Class has a pull on heart strings, and political labels which to the unaccustomed may seem quaint. While in America everyone is middle class, the closest politicians in Britain come to saying that is Middle England. Even then, it is talking about values that supposedly belong to middle class people – holidays abroad, rising house prices, concerned with status in a community and conservative values of society. The opposite view is Big Britain which is more socially engaging, sees money as not a measure of success, and doubts anything they are told from media sources where new ideas are seen as important. One looking forward with new ideas, the other wanting to recapture a bygone era that was better with traditional means.
The middle and working class distinction is still there, though more a cultural one then an attitude save for those political warriors of another time. John Prescott – deputy leader of the Labour Party during Tony Blair’s Premiership and the man thought to have brought the trade unions on side with the Blairite project – has a new series called “Prescott – The Class System and Me“. While this may take us on a whimsically philosophical view of class attitudes and culture (a chippy will be included) that distinction can be shown with Jamie Oliver trying to change attitudes to food. Food is culture, and even though Jamie Oliver is advocating healthy eating at budget type prices the difference that seems clear is education – at least the ability to actually use a pan rather than a microwave.
The ability to do well in education and get a high paid job is a key factor. Prescott failed his eleven plus and had jobs as a waiter and sailor before joining the trade union movement and becoming an MP. What you lack academically can be overcome by sheer bloody hard work and self improvement. The uphill battle Jamie Oliver is having on working class mothers – tired from unsocial hour jobs, not spending quality time with their children, and no cookery or nutritional savvy at all – is seen by some as an attack on class culture.
Yet cultural life style attitudes have an impact. How much education you have, how long you live, how healthy you are. It then impacts on your children too. The cycle can be broken of course; but overcoming ignorance and aspiring to try something different is not always something people want. Culture has become territorial and the grub you eat regarded as a status symbol of where you come from. Leaving you unable to concentrate at school, and later health problems.
Where you come from, your roots can be important. In my case, the first person from my family to go to University. As a manager the only time I have done any physical work was volunteering with a conservation group pulling up Rhododendron bushes. I had backache for three days, and regular hot baths. When I see one blossoming in a garden it’s beauty is diminished as I think of them as the weeds they were in the forest where they strangled the life out of trees. My voice developed mixing with middle class people at church, and a conscious mimicking of BBC news readers. It helped having a political correspondent as a name sake. If that is the reason for my interest in politics and current events then what would have happened to me as a child watching him on Strictly Come Dancing I have no idea.
My brief period of unemployment has come to an end. The credit crunch resulted in my taking voluntary redundancy. Now I am working for an international bank that sees itself as the local bank. Hopefully not a case of out of the pan and into the fire in these financial stormy times. The fact that there is a two year wait on a car parking space amounts to job security at these times.
So working again. Which seeing as the claimant count for job seekers will be two million by Christmas is not something I take lightly. The whole class distinction has to be put to one side when we look at what allows people to achieve high incomes and healthy life styles. Good education, high paying jobs, social hours.
In a recession, where graduates work at Starbucks because there are no other jobs available and they are closing down as people rein in their spending that matters more then ever. Lack of opportunity gives way to lack of aspiration. The drive to succeed, for personal enrichment through education, and learning the life skills to get ahead in life are important. Denying people the opportunity to make use of that hard work is one that we cannot afford to squander with social immobility and lack of access to education.
Those distinctions of working and middle class need to disappear. Education and aspiration, with equal access to opportunity are the words that need action to mobilise people to become more than their roots statistically ever suggested they could be. We need a society which works for people by rewarding the contribution people make to it, rather than putting obstacles in the way.