1990s >> 1997 >> no-1109-january-1997

TV Review: Clueless and Classless

In examining the concept of class and whether John Major has succeeded in creating a classless Britain, ITV’s World In Action last month maintained its usual high standard of visual entertainment while simultaneously slipping badly in its standards of reporting. Like an insipid pint of beer there was plenty of froth but little body.

A number of celebs were paraded in front of the cameras to air their views on what they perceived the word “class” to mean. Style guru Peter York, footballer and PR merchant Max Clifford were among those who joined Tony Benn and Tory MP Steve Norris to declare an interest in the subject. This was the froth, but it was far more nourishing and tasty than anything that was to follow. While gung-ho. patriotic Tory-loving Vinnie Jones set out to convince anyone yet to make their mind up about him that he is indeed a total muttonhead. many of the others expressed views that bordered on the sensible—even Tony Benn.

Benn declared that the only meaningful conception of class is that which defines it in terms of how people get what they need to live, and that no political or economic problems will be solved unless the fundamental division in modern society between the owning class and the workers is addressed rather than avoided. This sound analysis was only spoilt by the fact that Benn is a man who has been a willing participant in anti-working class Labour governments which have attacked the living standards of the majority in the interests of capital, and who will be standing under Blair’s banner at the next election—Blair himself being a politician who reiterates almost every time he speaks the importance of putting the “old class divisions” behind us to build a “united Britain”.

Quite amazingly. Peter York, a well-heeled ex-public schoolboy who has made a small fortune out of rather superficial social commentary about Sloane Rangers. Essex Man and the like, came out as a putative Marxist on the issue. While many could be forgiven for thinking that York would be one of the last-ditch defenders of the idea that class is all about etiquette, clothes, style, dialect and other fripperies, he instead rejected this view, stating that Marx’s conception of what constitutes a social class is right after all! Only slightly less straightforward was the viewpoint of Max Clifford, who demonstrated that he, too, was not taken in by the camouflage draped over the issue by politicians and the newspapers.

Downhill all the way
But once this appetising froth was out of the way. the dregs were not far behind. The World In Action reporting team continually peppered their commentary with the assertion—never substantiated once—that the changing social structure of Britain was exemplified by the statistic that there are now as many “middle class” people as there are “working class”. Though no evidence was given for it and no argumentation deployed to justify it either. this was presented time and again.

What constitutes “middle class”? They didn’t say. Why was the analysis of Tony Benn and Peter York dismissed in such a way? We weren’t told. What seems likely is that this was either a deliberate attempt to confuse people or simply make the subject more “complicated” than it actually is, or alternatively simply slopping reporting.

Either way, it served as a springboard for a hopelessly irrelevant segment centred around the chairman of the MORI polling organisation. Bob Worcester, who took it as his cue to bombard anyone still watching with meaningless statistics about Essex Man and Worcester Woman, and how important the lie machines at Tory Central Office and Walworth Road consider them to be. While the commentary made the valid point that those at the bottom of the pile are being left out in the bigger political game, why give this type of analysis house space in the first instance? Its only real validity would be if the political ideologies of the main political parties were determined by what Worcester Woman thinks. But this is sheer fantasy, and is at least in part what the parties themselves would like their target voters to think about them, i.e. listening to the voters and shaping their policies accordingly. The reality is that the politics of the Labour and Tory parties is determined by their support for capitalism, and by the needs of requirements of the owning class at any given point in history. Essex Man and Worcester Woman can go and whistle if anything they do or think comes into conflict with that, and this journal for one is full of relevant examples.

This is why John Major’s hope of creating a classless society was just so much hot air. To create a really classless society would require the abolition of the political and economic power of the capitalist class. Neither Major nor Blair want this, only a removal of the perceived social barriers which make it more difficult to move from what is really the working class to the class of capital owners (they are presumably well aware that this is difficult enough without any additional impediments). Style, etiquette, dialect and background should not matter they say—only profits, markets and stocks and shares. Capitalists and workers would then truly be of one social class, only distinguishable by a few million pounds, as if such a triviality as that should matter among friends! And all this in the finer defence of a parasites’ world of inaction where to be truly classless—Vinnie Jones— is to be totally clueless with it

Dave Perrin