Sunday, September 02, 2007

Shame

I wonder how many of us raised in poor working-class communities, who became the first generation to go to university, recognise this picture, from John Lloyd's review of Andrew Anthony's The Fallout ? Not necessarily in relation to racism. I can remember being uneasy (a student with a full grant and some scholarship money), when I talked with my uncles, steelworkers who would rise at 5.30 am to go to their shifts. They just didn't have much sympathy, to put it mildly, for people who lived for years on benefits. At Uni the Claimants Union movement was in full swing, and 'ripping off the State' was in theory bringing the Revolution that much closer. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa ...

Anthony uses an account of his early years as a vivid, emotively charged account of a working class-born, council house-raised and comprehensive school-educated boy who came to question his parents' outlook. In one instance cited, his mother asked her local councillor why it was that she, a model tenant for many years, had become a much lower priority for rehousing than a newly arrived immigrant family. The councillor to whom Mrs Anthony complained was Tessa Jowell, until recently Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; she gave her complaining constituent 'a brusque lecture on racism'.

This vignette recalls progressive, especially London, politics of the Seventies and Eighties, where largely middle-class politicians of the left did do good, did keep the local machines going, but with an overlay of moralising political correctness which assumed prejudice on the part of a white working class and innocence on the part of those with darker skins. In a comment which must be a painful memory, Anthony observes that at university, his 'enlightened concern was that she [his mother] didn't do or say anything that could be construed as racist ... I was now outside, like an anthropologist, looking in'.

With a similar, if rural, experience of growing up, getting out and looking back with contempt, I was hugely impressed and moved by the sad delicacy of his recreation of his mother, the regret that she should have been a victim of his newly adopted radical disapproval.

2 comments:

JuliaM said...

"I was hugely impressed and moved by the sad delicacy of his recreation of his mother, the regret that she should have been a victim of his newly adopted radical disapproval."

She's his mother, she'll forgive him. Let's hope history can too. At least he's seen the light now...

dearieme said...

Why, and when, did undergraduates start dole-bludging? In my day (1964-8) we all worked in the vacations, except perhaps at Easter when jobs were harder to find. That plus your grant kept you ticking along comfortably. Within a few - but how few? - years, the buggers were all claiming benefits. What happened? Whenever it was, that plus the miners' strikes and the Winter of Discontent seem to me to constitute the undeniable evidence of the rot that's usually blamed on the Thatcher years. But she was elected as a reaction to them.