Have you ever cringed when some Radio 4 ponce has declaimed on behalf on behalf of the ‘working clars’? Despite their posh accents they will claim that their parents were definately ‘blue collar’ but worked hard to ‘improve’ themselves. They will say that that their parents really struggled, holding down three or four jobs to provide them with an opportunity to ‘better’ themselves via private education They will no doubt absolve themselves by claiming they ‘won’ a scholarship and that they found themselves adrift at Oxford or Cambridge amongst toffs who regarded them as prole scum.
John Harris is the Guardian’s token ‘soft leftie’, the son of a nuclear engineering lecturer and a nuclear chemist brought up in the very posh Cheshire town of Wilmslow. He went to a comprehensive, allbeit one in Wilmslow and then went on to Oxford. John went on to be a well known music hack during the 90s, wrote the book ‘The Last Party; Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock’ and now writes for The Guardian.
Owen Jones is the Independent’s token soft leftie’, the son of a local authority worker and an IT lectuter. He was educated at Cheadle and Marple sixth form college, one of Cheshire’s wealthiest areas and went on to Oxford. He then went onto write the book ‘Chavs; the demonisation of the working class’ and now writes for The Independent.
The parallels between both writers, a generation removed, are obvious and yet illuminating. Neither seem to have ever had a ‘proper job’ other than journalism or political aparatchikery (sic). Owen Jones describes his ‘career’ as ‘a former dogsbody for Labour MPs and trade unions’ before moving onto writing books and becoming a broadsheet columnist. Harris’s career is just a series of titles he’s been published by, books he’s written and the odd spot of TV punditry. They had it tuff!
I shared a panel with Jones as part of a Liverpool literary festival in May that explored attitudes towards working class culture and politics. He was a brilliant orator, a confident and inspiring speaker who articulated many of the familiar gripes that we all had about how working class voices are marginalised and ignored or patronised and misrepresented by the middle class media elite.
Yet, there seemed to be something a bit too rehearsed about Jones’s speil, as if he was proving that all those years spent studying Labour and Trade Union history had been well spent. He knew election percentages dating back 50 years, he channeled into concerns about media distortion and prejudice and he won a cynical audience, who’d heard it all many times before, over. People spoke of him as a future Labour Party leader as if this was something to be excited by. Compared to Miliband’s brand of middle-class patriotic Neo-New Labour posturing, Jones looks like Eric Heffer but really he’s just another product of ‘the system.’
Harris and Jones share many traits; they regard themselves as ‘radicals’ as voicing the opinions of ‘the working class’ and want to be seen as troublesome thorns in the establishment’s side but really they are pretty tame pet Jack Russells, snapping at the squire’s ankles and are patted on the head for displaying spunk and spirit. They have a career path mapped out and seem to desire acceptance by the very people they pretend to despise.
They are typical Guardianista/Indie dinner party partisans, claiming to speak on behalf of the marginalised, the downtrodden, the oppressed and whilst Jones places this in a wider cultural and economic context than Harris, they both seem to accept that work in itself is some kind of panacea, that all the working class want are jobs and houses to keep them happy. Their no doubt genuine concern for the lives of ordinary people at the receiving end of Austerity Britain is welcome and both writers touch on some very important issues but still, they are outsiders looking in. Harris lives in that exclusive literary ghetto, Hay On Wye whereas Jones lives in ‘London,’ no doubt one of the gentrified former ghettoes now popular with bike riding, Independent columnists.
Both Harris and Jones seem to resent the attitudes of their fellow Oxonians towards their middle class credentials and this has resulted in a desire to piss off the toffs who inhabit the upper echelons of both the political and media establishment. Yet their brand of mild left rhetoric only exists in a narrow and self-contained spectrum where such views are regarded as ‘extreme’ or ‘militant.’ The real voices of protest and dissent will never be heard whilst the likes of Harris and Jones act as mediators for the soft left media.
Well maybe we don’t need mediators or translators, maybe we don’t need people to speak on our behalf or articulate our views to make them understood or contextualised. The media simply reinforces its own prejudices and stereotypes and by refusing even to admit that ‘the proles’ can speak for themselves, allows those who claim to speak on ‘our’ behalf to construct yet another layer of myth and misrepresentation.
As a wise man once said ‘socialism is born from the guts of experience not from the pages of books.’