At heart, I am a superstitious person. I might pretend to accept the reality of the scientific view of the world, but on a good day I wholeheartedly accept the wisdom of consulting palmists, reading tarot cards, decking myself in crystals or taking a walk along the nearest leyline. And at the moment I am really into synchronicity, man.
This has been prompted by the re-emergence of a topic that for years you’d have been forgiven for thinking had been relegated to the status of the practices listed above.
About as welcome as a Druid at a Richard Dawkins lecture, it seems impossible at the moment to get through the day without this much-neglected topic being discussed.
Stuck in a tricky bit of philosophical analysis, I found myself looking for something to distract me. I found a live link to Ed Miliband and the Shadow Cabinet who were at
Gateshead doing a Q & A session with the public. That designation makes them sound like a 60s rock band, and I can easily imagine Andy Burnham wearing Ray-Bans and toting a telecaster, while Liam Byrne lays into a drum solo and Yvette Cooper breaks into song. (At one point, one hundred and six people were watching this event. Wow! And they say Britons are not political.)
Anyway, Ed was talking about class and the shrinking life chances for young people from less affluent backgrounds. I wasn’t surprised to hear him talking about this as I’d heard him raise this subject at the leadership hustings and it was the main reason that he got my second preference.
Class remains the great unspoken in British society. Since John Major’s heralding of ‘the classless society’ those of us who think it is a vital concept for understanding British social and cultural life have been on the back foot. Use the C word, and you get accused of being a class warrior who is living in the past. Society has changed; times have changed; the great neo-liberal faith in individual ability has triumphed and such an amorphous category no longer makes sense.
Such claims ignore the sad truth that your parents’ income and occupation will largely determine your own.
Social mobility has stalled, and let’s face it, it’s never been that great. That it should be getting worse scares me. It frightens me even more than the ghastly Jacob Rees-Mogg resorting to Latin to explain that class is unimportant because his low-brow constituents happily voted for a posh bastard like him. ‘Vox populi, vox dei’, apparently.
But it does matter. Not least because the middle and upper classes are extremely good at securing their connections and privileges.
Look at the practice of internships. Unpaid, only the wealthy can gain from the experiences these give. And in practice, it is the networks so carefully cultivated by the middle class dinner party that allow little Johnny and little Janey to gain the experience they need in order to ease their entry into the higher professions.
I have a vested interest in all this. I am one of the lucky ones who recognises that she was lucky. I am not a working class Tory who puts their rise through the class system down to their individual brilliance that could not be matched by any of their peers. I am well aware of the conjunction of factors that allowed me as a working class gal to seize the opportunity of going to university: good teachers, great youth workers, supportive family members who valued learning, a full grant. Luck – and the support of the state - not genius account for my success.
Only recently have I been more vocal about my origins. The networks relied on by the more affluent in society need to be combated through developing similarly powerful means of support for those from poorer backgrounds who want to enter particular professional or educational worlds. Those of us who have made this transition have a duty to help others do the same.
This is not just about the importance of enabling individuals to realise their potential. If our country is to be economically and culturally successful, we need a more diverse workforce at all levels which reflects the vibrancy of the different perspectives to be found in our society.
It’s good that as Labour lives out its time in the wilderness it is developing policies that take seriously the issues of class. Let’s hope we are in a position soon to make such thinking a reality.
I’m looking forward to that reunion gig with all the excitement of a Take That fan.