Santa has seen fit this year to give me a copy of Capital by Karl Marx, along with a lovely reprint of Darwins ‘The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits’. He does know what I like, that Santa! Spot the difference!
2013 has been a funny old year for me : since completing a Permaculture Design Course in April, I have been going on about Capitalism more than at any time since the sixth form at school. I know it’s partly the company I keep, but also, I think I smell a whiff of zeitgeist proletarian discontent on the way in 2014! 2013 was the year young women started to call themselves Feminists again, and what with the return of the 1980’s in the form of Doc Martens, big glasses and rolled up jeans, I think we are due this year to collectively cast a critical eye on our political landscape since 1979.
One of 2013’s most memorable moments for me, was an episode of ‘Have I Got News for You’ : the panellists were satirising the number of politicians from private schools, then, possibly struck by the irony, started asking each other if they went to private schools : on that occasion, there was one person on the programme who had gone through an ordinary education, not paid for by their parents. A short silence followed, during which I imagine they were contemplating their careers, their incomes, and their access to the satisfactions of fame, had they not had the advantage of private schooling.
In the UK, the dominance of people from private schools goes further than almost everyone in Parliament and almost everyone in the Media, to include almost everyone in Business as well. I think this explains much of the absence of women in powerful jobs too : Eton, the school which educated apparently nine tenths of our political and social elites, does not take girls.
Now, I am not knocking the achievements of some of these people : privilege might get you the interview, but once you’ve got the job you have to stay there by your own wits, of course. And private school doesn’t guarantee you a successful career : there are plenty I’m sure, choosing to drive around in the family Bentley smoking heroin rather than having an influential career in Politics, Media or Business.
The thing is, though, that, given a useful quantity of limbs and brain cells : the one thing that makes a difference to any child’s life is this and only this : Opportunity. For a brief time in the UK, intelligent working class children could be lifted out of their class by access to Grammar Schools. My mother was one of these, and I remember her telling us of the yearly struggle to afford the cashmere uniform that had to be bought from some posh shop in Piccadilly, from the wages of a single mother working as a dinner lady. Not that her education ushered her into a fabulous career : but it did find her middle class friends, and gave my parents the opportunity to ‘fake it till you make it’ for us. They told us we were posh, and, in the way of children, we believed them : and no amount of evidence to the contrary would make any difference : the fact that we had tea instead of supper, and it was leek and potato soup rather than Vichyssoise, the ramshackle farm that gave way to a (for shame!) council house, the lack of a university education, or, ahem, any money, none of these gave us an inkling, bizarrely, that we were in fact working class.
Last year, Margaret Thatcher died, after a long illness which could apparently only be eased by residence at the Ritz Hotel. She was another of the few working class girls, like my mother, who was lifted from the masses by a Grammar School Education, but so much about her legacy is explained by her origins and her struggle. Now, I know when she got power, she used it for evil rather than good, but I think she should be recognised for her achievement in getting power at all, firstly, as a girl, and also, as a working class person. I’m fairly sure the Devil went to Eton, but she didn’t have his advantages : she emerged from a small town dominated by heavy industry, through a male dominated career, and got to the top of a party dominated by class and gender privilege. Once there she set about dismantling the structures by which men passed on power to other men : from the trades unions to the old boy network in the City. When she died, people held parties, but the truth is she didn’t get us into this mess alone : for decades those with political privilege, whether born or acquired, have been lining the pockets of the rich, while chewing holes in the safety net for the poor, and pulling the ladders to university education and home ownership ever higher. Our manufacturing skills have not been nurtured, any job that can be exported to a low wage economy has already gone, and Academy bootcamps are teaching inner city children not how to think, but how to obey.
We had riots in London in 2011, where outrage at police treatment of the young and/or marginalised spilled over into fightin’ and lootin’ : if you must tell people their worth is measured by their acquisition of trainers and tellies, but deny them the means to get any, don’t be surprised if it causes trouble in the end!