people economically, they're not going to turn round and say well thank you very much, I must become a liberal. I grasp that and I think Nick Cohen grasps that.

5/16/2010 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Isn't that more or less what the C2s did to Labour, albeit mistakenly.

5/16/2010 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I'm with Gastro George here: Labour had its share of Tory policies. Why am I paying for Fred Goodwin's mistakes? (Not very much, because I don't earn very much, but still.) I really don't buy the 'enemies' line, and while I know what you mean by 'attack people economically' I don't buy that either. (I'd still much rather have Cable as chancellor; I don't know about you.)

AW's days are numbered, BTW. The Times is going behind a paywall next month, and the point is that we can all read the stuff we 'watch'. (I'm not paying Murdoch for the pleasure of reading Aaro.) So, it's the final curtain for us. I won't miss reading Nick. I don't think he grasps anything. (But thanks for supporting my theory that he's got more of a far-left background than he lets on. I think this whole 'muesli-eating' crap is just reheated Class War vitriol.) None of the parties speaks for - or even to - the Rentons and Begbies and Spuds of this world, well not until Renton became an estate agent anyway.

There are arguments for the case you're making, but they're highly numerical. It's not about who went to what school; Thatcher's dad was a grocer, Tebbit's was unemployed. It's about who policies affect, and that's not an argument Nick bothers to make. I think that one of the biggest strikes against Thatcherism is that while Tebbit, Major, Roy Jenkins and a few others made it to cabinet level from working class homes, no one from the current generation has. Something clearly went wrong. Blair didn't put it right.

Back to Vinny. I really disagree with Simon Heffer (he's at the UKIP end of the Tory party, if I can put it like that) as a political writer. But he's even better on Alan Sillitoe than he was on Orwell. (Better, that is, as a weekend newspaper writer. He's lucid, succinct, and amusing. As with Orwell, I don't think he's wholly right, but most of the wrongness was a sacrifice to brevity, if one is prepared to be kind.) I can't quite hate the Tories. Heffer likes Orwell and Sillitoe (and Middlemarch, shudder). William Waldegrave was a Patrick O'Brian fan. And Cameron likes the Smiths. Who can hate people like that? Did Blair read at all?

5/16/2010 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I don't buy that either

I think the people who are attacked won't find it so hard to understand, will they? And you can't really say that, on the one hand, and say this

It's about who policies affect

on the other. They're going to affect some people, and they're not going to affect others, and that's going to be all about how much money you've got.

Something clearly went wrong

Do you think it might be that fewer people in politics talked abut class and economic inequality as if they mattered?

But thanks for supporting my theory that he's got more of a far-left background than he lets on

I have no idea what you mean by this. By whom has it been supported and it what way? Doesn't it still remain an evidence-free theory?

5/16/2010 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Er, surely the point on which to question Cohen is that one week ago - a long time in politics, clearly - he wrote

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/08/general-election-2010-hung-parliament3

sub-head

If the Lib Dems are brave enough to go into coalition with the
Tories, they will earn the public's respect

Now, that's probably a sub-editor writing that, but it fairly sums up Nick's article.

5/16/2010 04:50:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Maybe less than you think CC.

I've spent many a year defending a right-wing Labour Party that was only marginally better than the Tories because there are still people who live in those margins.

However the Blairite entrists broke that camel's back.

IMHO, the C2s are the big story of this election. The reactionaries are playing up the immigration line, but it just seems to me that the neo-liberal squeeze on anybody below managerial level finally caught up with New Labour.

5/16/2010 04:54:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

+1, Phil.

5/16/2010 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

The futures of Aarowatch is assured

http://twitter.com/DAaronovitch

5/16/2010 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a choice quote at the end of this

http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2010/the-tyranny-of-guilt

When Bruckner says, "Obama says to the Europeans, take your share of the burden"

Cohen moves swiftly on perhaps afraid someone will quote Kipling who put it the opposite way, calling on America to,


Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

etc

http://www.wsu.edu/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_2/kipling.html

5/16/2010 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Justin, there's a difference between 'attack' (intentional) and merely affecting via policies. I agree that the Tory policies are much worse for the poor (like myself actually, but I'm trying not to play the self-pitying fiddle too much here) than other parties' putative policies might be. But I don't see it as 'attacking' as you clearly do. I think it's more the steam roller driver not seeing the frog in his path.

Do you think it might be that fewer people in politics talked abut class and economic inequality as if they mattered?

I didn't make those who stopped stop. Class seems a vapourous concept to me; it meant something once, and doesn't so much now. Alan Johnson was a grammar schoolboy who went on to become a postman. Class is fluid, not as much as I'd like, but it is. Economic inequality is real, and is important. I'd like to reduce it; it went up under Labour. As it see it, there was no choice between the parties with a realistic chance of winning the election on the issue of inequality. Labour would talk the talk and then renege. I voted for civil liberties, and I'm not unhappy so far.

By whom has it been supported and it what way? Doesn't it still remain an evidence-free theory?

Well, I meant, sort of jokingly, that you supported it. Nick's core attitudes - ranting about privilege - seem like SW wankery to me. It's hard evidence free in the sense that no one has photographs of herds of dinosaurs or measured their blood temperature (as speculated in The Dinosaur Heresies and in Jurassic Park) but there's lots of indirect evidence, Nick's continuing, rather petulant, obsession with class stereotypes. His sub-Manichean division of everything into 'my side' and 'not my side'. I think those are clear indicators of an ex-cultist. Not that I'm above Manicheanism: to come back to the Starsky and Hutch thing, I remember Starsky saying to Hutch "It's just me and thee, and I'm not too sure about thee." Them's my politics. I'm not really a joiner. I've tried, but it's not my thing, man.

Phil, I don't trust haters, sorry. That's pretty ironic if you ever know me, as I'm a pretty good hater when the mood takes, but I'm not good at hating a group. I have a thing about looking for exceptions. You'll just have not to trust me.

5/16/2010 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

there's lots of indirect evidence, Nick's continuing, rather petulant, obsession with class stereotypes.

Doesn't this actually mean "although I don't actually have any evidence, I'm going to carry on claiming it anyway"? Aren't you yourself engaging in stereotypes here? Isn't this

Nick's core attitudes - ranting about privilege - seem like SW wankery to me.

actually a little petulant on your part?

I'll say it again: if Nick had been involved in far-left politics somebody would almost certainly remember him, because it's a small world with a great deal of knowledge of itself. But they don't. And until they do, the more you insist on it the weaker your case becomes.

Class is fluid, not as much as I'd like, but it is. Economic inequality is real, and is important

Well, I'm afraid people are going to keep on confusing the two, because in truth they're not very different. The greater economic inequality, the less fluid class becomes, and that inequality is likely to get worse soon. And that means resentment of the nobs, I'm afraid. Unfair? A little, but by God it's not remotely as unfair as the situation which generates it.

I think it's more the steam roller driver not seeing the frog in his path.

Do me a favour.

5/16/2010 05:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I'm not good at hating a group. I have a thing about looking for exceptions.

I don't hate all Tories - partly because some of them are admirable in parts, mainly because I don't go in much for hating individual people, unless they're individually hateful. I do, however, hate the Tories. In fact I tend to agree with a line attributed to John Pardoe - "realising that you hate the Tories is the beginning of all political wisdom".

5/16/2010 08:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Freshly Squeezed Cynic said...

"I think it's more the steam roller driver not seeing the frog in his path."

Which is rather the problem, isn't it? To belabour the metaphor almost to breaking point, the steam roller driver doesn't even check to see if there's any frogs in his way, and more importantly, he doesn't care if he does or not; it's the frog's fault for not getting out of the way.

5/17/2010 02:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

Class isn't fluid just because some bright boys from the working classes make it big; they are the exceptions, not the rule. And in fact people like Alan "no longer the minister" Johnson profited from a Labour party that explicitely tried to break down class barriers, one that no longer exists, so can't really be taken as evidence for the idea that class doesn't matter or matters less than it used to.

Most land is still owned by the upper classes, a study at Oxbridge is still more likely to get you a top job and it's still easier to get into Oxbridge via the old public school system, which is still largely out of reach of middle class and working class parents. Class matters as long as money matters, and never confuse the reality of economic classes with epheremal cultural markers, e.g. that watching BBC Four means you're middleclass. That's fluid, but doesn't change your economic status.

I think it's more the steam roller driver not seeing the frog in his path.

Considering what happened the last time the Tories came into power, when they did deliberately target working class institutions and broke the power of the union, I'd be skeptical that this won't happen again: the steamroller will be deliberately aimed at the frogs to the point of driving down their pound...

Heck, that Aaronovitch column about what happened in Tory councils was a good example of how it was working class support that was targeted for spending cuts.

5/17/2010 06:41:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Well by CChap's definition class was also fluid in the Middle Ages. Today the UK is the least socially mobile of the developed nations, and we're seriously lagging the next laggard, the US (the nation that protests far too much about its classlessness. Which is total bollocks. Dress, speech patterns, etc are give aways there, just as they are here).

Its not just about economic power (though that matters a lot), or educational power (most of the ex-public school boys at Oxford/Cambridge would not have got in from a state school), but also about cultural power. That if you're not from that background you won't quite fit, and so have to work a lot harder in a range of positions to make up for being essentially an outsider, while insiders have to work a lot less hard to rise. Though of course they don't see it that way...

Also I don't think the steamroller frog analogy really holds. The Tories seem to have some pretty active policies for screwing with the poor. The frogs are probably the better off working classes -> lower middles. Who will no doubt pay more tax, get shittier public services, but not due to any particular malice from the Tories.

5/17/2010 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Oh, and I've heard class hatred like Nick Cohen's everywhere from Cambridge (fairly common when I was there), to Investment banks (less common, but occasionally), old Labour supporters (exceedingly common), union workers (Pretty common) and too many other places to count. If they were all SW supporters, then the SW is in better shape than I thought. It also seems pretty healthy, or at least healthier than pretending we live in a meritocracy like Americans do.

5/17/2010 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous magistra said...

The problem with talking about class in economic terms is that the traditional Marxist categories don't work for C21 British society (though I'm happy to use them for some historical societies). After all, Sir Humphrey Appleby doesn't own the means of production, and so is working class on that criterion. And simple measures of income or wealth ignore how much these change over the course of a lifetime.

If you want to talk about class in economic terms, you have to find a new way of showing what the dividing lines are. One simple way might be to think about people's different vulnerability to economic shocks. If tomorrow you unexpectedly had to pay out 100 GBP, would that be a crisis for you, or would you be able to cope, possibly with help from family and friends? What about if it was 1000 GBP, 10,000 GBP, 100,000 GBP?

Maybe there are better measures of class in economic terms, and I'd be interested to hear about them, but I don't see how you can shoehorn the realities of work in a post-industrial society into a C19 pattern and get taken seriously.

5/17/2010 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

AW's days are numbered, BTW. The Times is going behind a paywall next month, and the point is that we can all read the stuff we 'watch'.

But AW could report back to the rest of us. Copious quotes up to and including 'fisking' would presumably be justifiable as fair use. Obviously this implies the rather cheeky suggestion that the proprietors somehow make provision for a subscription or ad hoc access.

On the other thing: Yes Nick's a twat but ejh + Phil are clearly basically right, though any talk of hatred can (and should) be dispensed with salva sensu.

So can frogroller-type questions, which quickly end up being about double effect, self-deception, and other irrelevances mainly of interest to those in search of straw conspiracies to bolster denial of political realities.

And who gives a shit if Cameron used to have a Smiths cassette, or if Heffer can regurgutate received truths (filtered through class stereotypes of a distinctly Thatcherite kind) about Sillitoe, or for that matter if Boris fucking Johnson has a half-decent turn of phrase combined with a well-cultivated affable-buffoon persona. WTF? FFS! YCSIUYAAFOWYDI, etc. (clue: Withnail.) If that kind of data were relevant, how could the topic be of any interest?

It's not a question of a strict and sober concern with policy on the one hand, and visceral, personalised hostility on the other. Character, habits, ways of thought, ingrained prejudices and bred-in blind spots (as well as any relatively impersonal class analysis of the Con party) are major inputs to the process of predicting future policy decisions. It's not as if rhetoric, manifestos or even (apparently) cast-iron promises are much to go on, is it.

This still applies notwithstanding piddling concessions to the Libs - if those do indeed materialise. (The one and only live issue - civil rights and personal freedom, which I take jolly seriously - is nowhere near as clear-cut as it may seem, but I'll shut up for now pending further comments on that.)

5/17/2010 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

magistra: the 'friends and family' stuff is mighty important. Class is, (obviously?) not an intrinsic property of individuals, though once that is allowed for, class allegiance/identification/sympathy at a given time may be.

Relatedly, too much can be made of marginal exceptions to general criteria.

5/17/2010 07:15:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

OK, Cian; I accept your second point about not everyone voicing 'class hatred' attitudes being SWs.

I do agree that we're not a meritocracy (and like Michael Young, who coined the word, I'm somewhat ambivalent about whether that would be a good thing) and that class isn't that fluid. But it seems wrong to me to claim that any MP, qua being an MP, is working class. Because obviously, they're not. Dennis Skinner acknowledged this. So 'working class' when it gets applied to individuals seems always disingenuous. MPs with working class backgrounds include David Davis (point to Nick Cohen), Norman Tebbit, Cecil Parkinson, John Major, Edward Heath, and for some of you, the great betrayer of the Labour movement, Social Democrat, Roy Jenkins. Was there anyone in Gordon Brown's cabinet who didn't come from the muesli-munching classes NC affects to despise? Not counting Brown himself, who I'm sure grew up on porridge.

So, I'm prepared to backtrack a little bit. But I still get wound up by Nick's constant snide remarks at his readers. Isn't it ironic that he's a fan of Brucker, who talks of Western Masochism, while flaying Observer readers and expecting them to love him for it? Speaking of masochism, I think that the relationship with the voters Labour apparently proposes is essentially abusive. Vote for us, or nasty things will happen. OK, you don't like the torture flights, or the detention of children, or ID cards, but the Tories will be worse. Maybe they will, but I think being out of power is for Labour's own good. See how they like being the ones punished for a change.

5/17/2010 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Tim, all good points. Rightly or wrongly, I get the vibe (if that's the word) that Nick hates me for my choice of breakfast cereal (maybe I should have brandy and cornflakes) more than he hates the Bullingdon club lot.

I keep coming back to Vonnegut, but really he was one of the smartest people ever. In a few of his books he proposes the idea that the state should randomly assign middle names and numbers to everyone, and then people with ostensibly nothing in common could discover that they had the same middle name. Thus world harmony. (Or not, of course: irrational discrimination is everywhere.) I have something in common with David Cameron, and something else in common with Simon Heffer. Hooray! See, you really can't trust me: I'm such an old hippy that I believe common humanity should triumph over everything. It won't work, but maybe we could give it a chance.

5/17/2010 07:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

doesn't own the means of production, and so is working class
...
might be to think about people's different vulnerability to economic shocks.


You're reinventing the same wheel. The point about ownership of the means of production isn't that you actually own the widget factory down the road, so much as that you own capital, which you can combine with other people's labour to produce more capital. And the point about being working class isn't that you work for a wage, but that you have to work for a wage. By that reckoning, nobody who has enough capital to give up the day job and open a little shop can be called working class, whether they actually do it or not.

5/17/2010 10:25:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

"petit bourgeois" is surely still a perfectly good marxist category -- possibly a bit under-theorised, especially when it's so pervasive (under-theorised in the sense that it seems to occur more as a dismissive term of abuse rather than as an analysis of pursuit of class interest, class power etc etc)

(i'm self-employed in a highly skilled artisanal profession, contracting out my labour and knowledge to whoever can/will pay my rates -- viz petit bourgeois to the bone; in class terms my sense of us and them "vacillates", as i believe the classic texts have it)

5/17/2010 10:47:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Well there are definitely problems applying Marx's analysis to the developed world today. Which is not his fault (great admirer of the man), its just the world changed. Industrial production of the type he discussed no longer really exists in the west. It has either been off-shored (where exactly the same phenomenon of the working classes being formed/educated is occurring), or the increased use of capital and decline of labour inputs has changed the nature, and social role, of industry radically. And I don't think service industries, for the most part, allow the kinds of class consciousness that he discussed to form. Hence the decline of unions, socialist politics and various other things. Whereas elite class consciousness is fine: being formed in Oxbridge, public schools, graduating training schemes, etc, etc.

The other group that Marx didn't address, because they didn't really exist in his time, is the managerial middle classes. They're not really petit-bourgeoise, neither are they working class. Often, but not always, they side with the elites (Venezuela for example), but there's still a powerful sense of resentment against elites building up there.

5/18/2010 08:40:00 AM  
Anonymous magistra said...

I'd add to Cian's analysis the greatly increased number of employed professionals, both in the public and private sector (teachers, medical professionals, librarians, engineers etc), a group to which I belong as both a librarian and a would-be academic. The professional training of such groups tends to inculcate an ethos that they are superior to the working classes. But in fact, a lot of us are conscious that we're economically vulnerable too - the next cost-cutting exercise could easily see us made redundant, and professional jobs are increasingly being outsourced or deprofessionalised too (see e.g. the rise of the paralegal). A left-wing discussion of class that didn't presume such people were automatically the enemy might attract support (see e.g. the MSF recruiting clergy).

5/18/2010 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

But as Phil say, wheels are being reinvented here. Everybody knows that class categories change over time, it's a matter of constant discussion on the Marxist left (and obviously not just them). Similarly, everybody on the left has always known that there are gradations and rivalries, that many people are much more interested in their presumed superiority over other ordinary people than in their relationship to the elite. It's helpful not to assume that other people think in crude categorisations, and it's also helpful to realise that class was always complex and difficult to apply to many individuals. No, it's not like it used to be - but then again, perhaps it never was.

But cian's point is perhaps the fundamental one. The elite, they have as much class consciousness as ever they did, the institutions and circumstances which produce them are still there. It may be expressed differently, it may be felt differently, but it's unchanged in strength. Chris Brooke referred to the Toires as class warriors on his blog the other day, and quite right too.

See how they like being the ones punished for a change

I don't think anybody gives a stuff that Labour is being punished. It's the fact that Labour supporters are going to be punished for the benefit of Tory and Lib Dem supporters that causes distress.

5/18/2010 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

And that was why I ultimately voted Labour, despite Labour (and my local candidate) being signed up to some policies which I don't hesitate to call evil. New Labour justified every measure that helped poorer people by drawing a line between decent, honest, hard-working people and the undeserving poor. That's bad - but for the Tories they're all undeserving.

5/18/2010 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

But how do you reform the slightly-less-evil party if you keep on voting for it regardless of how much it creeps towards evil? Even though they've lost, many Labour politicians seem to be concluding it was because they weren't evil enough on benefits and immigration. I don't give the LDs much chance of making the Tories less evil, but I gave them absolutely no chance of making Labour less evil if they'd gone into coalition with them.

As for class changes, sections of the Left may have been discussing them in great detail, but has anything filtered through into general political discourse? All I tend to hear is either 'white working class' or 'hard-working families', along with the Daily Mail's suggestion that inheritance tax is the biggest threat to the 'middle class'.

5/18/2010 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I very much doubt Labour will become less evil by being defeated: it'll depend on whether or not the Tories get away with implementing their own evil plans (with the Lib Dems as their assistants). If they do, then the whole terrain of politics will shift again to the right, as it did in the Eighties, and take Labour with it. If they don't, and the population become radicalised, then they take Labour some of the way with them.

But it would be a big mistake to think well, Labour will learn if they get beaten. What they learn, very much depends.

5/18/2010 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Its not so much that class categories change, but what the relevance of that is to capitalist development. Marx identified the concentration of organised labour in factories as something which would also form a class consciousness, self-awareness, etc, through things such as unions/proximity/etc. Now even if you accept he was broadly correct, there's nothing close to that today. Much of working class strength and unity came from the Unions. Unions are dying, and I don't think they are ever going to be the force that they were. Which means that the organised force that provided the working class with class consciousness has largely gone, while there is nothing to replace it (well there's the Sun and Sky...). The elites are probably more organised than they've ever been, while labour is almost entirely disorganised and unfocused.

At least for the forseeable future, the elites won. There is no serious resistance to neoliberalism, and there's nothing on the horizon with the force/discipline/unity/power that the Unions once had (even with their compromises, etc). And I can't really see what could replace them. I think its why so much of the far left seems so irrelivant. The world has changed, they failed to notice, or preferred not to.

5/18/2010 04:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

how do you reform the slightly-less-evil party if you keep on voting for it regardless of how much it creeps towards evil?

I've been voting against Labour for most of the last 20 years, & quite vocally advocated voting against them last time round. This time was different - this time the Tories could actually win. There seems to have been a big swing back to Labour in the last week or so of the campaign, & I suspect it was based on very much this perception. (More on this here.)

I don't give the LDs much chance of making the Tories less evil, but I gave them absolutely no chance of making Labour less evil if they'd gone into coalition with them.

Dunno. You've got one party that's strongly pro-authoritarian-state & pro-welfare-state, one that's strongly anti-authoritarian-state & weakly pro-welfare-state, and one that's weakly anti-authoritarian-state and strongly anti-welfare-state. On that scale (which is mine) the LDs are a slightly better match for the Tories than for Labour, but only very slightly; most other issues you could throw in would probably tilt the balance towards Labour.

5/18/2010 04:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

how do you reform the slightly-less-evil party if you keep on voting for it regardless of how much it creeps towards evil?

I've been voting against Labour for most of the last 20 years, & quite vocally advocated voting against them last time round. This time was different - this time the Tories could actually win. There seems to have been a big swing back to Labour in the last week or so of the campaign, & I suspect it was based on very much this perception. (More on this here.)

I don't give the LDs much chance of making the Tories less evil, but I gave them absolutely no chance of making Labour less evil if they'd gone into coalition with them.

Dunno. You've got one party that's strongly pro-authoritarian-state & pro-welfare-state, one that's strongly anti-authoritarian-state & weakly pro-welfare-state, and one that's weakly anti-authoritarian-state and strongly anti-welfare-state. On that scale (which is mine) the LDs are a slightly better match for the Tories than for Labour, but only very slightly; most other issues you could throw in would probably tilt the balance towards Labour.

5/18/2010 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

No, I think they noticed all right, but they didn't expect the changes to have the effect that they did - what they thought was temporary and surface-deep was permanent and far-reaching.

You've read The Making Of the English Working Class? One of Thompson's arguments was that that making was partly a making of self-awareness, and I'd have thought that one of the themes of the last generations or so has been its unmaking.

And yet - is it permanent? Or is it just in a slow process of remaking? Even if people don't feel themselves part of a movement, with all that that entails, any more (and very, very few people much younger than myself feel anything of the sort) I think there still remains an awful lot of us and them about. And when you have the threat of vast cuts which (little George's present charade notwithstanding) are widely felt to have been brought on us by the misdeeds of the City, and when you have the analysts at BNP Paribas instructing us as to what government we are permitted to have.... I wouldn't have thought the feeling of us and them will be much diminished.

But of course, it depends on what happens.

5/18/2010 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

re: Phil above, one of my fears is that politics could move into a direction whereby we have a liberal party (in a general sense) which would be socially liberal but very, very anti-welfare state, and an authoritarian/corporate party which would be pro-welfare state (though probably not pro-organised labour as such)but noticeably xenophobic and illiberal. This already seems to me to be a model existing in Eastern Europe, and it's one with no place in it for people like me.

5/18/2010 04:45:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

To what extent is Labour still pro-welfare state? At Phil pointed out, they have increasingly decided that some poor people deserve to be helped and some deserve to be treated as scum. David Miliband used the opening of his campaign to say that Labour hadn't done enough on anti-social behaviour, as if there weren't enough people in prison for minor offences already.

5/18/2010 07:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Yes, but the net result is still pro-welfare state for the majority of people who need it. I think the whole ASB/'Respect agenda' thing is best understood in religious terms, as a ritual act of obeisance to the immutable principle that Thou Shalt Screw The Poor - look, them! they're going to suffer! And as such it's a higher price for the welfare state than we should be prepared to pay. But that's still the best policy on offer - because neither of the other parties cares as much about the welfare state in any form as Labour still does.

5/18/2010 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger John B said...

"Today the UK is the least socially mobile of the developed nations, and we're seriously lagging the next laggard, the US".

Cite? This would surprise me.

"You've got one party that's strongly pro-authoritarian-state & pro-welfare-state, one that's strongly anti-authoritarian-state & weakly pro-welfare-state, and one that's weakly anti-authoritarian-state and strongly anti-welfare-state."

Rilly?

I'd say Labour = strongly pro-authoritarian & pro-welfare;
LDs = strongly anti-authoritarian, weakly pro-welfare; but Tories = weakly pro-authoritarian and weakly anti-welfare.

There's still a hell of a lot of Michael Howard in Tory social policy - anti-authoritarian is a long way from how I'd class Theresa May, for example. On the welfare side, it's important to remember that most Tory members and voters aren't Dan Hannan. In particular, they tend to be old, and so when polled consistently strongly support state pensions and healthcare (or at least, pensions and healthcare that they don't have to pay for).

Given that those are two of the three main aspects of the welfare state, this fact will massively temper any foreseeable Tory government's attitude to dismantling it...

5/19/2010 01:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...


Marx identified the concentration of organised labour in factories as something which would also form a class consciousness, self-awareness, etc, through things such as unions/proximity/etc. Now even if you accept he was broadly correct, there's nothing close to that today.


That description makes it sound as if Marx believed class consciousness et all would form naturally, with no need for self organisation, which wasn't the case. That self awareness was the outcome of a process that had already been well underway for centuries in England before Marx came along (ejh's suggestion of the Making of the English Working Class is a good one to give the context) but it didn't came about organically, but in fits and starts as circumstances changed, with people fighting and dying for concrete goals. In this the classic image of the mass proletariat, unionised and working in big factories is actually more of a 1930ties image than the reality of what Marx was witnessing, wasn't it?

The point I'm trying to make is that just because that classic image is no longer true, it doesn't mean either the working classes have disappeared or unions have become unsustainable, though obviously they have been battered around a lot since the seventies. The trouble is that for a lot of the union bureaucracy the present situation of low militancy and slow retreat is actually preferable than to reinventing themselves.

But the main Dutch union (FNV) is trying to and is having some succes doing so, organising office cleaners e.g. with limited resources and money.

5/19/2010 06:09:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Given that those are two of the three main aspects of the welfare state, this fact will massively temper any foreseeable Tory government's attitude to dismantling it...

Well surely, up to a point, but I'd be careful about "massively" and equally carefully about "foreseeable" since longrunning econiomic crises are not always situations in which what has been the case before still remains the case.

I think they'll do what they can get away with. So for instance they probably won't do much damage to currently-paid pensions, but what they might do is ape what many companies have done with their employee pensions: the rules will be changed massively for people who will be receiving them in 25-30 years time, for instance. Politically risky, of course, but much much less so than attacking existing pensioners.

(I also wonder whether councils might be encouraged to delcare themselves bankrupt in order to default on their pension obligations. But that's a long-odds punt.)

Whatever the specifics, I would expect them to see what they can get away with, bit by bit if they can. And they more they get away with, the more they'll try.

5/19/2010 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

John B: Well serious lagging the US is a bit of an exaggeration, as it depends upon how you measure it, and global comparisons are difficult. We're certainly no better, and possibly lower, depending upon the methdology chosen. The US and the UK are considerably worse than any other developed nation, while the Nordic countries are very good. This surprises you? Its possible that the US will decline further given its current educational policies I guess, so woo hoo. Progress.

Both the Sutton trust and the Centre for Economic Performance have done studies on social mobility, though I don't have anything to hand.

Martin: Was trying to condense a complicated argument into a sentence. Marx's point, as I understand it, was that they provided a social environment/structure in which people could organise and self-educate, in contrast to the conditions from which they came (peasant labour, artisans, etc). Much as certain kinds of commerce happen in cities, rather than villages. Also (obviously, based upon observation) working in the factories gave them the leverage with which to force better conditions. Yes there are still places where this is possible to some degree, but it just seems that the conditions are less suited today in much of the workplace. Skilled workers have too much to lose, unskilled workers are (for the most part) easily replaced. There was a massive change in capital formation during the 70s and 80s, which has greatly reduced the potential power of organised labour (which was the intention). That's not a reason for unions to give up, but I just don't think that they can be the political force that they once were. Though in the US there have been discussions on the margins of organised labour about becoming more community based, and less workplace based. That might work, and maybe that's where the future lies.

5/19/2010 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Phil: I think the whole ASB/'Respect agenda' thing is best understood in religious terms, as a ritual act of obeisance to the immutable principle that Thou Shalt Screw The Poor - look, them! they're going to suffer! And as such it's a higher price for the welfare state than we should be prepared to pay.

Well, 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime' - even if the causes of crime are successfully tackled (ultimately eliminating, er, crime) the toughness on crime must be maintained. Not that Nu Lab were very sucessful in tackling the economic nor other causes of (actual, serious) crime.

----

BTW, on unions: the BA court challenge over the 'lost 11' is part of a trend going back a few years - and looking into the precedents, I came across this observation, relating to NuLab's continuation of the Tories' good work in putting obstacles in the way pof strike action:

54. ...although the 1999 Act had reduced some of the burdens on unions, in other respects it had turned out to make their task more arduous, in particular as regards the need to supply more detailed information, and because of the uncertain scope of the phrase "to make plans" in the then section 226A(2)(c). The Government proposed to make changes on these points, to simplify the informational requirement and limit it to total numbers, categories and workplaces, and to replace the "make plans" provision with a more precise provision, and it invited comments. It also referred to the existing provisions about disregarding small accidental failures, and stated an intention to extend the ability to disregard such failures in two areas. The second was stated as follows, in paragraph 3.32(b):

"A new disregard relating to small failures to follow the law on pre-ballot and pre-strike notices could be introduced. The disregard would concern accidental errors on a scale which would not significantly reduce the practical help provided through the notices to the employer. This measure would reduce the scope for legal wrangling over minor technicalities in an area of the law where unions need to process a lot of information to meet the statutory requirement."

55. The Government invited comments as to the desirability of creating this new disregard. Presumably the comments received, together with its own further consideration, led it to the conclusion that such a provision was not desirable after all.

5/19/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

As anybody who's been seriously involve in union organisation knows, union membership lists are inevitably way out of date and highly inaccurate, simply because there are few or no active reps (if there are any reaps at all) in many branches. How much the law allows this to be taken into account, I don't know.

5/19/2010 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

On the civil rights/individual freedom issue being more complicated than it appears in electoral terms, i.e. how much less authoritarian the Tories are than Labour, and how much the Lib Dems can influence the Tories:

The Tories were going on about repealing the Human Rights Act (bad) - the Libs might be expected to moderate that (good).

And in fact the HRA isn't going to be repealed in a meaningful way. BUt that's not because of liberal concerns, but because - in case anyone hadn't noticed - it's the transposition into national law of the European Convention, so the rhetoric about it, like the talk of a retrospective referendum, was hot air all along. So that's a non-issue.

In general, I'm very sceptical that the Libs will get anywhere near as much on this issue as they imagine. The papers are only just getting started with the lurid anecdotes: currently highly dangerous trrists who can't be deported, but also can't be convicted, because the evidence of their misdeeds is of that special secret kind, honest guv.

Once Theresa May has been given that 'read but don't copy' treatment by a solemn assembly of spooks and fast-tracked terror-cops, we can expect (even) less opposition to the GWOT side of authoritarianism from her, for a start.

And the GWOT prong is the one the Libs are most concerned about, latte-swilling privilege-monkeys that they are, rather than the specifically underclass-orientated stuff like ASBOs and other increases in discretion at low-level.

5/19/2010 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

The ASBO legislation won't get repealed now it's been implemented, because no government wants to be seen as being 'soft' on crime. But I think it is the kind of authoritarianism that only New Labour would have thought of, both in class terms and in their approaches to punishment.

In class terms, ASBOs were originally intended to tackle the kind of low-level nastiness that working-class people on estates had to experience, that those in more prosperous neighbourhoods tended to avoid. Blunkett et al very much positioned it as being intended to protect their core supporters among the 'decent' poor.

More generally, I think you can see something of Foucault's contrasts in Conservative and New Labour approaches to punishment. Conservatives tend to the traditional grand gesture of exemplary punishment: extreme harshness will deter others. New Labour are much more in the Enlightenment tradition of collapsing together criminals and social deviants, and trying to spot and nip in the bud the seeds of badness. The difficulty is that they're severely hampered in their attempts actually to do something effective with problem children and families by their fear that they might be accused of rewarding bad behaviour unless they constantly threaten them with sanctions even as they try and help them.

5/20/2010 09:10:00 AM  

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