Thursday, 14 November 2013

Yet another pointless debate about social immobility among the very people causing it

Listening to David Cameron talk about social mobility is like listening to Elton John discussing deep sea welding. I sense that he realises this himself but Cameron wouldn’t be Cameron unless he’s aligning himself with some popular opinion. He’s the consummate ‘me too’ politician of our day and will undoubtedly be the first sitting PM to get himself a tattoo sleeve when he deems it politically shrewd to do so. The latest popular trend will always have him spittling his lips with unctuous words. ‘Of course, the public have spoken and I for one am not going to stand here and say that red hot pokers aren’t a suitable punishment for the work shy if that’s what people in Britain have decided. As Prime Minister, it’s my job to support these public driven initiatives and that’s why I’m also throwing my weight behind Mumsnet’s campaign to ban all knives with sharp edges and any stick that doesn’t have a rubberised tip. Yes, it might mean that we chop down a few trees but that’s a price we need to pay if we want to protect our children’s eyes.’

Of course, ‘social mobility’ is a problem that goes to the very roots out of culture and, much as I hate to say this, I’m not sure that Russell Brand is entirely wrong in what he recently said about revolution. Just look at the Tory’s current motto: ‘For Hardworking People’. It’s code, of course, for ‘we’re no friend of scroungers’ but, as with all things, the reality on the ground doesn’t conform so neatly to their quasi-Thatcherite ideology. Are they for the disabled who might not be able to work? Are they for the old, the poor, or the underclass? Are they really for the person working every hour to live on something much less than the minimum wage? It’s easy to talk about social mobility from a position where social mobility is a given. It’s easy to be hardworking when there’s an abundance of work, especially though family connections, but are they also for people on zero hour contracts and writers who don’t get paid for their work?

In modern politics, the only game that matters is the game that brings in the most votes and the current Conservative plan is to cauterise the places where they traditionally don’t do well. That only increased the problem of social mobility in areas such as my hometown here in the North. After seeing investment under Labour, it’s places like this that are now taking the brunt of Tory cuts.

Of course, they try to argue differently. The whole thing has a bowel knot of familiarity about it and Cameron has already addressed social mobility by leaping to discuss the racial makeup of the Tory Party, as though social mobility is only synonymous with race. Indeed, this new awareness of social mobility will no doubt lead to the usual round of positive discrimination which pretty much ignores the majority of people suffering from the lack of social mobility. I sometimes think that the worst thing you could be in these enlightened days is a white, heterosexual male stuck in a no-name northern town and not suffering from any serious but TV-friendly disability. I’ve never been asked to stand behind any Prime Minister as he gives a speech. In fact, no Prime Minister ever visited this town. The closest we came was Michael Heseltine flying over in a helicopter and arbitrarily deciding where the local boundaries would be drawn, completely oblivious to the regional allegiances on the ground.

I don’t know any celebrities and I don’t know anybody who knows any celebrities, except perhaps for one person I’ve spoken to online who is from Oxford and whose children were friends with a star of the Harry Potter films. Look at the profile of the average celebrity and they will have been school friends with other celebrities or their families or connected through marriage or their parents would have been famous in their own right. Look at that Claudia Winklewoman and tell me that she deserved to host the BBC's premier film show.

The problem I’ve argued for a long time is simply that there are huge areas of the country where chances are few to none. The country is run from London, with nothing much of note happening outside the major cities. All the major newspapers no longer cover news outside London with much conviction. A year or so ago, we were ravaged by a huge storm which barely made the news. A similar storm hits London and it's 24 hour coverage. Entire regions of the country are now covered by (at best) a single reporter, a fact highlighted by the sadly unambitious plans mentioned in this article from earlier this year. Compare The Guardian’s push into North America with their plans for northern England and, indeed, the area where The Guardian originated as the Manchester Guardian.

And that's what all this hand wringing comes down to. If the most liberal media in our country can’t be trusted to care about social mobility, then is there really any hope?

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