Thursday, January 21, 2010

Harriet Harman to announce that class is the decisive factor in social immobility

Harriet Harman is expected to announce today that class is the decisive factor in social immobility.

“Persistent inequality of socio-economic status — of class — overarches the discrimination or disadvantage that can come from your gender, race or disability,” the deputy Labour leader will say.

HH makes two mistakes here: first, she confuses 'socio-economic status' with class. (What class you are has borne little relation to – certainly not some kind of inevitable consequence of – the money you have for at least two generations now.) Secondly, she seeks to accuse our society (institutional?) racism, sexism and prejudice against the disabled.

While I don't seek to deny that there are still strides to be made before we reach a true balance of power between the genders, races and the disabled and able-bodied, what really makes my blood boil is that she is deliberately using this incendiary argument to gloss over the true inequalities that her government has brought about.

Her speech does one good thing: it shows that Labour are at last acknowledging that under their government, social mobility is the worst its ever been. Those born disadvantaged have a steeper mountain to climb if they wish to escape than ever before: poor diets, high crime rates, depressed morale, poor education and a severe lack of positive role models all contribute. Low-income areas and their residents have become ever more segregated as the middle classes have barricaded themselves apart with gated communities and enormous SUVs with blacked out windows. Money spent by the high earners has been channelled straight back into their own communities with few government incentives offered (as in America) for charitable giving. Not to mention that Labour encouraged vast amounts of non-doms to reside here - bringing their cash to spend on Bond Street but with no sense of community responsibility.

But to suggest that all this is the fault of class is the kind of blinkered, inverted-snobbery response that makes me want to perform acupuncture with toothpicks on Harriet Hardup. In fact, you could argue that in the last century, where class divisions were strictly observed and very obvious, social mobility was not only easier but actively encouraged. It was, then, after all, that the welfare state was introduced, the practice of better education for all for longer was brought in and meritocracy was the buzzword.

Any capitalist society will contain, sadly, the indolent poor and the indifferent rich as well as the self-obsessed middle classes. And in Britain, hundreds of years of dialect and a class structure has left its imprint - we notice the way a knife is held, the h's that are dropped. But these things do not in themselves lead to ghettos, a crippling stealth tax, the reward of greedy, thick bankers and a fearful population afraid to cross over to the 'wrong' side of the street. No, Harriet, those things are the fault of the government - your government. When will you say sorry?

1 comment:

  1. You left out one other thing; the policies of all post-WW2 Labour governments that drove so many of the best, brightest, and most industrious Britons to emigrate; sixty years on, Britain is now saddled with a seriously depleted gene pool. Margaret Thatcher also bears responsibility for the exodus of science boffins when she made severe cuts in university funding. At the time, it was said to be the biggest European scientist "brain-drain" since WW2.