Sunday, April 3, 2016

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Cameron's Cultural Counter Revolution Is Turning The Clock Back

Mick Hall @ Organized Rage writes:


In the 1960s all changed and changed utterly, now Cameron's cultural counter revolution is turning the clock back.


Black actors in the USA and UK have been protesting about the lack of black actors nominated for this year's Oscars and how the gross inequality of today is stopping black people coming into the profession. Whilst I understand their anger I feel they are slightly missing the point. The real cause of this issue is not race, but class privilege. Something which is only rarely, if ever brought to light in the mainstream media.

Overwhelming in the UK black actors have come from the working or lower middle classes, I do not believe they are being excluded because they are black although it may play a part.

The real reason there are so few black actors appearing on our cinema and TV screens today is institutionalised class prejudice which has systematically allowed the middle and upper middle classes to ring fence their power and privileges. If you look across the professions in the UK, especially amongst the upper echelons, you have to look hard and long to find many people who come from a non privileged background.

Well over 50% of those who hold senior positions in the arts, military, business, politics, law, media and the diplomatic service, were eased effortlessly from public school to Oxbridge and then headhunted by their own kind, and fast tracked into positions of potential power.

Britain is run by a narrow cabal of mainly upper middle class people, the overwhelming majority of whom have little or no empathy with their fellow countrymen and women. As far as they are concerned the working classes are another country and it isn't one they wish to visit. Thus it's hardly surprising they encourage and assist people to enter the professions who come from similar backgrounds as their own, who talk, dress, and think like them. After all it is how they were gifted their own senior positions.

What is surprising is far too many in the UK have once again come to see such elitist behavior as the established order of doing things.

Just 7% of the UK population attend public schools (fee-paying), with 88% of the population educated in state schools. Yet almost three quarters (71%) of top military officers were educated privately, with just 12% having been taught in comprehensive schools. There is no comparable military caste in the western world which comes from such a narrow class base.

Colin Powell the former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff could never have risen to such an exalted position in the UK military. The best he could have hoped for was reaching the rank of a senior non commissioned officer. The British military's in built class prejudice would have stood in his way.

The British military swear allegiance to the Crown, not the State or its people making it almost unique in the western world. This matters because there could be dangerous implications if the UK population decided they needed a Republic. How can the monarchy be non political when it has the might of Britain's armed forces at its back?

In the judiciary 74% of top UK judges working in the high court and appeals court were privately educated, while in journalism, more than half (51%) of leading print journalists went to fee paying schools. This included so called liberal papers like the Guardian. Is it any wonder the working classes have been all but eroded from public life and their trade unions denigrated when the majority of columnists and editorial staff have a vested interest in doing them down.

In medicine, Sutton Trust research found 61% of the country’s senior doctors were educated at Public schools; while only 17% went comprehensives, a shocking statistic by anyone's standards, surely?

As to politics, one only has to look at David Cameron's cabinet in which over half of the cabinet, attended public school and Oxbridge. Down the road from Westminster it is just as bleak. Boris Johnson, the current Mayor of London, and Zac Goldsmith, the Tory Candidate to succeed him, both went to Eton and Oxbridge. The right of British politics has reverted to the type of old public school boys club it was in the 19th and early 20th century.

All changed and changed utterly

I was a child in the 1950's early 60s when the acting profession was much like it is today. Almost all the big British stars had attended public school and Oxbridge. Working Class actors were almost non existent. When working class characters were displayed on screen they were played by upper middle class actors who talked in a "cor blimey guv it's an honour to serve you," kind of way.

Then in the mid 1960s came a massive cultural change, not by accident but due to the impact of the welfare state, better education for working and lower middle class children, council house building, the NHS, State funding of the arts, the power of trade union's. All played a role in integrating the working classes into public life and in some cases the professions. This process broadened horizons and improved lives, often beyond recognition.

To misquote the poet Yeats all changed and changed utterly.

Even Margaret Thatcher could not halt this degree of societal change. when you turned on a TV or radio in the decades from the mid 1960s onwards to the millennium, you saw faces or heard the voices of working or lower-middle class Britain.

People who’d gone to the same type of schools as you, walked the same streets, lived in the same sorts of houses but had become celebrities by the miracle of the social mobility brought about by the great reforming Labour government of 1945. For the first time youngsters from working class backgrounds had role models galore.

As Stuart Maconie wrote in an article last year which we re-published here: (1)

When you turned on a TV or radio in the decades from the mid 1960s onwards to the millennium, you saw faces or heard the voices of working- or lower-middle-class Britain. From Eric and Ernie to Lennon and McCartney, from Lulu to the Spice Girls, from “Tarby” to Oasis, you’d hear and see the faces and voices of working- or lower-middle-class Britain. People who’d gone to the same type of schools as you, walked the same streets, lived in the same sorts of houses but had become celebrities by the miracle of social mobility that entertainment and sport had always promised. 
The great cultural tide that surged through Harold Wilson’s 1960s and beyond, the sea change that swept the McCartneys, Finney's, Bakewells, Courtenay's, Baileys, Bennetts et al to positions of influence and eminence, if not actual power, has ebbed and turned. The children of the middle and upper classes are beginning to reassert a much older order. In the arts generally – music, theatre, literature for sure – it is clear that cuts to benefits, the disappearance of the art school (where many a luminous layabout found room to bloom) and the harsh cost of further and higher education are pricing the working class out of careers in the arts and making it increasingly a playground for the comfortably off. The grants are gone and the relatively benign benefits system that sustained the pre-fame Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey is being dismantled daily.

Then came Blairism and New Labour which towed neoliberalism in its wake. When Cameron came to power in 2010 the reactionary clock turners went into overdrive. The progressive changes I mentioned above which helped create the cultural changes of the 1960s were placed on his target list. The BBC would be tamed and brought to heal, the NHS privatised, university fees were increased to ridiculous levels to knock the silly idea out of working class heads that all classes of children should and could attend them.

Subsidies to encourage young people to become actors, musicians, writers, and artists, were cut to the bone. What has taken place since 2010 has been nothing less than a government generated cultural counter revolution to turn the clock back to pre-WW2 rightwing Tory values.

Tom Hollander (2) inadvertently summed up this cultural revolution perfectly when he said:

A few years ago, there were “lots of working-class-hero leading actors – it was not fashionable to sound posh. Now I’m middle-aged it’s fashionable to sound posh if you are the generation behind me.

Stuart Jeffries put this cultural counter revolution into perspective:

What worries me about Tom Hollander’s remark is that it hides a conservative agenda. He uses a notion of what fashion isn’t (namely that fashions unaccountably change; that hemlines rise and fall as inexplicably as the motions of subatomic particles) to obscure class problems in British society of which those in the acting profession are the most clamorous exemplars.

Fashions, like our tastes in TV, cinema and theatre, often express the prevailing power relations of a society. Why was the writer of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, elevated to become Baron Fellowes of West Stafford in 2011? It wasn’t just because he depicted a reactionary social order but because he helped to create one and thereby served a Conservative-dominated coalition. He contributed, as I argued at the time, to a movement best called the New Boring (which also included Ed Sheeran, Kirsty Allsopp’s craft programmes and the Great British Bake-Off), to the acceptance of the austerity agenda of our leading Etonian (the prime minister, David Cameron).

Maybe the lack of diversity that British actor Idris Elba and others railed against holding black and other ethnic minority acting talent down isn’t just “fashion” but something terrible that we could, if we had the will, change.(3)

The lack of Black and other ethnic actors is due to the same reason there are so few senior officers in the British army from working class backgrounds, the same reason the working classes have disappeared from public life. It's because of the institutional class prejudice which lays at the heart of the UK state and yes racism often lurks beside it. It's not inevitable, it doesn't have to be permanent, it's a cancerous growth which can and must be extracted by progressive political action. We need a second cultural and societal revolution.


1 Without the grit of working class life, pop culture has become a poor imitation of it's former self. By Stuart Maconie

2 Tom Hollander attended Abingdon public school, whose current fee for full boarding pupils is £36,960

3 Stuart Jeffries full article can be read here.

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