The worst form of bigotry today is the liberal elite's view of the working classes as a mongrel race of slothful drones
We often hear of self-loathing Jews, but what about self-loathing proles – working-class people who look back with contempt at the communities they had the misfortune to grow up in? There’s a very good example of it in today’s Guardian, in this column by Lynsey Hanley, a woman who has made a writing career on the back of the fact that she grew up on a council estate. (It is testament to the middle classes’ continuing colonisation of the media that Ms Hanley can be treated as a curious novelty by Granta and the Guardian, almost as a messenger from some distant, dark planet, simply because she once lived in social housing.) Ms Hanley writes of the “terrible ignorance” of the community she used to live in, prior to her moral and mental rescue by “metropolitan elite liberal values”.
Perhaps keen to assure her current employers that she is now one of them and has been scrubbed clean of any trace of working-class brutishness, Ms Hanley sneers at the “view of life” that held strong in the community she was born into. These people were “paranoid, suspicious, mistrustful, misogynist and racist”, she says. She heaps disdain on the “social conservatism” of white working-class communities, which are given to “silently or violently rejecting anyone who is different or who expresses a different opinion to that of the crowd”. Thankfully for her (and let’s face it, probably for the community she was born into), Ms Hanley escaped from this “crowd” (in pre-PC times they called it “the mob”) by embracing what she refers to as metropolitan, liberal values. She pleads with New Labour not to ditch these values, since there might be other “provincial working-class teenagers” who, like Ms Hanley, also want to be rescued.
It’s an embarrassing column, but also a revealing one. In treating Labour as a kind of modern-day version of those Victorian outfits that once rescued “fallen women”, only Labour apparently has a responsibility to rescue enlightened, Guardian-reading teenagers from a life of witless racism and violence, Ms Hanley captures the extent to which Labour is now separate from and aloof to the communities it once claimed to represent. Where Labour once promised to embody the values of working-class communities, it now looks upon those values as deeply problematic and in need of a serious spring clean. From their imposition of parenting classes to their jihad against junk food to their treatment ofanyone who holds a non-metropolitan, non-liberal value as a “bigot”, Labour and its media cheerleaders increasingly look upon the white working classes as a weird, morally warped mass which must be beaten and reshaped into something more respectable: a bit more Islington and a bit less Bermondsey.
What’s more, Ms Hanley’s dutiful provision of moral porn for the chattering classes, who so enjoy reading about the weird goings-on in mysterious council estates over breakfast, speaks to the prejudices that are rife amongst the community she has now embraced: the “metropolitan liberal elite”. The great irony of this elite’s war on the wantonness, gluttony, slothfulness and bigotry of the little people is that it is fuelled by a bigotry of its own, a respectable, PC form of bigotry – one which treats the white working classes as unenlightened Daily Mail drones in need of moral deliverance by sussed outsiders. It is not the working classes who “silently or violently reject anyone who is different”; rather it’s this increasingly intolerant metropolitan elite, which can’t even abide the fact that some communities eat and drink differently, never mind think differently, to itself. In presenting Britain as being neatly split between a morally superior race of liberals and mongrel race of paranoid racists, Ms Hanley and others are unwittingly rehabilitating the very prejudices that originally fuelled the politics of racism in the 19th century: a mean-spirited, Malthusian view of Britain’s own native lower classes as morally defunct.
Perhaps Ms Hanley had the misfortune to be born into a peculiarly conservative bit of Britain, but in the working-class community in north London that I was born into there was a great deal of social solidarity between whites, blacks and Asians. Yes, there was social conservatism, especially amongst the older generations, but not amongst the young, who were forever experimenting with drugs, weird music and sex. Back then the media denounced us working-class youth for being overly reckless and not conservative enough; you can’t bloody win. When I popped back for a visit at the weekend I found my brother (a builder) helping his Romanian workmates to pack a white van with gifts, goodies and food, all of which will be driven across Europe to families living in the furthest reaches of Eastern Romania. I felt a million miles away from the stifling sameness and unhinged suspicions of the metropolitan elite.