In today's Dail Mail, Amanda Platell tells us how "it's shabby values, not class, that are to blame for society's ills." Given that it's the paper's hallmark, one perhaps shouldn't be too surprised at the poisonously snobbish invective that followed this headline. Nevertheless, it serves to highlight all that is wrong with the mainstream debate on the subject of class, and why electoral politics is a zero-sum game that serves only elite interests at our expense.
We get an idea of what is to come from the first three paragraphs;
Harriet Harman's 'equality bible' was published this week - 450 pages of dripping, liberal invective that lays all the blame for society's ills on the class system.
According to this queen of social engineering, people's 'life chances, from cradle to grave, are shaped' by their class origins.
Yet when it comes to looking for the real cause why so many of the working class do worse at school, earn less and die younger, the blame must be placed elsewhere - on the countless numbers of feckless parents.
That's right. Forget the fact that our economic system is built upon a system of private property which allows the owners of said property to maintain a stranglehold on the workforce. That whilst social mobility has ground to a halt, the richest few got even richer. Or that, in every crisis perpetuated by the wild excess of those with capital, it is the workers who have had to suffer the brunt and pay the costs. It's our fault, and we deserve all the shit that's heaped upon us.
The proof of this absurdity? The fact that a branch of Tesco recently banned people from entering wearing pyjamas. As Platell puts it;
Welcome to the world of Britain's slum mums, where women without an ounce of self-respect go shopping dressed like slobs in elasticated-waist nightwear and fluffy slippers.
One of those banned from the store (in a rundown inner-city area once controversially branded 'the estate of missing fathers') whinged: 'Do they have any idea how difficult it is to get three kids off to school when you are a single parent? We haven't got time to get all dolled up.'
The working class of the past had enormous self-respect. Men, however poor, wore suits and ties.
Women scrubbed front steps. Mothers wouldn't have been seen dead wearing pyjamas in their own kitchen, let alone in public.
The tragedy is that the shabby values of these slum mums are passed on to their children. Until this sloth changes, no amount of social engineering will have any effect.
The truth is that it's not being born working class that destroys children's chances in life, but the way they are brought up in broken homes by parents married to a welfare culture that leeches away any sense of self-respect or ambition.
If your only role model is a slob of a mother who doesn't work, can't bother to get dressed in the morning, lazes around smoking, eating junk food and watching Jeremy Kyle-style TV shows all day, what chance is there for you?
There simply aren't words. How exactly do all of these imagined vices follow on from wearing pyjamas? Whatever your opinions on the practice in and of itself, the idea that wearing pyjamas outdoors is symptomatic of "broken homes in a welfare culture" is as absurd as believing that all teenagers who wear dark clothes worship satan or are likely to shoot-up their school. That Platell had to work her yearning for "a government that has the willpower to dismantle Britain's ruinous benefits system that keeps rewarding slum mums for bringing up generations of children destined for illiteracy, worklessness and premature death" into a rant about pyjamas shows how deep her snobbery runs.
However, Labour is already working hard to be the government of her dreams. In October, it announced a measure "requiring single parents with children aged 10 or 11 to look for work, or risk losing benefits." And the Welfare Reform Bill introduced "plans to fine jobless single parents with pre-school age children if they did not prepare for work while receiving benefits." Given that "working-age people on benefits remain well below the minimum income standard," this is nothing short of a drive to force single parents into povery. Only the blithely, wilfully ignorant could see "fecklessness" where there is an oppressive class system.
As Sue Gerhardt notes in the Guardian;
The first two or three years are the crucial window when various systems which manage emotions are put into place. In particular, it is when we learn to exercise self-control and to be aware of other people's needs. Without these basic emotional skills children may not grow up emotionally competent.
But to achieve this basic emotional literacy, babies need to be with people they are attached to well beyond nine months. They need to be with people who are safe and familiar, who know them well, respond to them quickly and, above all, love them. The idea that their main caregiver should be forced by economic necessity to take paid employment – or encouraged to let someone else manage their baby's emotional development – is ludicrous.
As "JH", a single parent opposing proposals in the new welfare reform act, wrote: "I have the love and the commitment – why is that not recognised? I don't see how paying a stranger to care for him, while I seek similarly underpaid part-time work (perhaps even caring for someone else's children) will benefit either of us, financially or otherwise."
The evidence is that it is highly unlikely to benefit her child – particularly if he is put into low-quality nursery care – since the earlier babies are put into nurseries, and the longer they are there, the more likely their emotional distress will result in them being aggressive and difficult at school. Recent research by Clancy Blair at Pennsylvania State University also suggests that children's academic achievement is highly dependent on the emotional foundations that are put in place in the first couple of years.
Yet instead of moving towards greater support for early parenting, the government is sending the message that this is a luxury we cannot afford. Mothers should leave their babies and get back to earning money. The worthy goal of lifting children out of poverty is invoked. Of course we don't want children to feel excluded from society, to suffer from their parents' financial anxieties, or to live in communities of workless, frustrated adults. Yet it is simple-minded of the government to conclude that forcing parents into work is the most effective way to end child poverty.
Simple-minded is putting it delicately, whether we are referring to the government or to commentators such as Platell. As the ideological defenders of the capitalist system, they are invested in convincing the rest of us that it works. Poverty is the fault of the poor, and those who would take welfare to keep themselves and their families alive rather than dying in a ditch as the wretched should are filthy scroungers to be mocked and scorned. Notions of class are only acceptable with racial, gender, or even religious prefixes as a way of dividing workers against themselves.
Platell serves this system well. Though I imagine that, placed in the position she so derides, she would do much more than "whinge." Of her, then, I offer the same judgement I did of Bill Wiggin.