Not a week goes by without some right wing British politician or pundit bewailing the lot of the ‘left behind’ white working classes. Most of it is bogus sympathy. Most of them have never cared about those beneath them. Particular identity politics are cynically stimulated by people of power and influence, most effectively by Nigel Farage, the most successful travelling hawker of white victimhood. Depressingly, genuinely concerned men and women are also now caught up in this social panic. Nicky Morgan, previous education secretary, usually measured and thoughtful, this week warned that white working class boys were outperformed by ethnic minority pupils, ‘whose families are aspirational and value education more’. ( http://www.conservativehome.com/thecolumnists/2017/03/nicky-morgan-its-time-to-focus-on-white-working-class-boys-whose-needs-are-neglected-in-too-many-schools.html)
In truth the government’s own research shows that Chinese and Indian British children are top achievers while white and black working class kids as well as Pakistani British pupils are low down the table. Class has been racialized, I suspect, to divide and rule those who did not fare well under globalisation. Brexit deepened the chasm
A persuasive new investigation exposes the fallacies of the current discourse. Minority Report, jointly published by the Runnymede Trust and Centre for Labour and Social Studies ( CLASS), challenges the prevailing narrative and leading figures who have bought into Ukip nativism. Dr Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, points out that pitting white working people against those of other ethnicities provides no solutions for the disadvantaged. Also, that white and non- white working classes have more in common with each other than they have with middle and upper classes. This is the first salvo in a nasty propaganda war and very welcome it is too.
It all started way back in 2008, when Labour’s Hazel Blears started speechifying about disenfranchised white working classes. At one debate organised by the Fabian Society she droned on and on about the ‘ambitions’ of these people who wanted good schools and good jobs and good universities. ( As if black and Asian working classes had no such ambitions). In the same year the BBC, controversially, broadcast White Season, a series of ‘frank’ programmes on the lives and thoughts of indigenous Brits. Frank Field, Ian Duncan Smith and others took up the theme with gusto. Munira Mirza, one of Boris’s deputy mayors, opined in 2010, that race was sorted, class was the problem. No evidence was provided. Soon these mantras became trends. At almost all party conferences myriad fringe meetings would discuss the exclusion of the white working classes from opportunities and either blatantly or subtly blame ‘multiculturalism’ for this injustice.
As Robert Yates astutely pointed out in The Observer this February: ‘ The ‘left behind’ are, it is said, profoundly at odds with liberal metropolitan types. In fact, this theory has now hardened into received wisdom…politicians, academics and journalists have chosen to run with [this] culture clash’ At a dinner party I recently clashed with an English ex Labour politician who was churning out platitudes about the divided kingdom. I asked him how many unemployed or non- professional white mates he himself had and whether he would rejoice if his daughter married a part time road builder. That, he shouted, was not fair. Isn’t it? Why not?
According to these pernicious myths, we black and Asian Britons, are responsible for low white working class educational qualifications, their bad accommodation, poor health, perhaps divorces too? . We are portrayed as grabby villains who steal the good life away from those with hearts of oak and roots deep in the soil. Oddly and contradictorily, minorities are also lazy bastards who drain the benefits system. Thankfully, lived experiences do dispel many of these perceptions.
On Monday I went to a large London hospital and met casual staff- cleaners, trolley pushers and auxiliary nurses. Some were English, Scots, Welsh and Irish, others were Ethiopians, Somalis, Nigerians, Poles, Rumanians, Portuguese, and Bangladeshis. NOT ONE white Brit said to me publicly or privately that ‘foreign’ colleagues were the real problem. There were tensions. For example, the Bangladeshi cleaners did not like to be supervised by females and a Scottish nurse objected to the hijab. But their primary concerns were about wages and conditions and underfunding. Bad news for those who want to think that humans are designed not to share but to compete savagely.
All those who make up the British working and workless classes are suffering deprivation because of poor employment prospects, bad housing and education. Furthermore, they help each other. On one housing estate near us, for example, Miriyam, a refugee, looks after Welshwoman Patti’s two children. In exchange Patti buys her groceries and cheap clothes. Tony, a disabled English builder is helped by Tariq, a part time butcher. They are very good friends in need.
Race, religion and ethnicity have too long been used to divert attention from class analysis and neglect. It is time to fight the peddlers of lies, lies and fake statistics and to demand a better deal for all those at the bottom of our cruelly unequal and unjust nation.
International Business Times, 29/3/17