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Class Is Still Critical


A state of parallel worlds determines almost everything we do and how we do it, everything we know and how we know it. The word that once described it, class, is unmentionable, just as imperialism used to be. Thanks to George W Bush, the latter is back in the lexicon in Britain, if not at the BBC.

Class is different. It runs too deep; it allows us to connect the present with the past and to understand the malignancies of a modern economic system based on inequity and fear. So it is seldom spoken about publicly, lest a Goldman Sachs chief executive on multimillions in pay or bonuses, or whatever they call their legalised heists, be asked how it feels to walk past office cleaners struggling on the minimum wage.

Just as elite power seeks to order other countries according to the demands of its privilege, so class remains at the root of our own society’s mutations and sorrows. In recent weeks, the killing of an 11-year-old Liverpool boy and other tragedies involving children have been thoroughly tabloided. Interviewing Keith Vaz, chairman of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, one journalist wondered if “we” should go out and deal personally with our vile, mugging, stabbing, shooting youth. To this, the nodding Vaz replied that the problem was “values”.

The main “value” is ruthless exclusion, such as the exile of millions of young people on vast human landfills (rubbish dumps) called housing estates, where they are forearmed with the knowledge that they are different and schools are not for them. A rigid curriculum, a system devoted to testing child-ren beyond all reason, ensures their alienation. “From the age of seven,” says Shirley Franklin of the Institute of Education, “20 per cent of the nation’s children are seen, and see themselves, as failures . . . Violence is an expression of hatred towards oneself and others.” With the all-digital world of promise and rewards denied them, let alone a sense of belonging and esteem, they move logically to the streets and crime.

And yet, since 1995, actual crime in England and Wales has fallen by 42 per cent and violent crime by 41 per cent. No matter. The “violence of youth” is the accredited hysteria. A government led for a decade by a man whose lawless deceit helped cause the violent deaths of perhaps a million people in Iraq invented an acronym – Asbo – for a campaign against British youth, whose prospects and energy and hope were replaced by the “values” expressed by Keith Vaz and exemplified by Goldman Sachs and the current imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Take Afghanistan, where the irony is searing. In less than seven years, the Anglo-American slaughter of countless “Taliban” (people) has succeeded in spectacularly reviving an almost extinct poppy trade, so that it now supplies the demand for heroin on Britain’s poorest streets, where enlightened drug rehabilitation is not considered a government “value”. Parallel worlds require other elite forms of exclusion. At the Edinburgh Television Festival on 24 August, the famous BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman made a much-hyped speech “attacking” television for “betray[ing] the people we ought to be serving”. What was revealing about the speech was the attitude towards ordinary viewers it betrayed. According to Paxman, “while the media and politicians feel free to criticise each other, neither has the guts to criticise the public, who are presumed never to be wrong”. In fact, ordinary people are treated in much of the media as invisible or with contempt, or they are patronised. Two honourable exceptions were the GMTV presenters cited and mocked by Paxman for their humanity in standing up for an ex-soldier denied proper treatment by the National Health Service. Paxman called for a more “sophisticated” and “honest” approach that accepted the public’s approval of low taxes — taxes that are not rationed when it comes to propping up hugely profitable private finance initiatives in the Health Service or squandered on waging war, regardless of the public’s objections.

Not once in his speech did Paxman refer to Iraq, nor did he tell us why Blair was never seriously challenged on that bloodbath in a broadcast interview. That the BBC had played a critical role in amplifying and echoing Blair’s and Bush’s lies was apparently unmentionable. The coming attack on Iran, led again by propaganda filtered through broadcasting, is from the same parallel world, also unmentionable.

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