In the previous article a selection of eight categories of voiced concerns by ordinary working class people (white-collar and blue) were reproduced from the 2018 Demos report ‘At Home in One’s Past’. In this second article a further selection of voiced concerns will be reproduced from a further eleven categories reproduced in the full report. The interim comments and conclusions contained in ‘Neglected Voices – 1’ will be supplemented by others in this article. As was the case there, a link to the full Demos report will also be provided at the end for those wishing to read it for themselves.
Housing, Relocation and Gentrification.
Since the changes in housing provision introduced during the Thatcher era of privatisation, housing costs are being largely driven by market forces. Those with access to sufficient funds push house prices and rents up; those who haven’t are pushed down the accommodation chain. Increasing numbers of the latter are being pushed down as far down as a park bench or shop doorway. Affordable housing is increasingly scarce and this is negatively effecting working-class families and communities.
“My children, they can’t live near me, they can’t afford to live near me.”
“One of the worst things is, they sold council housing, they should never have sold social housing.“
“The council done it all wrong, they got rid of all their caretakers that use to live on site to keep the people safe.“
“I lived two doors away when I moved away from my mum, and my sister moved opposite. It was a community and there was other people there, they lived there, they grew up so we all looked after each other’s children, so we all looked out for each other. It was a community.“
“These singles mothers who have been there shipped out of London to somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, they’re losing their support system, their family.“
“I used to let my kids play round the front and my Mum she would come round at eight o’clock at night and shout at all the kids ‘get in’, and my kids would come running. It was a community.“
Economic and social dislocation and alienation at the heart of the capitalist economic system by working for a wage or being unemployed, is now being amplified through urban renewal schemes and relocations. It has now led to increased alienation from the social life of the working community itself. This process has also added further stresses to the lives of those who suffer from it, including increased concerns about personal security and feelings of insecurity.
“They’re allowing criminals back onto the street, when they’ve served 50 per cent of their sentence, and well that’s crazy to me. You know, if they’re given a 15-year sentence then they should serve a 15-year sentence. And if they don’t behave, then extend it.“
“I read in the paper actually, that these British people are fighting with ISIS and the idea now is…to give them houses when they come back and give them jobs. Can we have a referendum on that? I think I know what the answer would be.“
“I often feel scared when out on my own now. I wouldn’t walk on the streets alone.“
“I didn’t used to feel so afraid, but the streets just don’t feel safe at night any more.“
“I made my husband bring me in tonight because I didn’t want to walk through the city on my own, because eight months ago, I was coming out of where I was working one night and I was a bit scared. I was getting in the lift to the car park, and I was thinking, I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable here.“
“There are too many do-gooders around to tell you want you can’t do, rather tell you what you can do.“
“We’ve got too many political correctness people, too many do-gooders trying to run the country.“
“At work we have an equality and diversity team, so I get what they’re doing, don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant stuff. But there’s an inordinate amount of resources for the needs of two people, when there are 3000 people overall. So think it has to be proportionate.“
“People are very afraid to stand up and say well I think that’s wrong, because then they get this label to say that they’re against you know, liberalisation and things like that. So people who want to speak out are frightened of that because they get labelled.“
“It’s the minority groups who have ruined the country. Because every time they [the Government] come up with something, there are groups that will protest and say this is against my rights, so then the Government thinks, ‘Well we better not do that’ and they go off to something else. And I am sure that we are dominated by small groups of people who don’t like something – if they don’t like something they make a lot of noise and so the Government backs down because it’s easier.“
“It feels like you’re standing on eggshells sometimes.“
“In speaking to or referring to someone from the Caribbean, now I’ve always referred to them as being coloured, but now…you can’t say that.“
“We can’t even call a blackboard a blackboard anymore, I mean what is all that about? I mean it’s an absolute joke! If someone’s black, they’re black and if someone’s white they’re white — what difference does it make?“
“I mean, can you go into Homebase and buy black paint? So what’s the problem?“
“On the telly where [they’ve] just done a report about all the ethnic minorities, [they focus on] what they feel, but no one comes to the Whites and asks us how we feel.“
“All the politicians and the big wigs in power are bending over backwards for all the ethnic minorities in this country.“
I have commented on the phenomena of political correctness in an article of that name on this blog and welcomed the critical contribution to confronting this attack on freedom of thought and expression in the book review ‘Being in Time’ by the author and musician Gilad Atzmon. This also appears here on ‘critical-mass.net’. The voices above suggest that criticism of political correctness is not just the concern of writers and academics anxious to defend the right to criticise anything and everything they think deserves it. Its one-sidedness is grasped at grass-roots level.
One sided Tolerance.
“If you’re a Christian, and I say something about Christianity that you don’t like, you may retaliate verbally and discuss, but you would accept it. But if I said something to you as a Muslim, I would be so condemned as racist or religophobe, or whatever. And I think the balance has swayed and tipped too far in the other way.”
“There’s too much focus on tolerance for us, and I don’t think there’s enough on the other side and we’re not meeting in the middle. This is the thing, I’m all for tolerance if it’s an equal street not if it’s, you know, 75 per cent one way and then we’ll be tolerant when we fancy it.“
“Too many people coming into the country and taking from the country, you know benefits and everything else, when they haven’t paid anything into the country.“
“The West Indians that came to this country in the late-40s and early-50s were invited here by our Government and they worked and they got their own houses…they didn’t take other people’s jobs away, and they went were the bacon [jobs] were.“
“The immigrants that got in now, they’re not working, or they’re working for their money and sending it off.“
“Councils, Government, people, they’re all scared to say anything. It’s like nursery rhymes, all the words are changed in case somebody gets offended. Christmas, people are talking about Christmas cards, “don’t say Happy Christmas, say happy festival time, because you may offend somebody”. And that is taking our identity away.“
I have dealt with the effects of economic immigration upon working people in a number of articles, most recently in ‘The Dangers of Dualistic Thinking’. It is clear from the above comments that an element of confusion on numbers exists. There are those who are perceived entering the UK in order to exploit the benefit system and those who are entering to work and pay their way in taxes and national insurance contributions. The exact proportions of these two categories are not clear to most people, probably because there are no trustworthy statistics available. Which leads on to the next section.
“Too many people coming into the country and taking from the country, you know benefits and everything else, when they haven’t paid anything into the country.“
“There’s also quite a lot of people coming in for health tourism and that’s a massive draw on the NHS. They try and charge back for that treatment but there just isn’t the system there to do that. If we go on holiday to Spain or whatever, what’s the first thing that happens? Healthcare insurance!“
“It’s the type of people that are coming in, not just quantities.“
“Whether it’s picking fruit or what have you, or joining the NHS, what people were against, and me included, was people coming to the country that have no jobs that couldn’t speak English and just drained the country. We all play taxes; we’ve paid taxes all our lives.“
“You have to have a percentage of immigrants. To build your society. But it does need some control over it. Personally, I would go for a system as I say, other countries have, where you have to show what you are going to bring to the country. Just make it fairer.“
“One of the policies the Government brought in was to clump all the faith groups together in the same space, which maybe good initially because then they can set up community but then all of a sudden you just get clumps of different people that don’t want to mix together.“
“When I go back to see my mum, it’s not a safe place to walk about and when I were there it was. […] Maybe that’s because of the different groups that aren’t coming together.“
“Down in [redacted] Street, you’ve got Romanian Gypsies going up and down, and they don’t think twice about urinating in the middle of the street without even going and hiding behind the bush. They even defecate as well.“
“What’s different is, there’s no integration. We’ve got ghettos all over this area, there’s children that are starving, people can’t mix, you’re not allowed to speak to somebody. You’ve got poor girls in the Asian community that are being sold to people abroad to get them into the country. We fought for years for women’s rights, to be able to wear what we want, equal pay. And the thing that angers most is that we’ve now got a whole society of men that have no respect for females, and yet females have fought for years to be able to wear what we want, do what we want, live an independent life.“
If the situation with regarding the travellers toilet habits mentioned were based upon first hand evidence, then it would be a genuine cause for complaint but of course it would be unfair (and an example of irrational prejudice) to apply it to all travellers if this was indeed implied. To my mind the last example of this section of voices raises an interesting contrast between the life outlooks of elite women in contrast with non-elite women. The first are currently correctly campaigning against sexual predation and harassment in politics, entertainment, media and business. However, most of these well paid middle-class women are largely overlooking the fact that in 21st century, low pay, poor work conditions along with rape, forced marriages, genital mutilation, acid attacks and even honour killings are daily faced by some sections of lower class women. It seems that for this elite section of femininity, equal pay and opportunity within their elite circles is more important than extending the principles of economic and social justice to their sisters below them. This goes some way to confirm that Bourgeois Feminism, as with bourgeois equality in general is not extended to the whole of humanity and therefore fail the test of being universal principles.
Politics and Government.
We are limping, limping along I think, and that goes back to the crash of 2008, and we never recovered from that. Maybe the seeds were sown, and then Brexit occurred and the state of our economy is such that there is just not enough money in the pot to pay for all the things we expect to be provided for us.
There’s such a mode of apathy at the moment and despondency with the Government. The fact that no one believes that they’re going to do anything for the country anymore.
“None of them have done a day’s job, then [they’ve] gone into the trade unions, then gone from trade unions to be a Member of Parliament. They don’t do nothing for us.“
“They are literally in ivory towers in Westminster…it’s frightening. They are completely aloof left and right.“
“There’s a lot of people in positions [of power] judging aspects of life that they’ve never experienced. They said we’re all in this together, and they’ve got their noses in the trough ripping off the expenses and it’s us lower beings that have got the runt of it. It’s always been the case.“
“With the politicians we have, personally, I don’t believe 90% what they tell us and [they are] confusing us by telling us, ‘one party says…this party says…’. They constantly contradict each other!“
“There are just so many petty arguments back and forwards regardless of whether you voted Remain or Out, but this just looks so childish. You realise how much all parties are alike.“
“Now, they just care about themselves and their own policies.“
“It’s just about scoring points and not about working together for the country as a whole.“
“They promise you everything, until they get in power, until they get in position and then you don’t exist.“
“All their interests are to line their own pockets, the politicians.“
“You know, if you watch these debates in parliament […] they play around with figures. So Labour plays around with these figures and they sound good, then the Conservatives play around with these figures and they sound good.“
Britain and Empire.
“We’re a country that used to have an Empire and be very, very important and now we’re just a country, a small country. A small island in the middle of a little sea.“
“Those from an older generation have a larger sense of pride. Whereas I see our Empire as, you know, we went and plundered the world, and took advantage of, like the Romans probably we did some good things. So I’m not ashamed of it but, I don’t think it was marvellous, wonderful thing.“
“What, when we used to rape and pillage and take other people’s stuff? I don’t want another Empire.“
“We’re proud of a country that was supposedly top in the world, but most of that was down to bullying and slavery. If you look at history, I’m ashamed of my history.“
“The influence will be different rather than an empire. We controlled a lot of Africa etc. by a physical brute force and that’s not a case anymore.”
“If we go back to far in history we only got rich by, what’s the word, raping their countries and taking all the money from them. They’re [immigrants] like what you moaning about – you’re only getting your comeuppance.“
I personally found this section interesting and somewhat surprising. It is clear from this section that the decades of elite, state-sponsored propaganda on promoting ‘British Values’ of Empire and Commonwealth has not been very effective. The elite touted vision of a ‘land of hope and glory’ has obviously been exposed as the ‘land of rape and one-sided story’. It seems that the left anti-capitalist critique of the Colonialist and Imperialist phases of capitalism, despite being articulated by a few and relatively powerless voices in British politics and social life, has nevertheless been more successful. That is encouraging indeed.
“[The Blitz spirit] I think it’s still underneath the surface.“
“People rally round. I mean look at when we had all the floods, I mean they came from far and wide, didn’t they, to help out. So I think whatever happens in the country, it won’t be the Government that rallies – it will be the people.“
“There still is a community spirit when there is an emergency, like with Manchester, or other crises this year.“
“I work in safety and obviously I have loads and loads of stuff to read but there were no Government support [for Grenfell fire safety], but what happened the people, the people bounced up and sorted it out. So in that way, we have that types of pockets of resilience.“
“We need to cut foreign aid…I don’t know how much it is, but it’s a lot. We should put it back in our economy; it would help a lot, dealing with cutbacks on law enforcers, police, NHS and all that. So cut back on things like that, ‘cause then we can use foreign aid for our aid, you know what I mean, it makes more sense.“
“We’re the first ones to put our hands in our pockets, you know, help people and all that, but now we got to worry about our own country and get back on our feet and once we have, we can start helping out again but, but we got to look at our own country first.“
“We tend to throw a lot of money away, I mean…this foreign aid, which is absolutely ludicrous how much we give. I don’t say don’t give anything, but we give like 13billion pounds a year and it goes up with inflation every year, it’s 0.7% of the GDP, so you know that could be put to the NHS, it could be given to pensioners you know, and I think it’s horrific and yet there’s no Government prepared to do anything about it, ‘cause it’s set in stone?“
“I think personally we do need to help but I think it’s excessive at the moment.”
“I think we should put more into our own country. Do they give us anything when anything happens over here? We’re self-sufficient, we sort of, you know the bombings, we rectified all that didn’t we? We didn’t get any aid from outside countries. The fire early on this year at Grenfell Tower, did they help us with that?“
The above extracts (together with those in ‘Neglected Voices – 1’), are not the only ones in the full Demos report, but they are sufficient to reveal a spread of opinions across generations, across different sections of the working class and across different regions in the UK. The ‘voices’ express a comprehensive range of concerns with everyday life from the perspective of a broad swathe of the working classes. They also reveal three other factors. First, a well – considered and balanced (if incomplete) view of what is going wrong with economic, social and political life in modern Britain including the past brutal essence of colonialism. Second, a recognition of the need for citizen self-activity rather than reliance on the state. Third, as was mentioned in part 1, they also reveal a very limited understanding of the underlying economic causes of the internal symptoms they have comprehensively outlined. The absence of this understanding leaves both white-collar and blue-collar working people vulnerable to accepting some pro-capitalist narratives and rationalisations with regard to their contemporary situation and their expressed concerns.
In this latter regard we need to keep in mind that there is currently an almost white-hot war of fractured legitimacy between rival political elites and their supporters as they desperately seek to gain (or regain) power to govern nation states. It has been said – with a considerable degree of accuracy – that the first casualty of war is truth. Dissemination of one-sided, doctored or false information is a routine now set within well worn bourgeois intellectual grooves. And by the way, the creation of ‘Fake News’ emanating from both sides of rival elites is nothing new; it is at least as old as the disputes within and between Persia, Athens and Sparta in the ancient Greek period. At the present level of competitive skirmishes the current elite divisions are largely taking the form of a vicious war of words as each side, distorts reality, misrepresents the views of the other side, fabricates facts and motives, takes words out of context, takes emotional ramblings as facts – and much else – all in an effort to gain influence and political advantage over the other.
The ultimate prize of all this regurgitated bile and imaginative invention is of course to gain (or regain) political power. However, before that, the intermediate target of all the present misinformation, disinformation, fabrication and confirmation bias is to win as many ordinary citizens to one side or the other. There is an urgent need among the elite to divide the working classes into two opposing and strongly biased sides each with pre-formed opinions and set political habits so they can be used when necessary as reliable voting fodder. That process, if fully successful, would also act against the possibility of any serious form of unity among working people, a development which of course would be dangerous to both sides of the bourgeois elite. Hence, the recently emerged rhetoric of concern for all those ‘left behind’, epitomised by Donald Trump in the USA and Teresa May in the UK. For example “..a duty of loyalty to the people” (Trump at Davos 2018) and ‘a country that works for all’ (May at Tory Conference 2017). As the crisis deepens, this sort of ‘concerned’ rhetoric will be the bait increasingly dangled in front of working class audiences, many of whom, in the absence of any alternative, may well be persuaded to swallow it, hook, line and sinker.
So as a reminder to all of us on the anti-capitalist and revolutionary-humanist left I suggest the following. Beware of taking sides in these Punch and Judy pantomime struggles between the political elites and beware of helping one dysfunctional side or the other to win workers to support their greed inspired battles. I suggest it will be wiser to let them get on with hurling their bitterness and poison at each other. They are hell-bent on discrediting each other – as the ‘voices’ in an above section have already recognised. Beware also of blaming the working-class victims for not always seeing through this distorted socio-economic and ecological mess we are all in. For some on the left to expect a more sophisticated level of consciousness than that already determined by working peoples economic position and the current level of knowledge delivered to them by the media and existing education system is to expect miracles. Since miracles don’t happen, hard work is needed.
To berate or castigate working people for not already having arrived at an all-round critical class consciousness regarding the contemporary world is to my mind an arrogant and sectarian attitude of self-inflated superiority. In addition such attitudes conveniently dodge responsibility for tackling the crucial issues facing humanity. For in reality, rather than in reformist dreamland or dystopian nightmare there remains the difficult task of disseminating to working people an improved knowledge of the capitalist economic system that will assist them to further navigate through the confused and manipulated products of neo-liberal socio-economic and political thinking. I suggest that this task can only be undertaken by those who have recognised its urgent necessity along with the necessity to educate ourselves as well as revolutionising our own practical activity.
R. Ratcliffe (February 2018)
For a direct link to the full Demos report see;