Is Jeremy Corbyn’s Win A Sign We’re Breaking Through The ‘Class’ Ceiling?

Last week an ex journalist friend suggested I send some of my favourite blog posts to the editor of the Guardian comments section. “They really are that good,” he said enthusiastically.
I said thanks of course, and assured him I would, but I haven’t, despite some prods and pokes from my husband and adult children. It doesn’t matter how much others believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

I may not have sent off my blog posts, but I have at least wallowed in a bit of self reflection to determine why I haven’t followed my friends advice. Yes, there’s the simple truth I don’t think they are good enough, but it’s why I think that way that is the most revealing. Before I share the answer let me tell you something about myself…

My mum worked as a hospital cleaner for most of my childhood, and my dad as a meter reader for the electricity board. Our home – ‘our’ being my parents, older sister and I – was a terraced two bedroomed council house. My republican mum voted Labour, my royalist dad voted liberal. My mum – whose parents voted liberal and Tory – became a Labour voter after reading the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. It was my mum who instilled in me an awareness of politics, and a certain degree of pride in my working class heritage. “No ones better than anyone else!” she used to say defiantly. “We all play an important role in society.”

I did ok at school, but I wasn’t driven to achieve, partly because I had no idea what I wanted to do. My parents never pressured me in any way. They didn’t discuss my O’levels, and I would say there was an opposite of an expectation on me to do A’levels or go to Uni. I got 6 mediocre O’levels, but I was surprised and pleased I passed that many. When I asked the head of sixth form if I could switch from the secretarial course I’d signed up for, to take some A’level subjects, she scoffed. “You didn’t study at all Michelle. What makes you think you’d study for A’levels?” Duly chastened I did my secretarial course, left school and got a job as a secretary. I lasted 3 months, and never worked in admin again. I later worked as a cleaner, an auxiliary nurse, a support worker, a welfare assistant in a state nursery, and now I’m a holistic therapist.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it all ties into why I don’t think I’m good enough to write for the Guardian. Despite the fact I tell myself I’m as good as anyone else, deep down I don’t believe it. People who write for the guardian are not daughters of cleaners and meter readers who only got a c grade at English, and never went on to take A levels, let alone a degree. Their parents read the classics and listened to Brahms. They are cleverer than me and actually understand the rules of grammar. Or at least this is what I tell myself. If they read my work in the Guardian they’d think the editor had had some kind of a breakdown. Why else would he let something so simple and unpolished slip through the net? Deep down I see them as my betters.

What a shocking and uncomfortable revelation this was. But it’s a revelation that really got me thinking. Do other  working class people feel like this? Is there an inherent feeling of inferiority running through my class, in the same way a feeling of superiority runs through the upper classes; that’s if the Tories are anything to go by?

Is it any coincidence that at a time when working class pride was at its strongest, in 1945, when working class soldiers where being hailed as heroes, a radical Labour government swept to power on a landslide? In light of my recent revelations, I don’t think so. And is it this subconscious feeling of inferiority that leads our class to bow to the ‘wisdom’ of the newspapers we read when it comes to deciding how to vote? After all they are written by ‘clever’ people. And is it this sense of inferiority that was exploited so effectively by Thatcher with her right to buy scheme and her focus on rising above your class not with it? I suspect so. If deep down, some of us feel slightly inferior, we are more likely to strive to shed ourselves of whatever it is that makes us feel that way. This lies at the heart of the Tories divide and rule strategy. If they can whip up a frenzy of anger toward immigrants, skivers, or single mums – often using their friends in the media as the whip – they tap into a feeling of inferiority which makes it easier to divide us as a class. Even New Labour played a role in shaming the working class when John Prescott announced ‘we are all middle class now;’ as if it was the most natural and understandable thing in the world to want to jettison ourselves of our working class identity.

So what is the antidote to this feeling of inferiority, if it does indeed exist? Pride; that’s one antidote. If we take pride in the achievements of the working class, we are less likely to feel inferior. History lessons should therefore focus as much on the birth of the Labour movement, as they do on the kings and queens of England.

Camaraderie is another key piece of the puzzle. Over the past several decades, our society has become more and more atomised. Gone are the manufacturing industries that not only provided work for entire communities, but gelled those communities together, both socially and emotionally. Non unionised call centres have taken their place, where people are watched every second and timed when they go to the loo. How can working people bond in an environment like that?
So the trade union movement needs to extend its reach as much as possible into the private sector; an agenda I believe they are working on, and having some success with.

The Establishment are well aware of how important a role working class pride has in politics, and it’s not in their favour. That’s why they are so disturbed by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.
Research conducted during the Labour leadership, exposed the demographic fault lines running between each candidate’s supporters. The study concluded that Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters were more likely to be working class than the people supporting the other three candidates. In contrast Liz Kendall’s supporters were the most well heeled. That fact alone gives me hope things are changing.

But my hope is the establishment’s fear. Despite all the levers at their disposal to try to steer the leadership onto the track they wanted it to run along, we pulled against them even harder. There was no changing our mind. And that explains the hysteria to which Jeremy’s win has been greeted; a hysteria that exposes a deep seated fear amongst the establishment that they are losing their grip. Social media played a huge role in Jeremy’s successful campaign, at a time when right wing newspaper readership is on the decline.

And democracy played another major role. With the introduction of the one member one vote rule, this was the most most democratic leadership election in British history. The outcome? We voted in a leader the establishment despise. Could this be a sign it’s time to campaign for PR?

Jeremy Corbyn has become a beacon of hope the working class can rally around. The term comrade has been dusted off by his supporters. The word socialist has been taken out of the closet and is again being said with unadulterated pride. No wonder the establishment are running scared.

Maybe I will send off a few pieces to the Guardian comments editor.

Maybe they will spilt their sides laughing, but at least I’ll know I didn’t reject myself.

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14 comments

  1. mrlongden · January 17, 2016

    Another great blog, expressing what so many of us from similar backgrounds are probably feeling. What you have said resonates with me – working class lad, a teacher for donkeys years and I have to fight the feeling of being ‘less’ than the toffs. I’ve always resisted this feeling but it makes it easier when you know others feel it too and call it out, as you have done here. And yes, go ahead, send it to the Guardian – I’d make a bee line to your column week in and out – it will be about the only truly working class commentary in the thing!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Kathy Ferguson (@revdkath) · January 17, 2016

    Yes, you SHOULD send off some of your posts to the Guardian. They are well written, well-argued and above all you mean every word.

    I too come from a working-class background (father was first a painter & decorator, then worked in a paper mill, mother was a school cook) and thanks to their support I was the first from our family to go to university back in 1965, when my fees were paid and I got a full grant. Now of course I would be considered middle-class, but I have never forgotten my roots and joined the Labour Party because of Jeremy Corbyn’s election.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Gill Knowles · January 17, 2016

    You should send off your work to the Guardian and feel proud of it and your background. I too come from a working class background. My grandfather was a fire fighter, my grandmother a typist, my mother, a single mum for my first 10 years, was an admin for the Open University for 18 years. I was brought up to believe that I was at least as good as everyone else. Despite this, I had doubts about my abilities. Don’t hide your light under a bush, go out there and shine!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. chateauxenespagne · January 17, 2016

    I don’t know what class I belong to. I wasn’t born in the UK and I’ve lived in a bedsit with a leaking roof and eaten at the Ritz Grill.

    I think you are talking about a belief in ‘entitlement’ which permeates the austerity ideology like poison.

    Remember the TV programme ‘Benefit Street”? It was filmed in the most deprived area in the West Midlands, and the message was that the people weren’t ‘entitled’ to benefits.

    Why is there a humanitarian crisis going on in the freezing mud at the other end of Eurotunnel? Because the refugees are not ‘entitled’ to our help.

    So you feel that you are not ‘entitled’ to have your views published because you aren’t part of the Establishment. That’s what they want you to think. Fight it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: Is Jeremy Corbyn’s Win A Sign We’re Breaking Through The ‘Class’ Ceiling? | nearlydead
  6. Pingback: Is Jeremy Corbyn’s Win A Sign We’re Breaking Through The ‘Class’ Ceiling? | Turning the Tide | Britain Isn't Eating
  7. Nico. · January 17, 2016

    Honestly, I don’t think the Guardian have done much to deserve your work. but if it means more people get to read you, then why not.

    As someone finnicky about spelling, grammar and punctuation, I can tell you it’s not necessarily the best thing in the world. I’ve worked with this and ended up craving being involved with the actual *content* of writing. At the end of the day, if you feel the need you could always hire someone like me for a pittance. Haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Nienna · January 17, 2016

    You are every bit as good as any guardian columnist. I honestly think all someone needs is chutzpah and something interesting to say. I don’t know what class I am really though, because though my parents were poor and socialist, in one parents case they were from a very middle class background, they inherited a house, and their siblings all were or clawed their way into the middle class so though I really was deprived and achieved nothing at school, maybe my confidence reflects influences from that a little, (huge emphasis on education, piano lessons, ballet lessons, cousins high achieving in music).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A6er · January 17, 2016

    Hi
    Send some posts in to The Guardian pronto, only a fool editor would think they weren’t good enough to be published.
    People like you, proper bloggers, inspire people like me to also try their hand at putting our messages across to the masses.
    Following,reading and agreeing with insights from your good self and others,gives us the feeling that we have a collective voice, a power that us working classes wouldn’t ordinarily have, so please dont ever think your posts are not good enough.
    Solidarity!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ruth White · January 17, 2016

    Hi Chelleryn,

    Thanks for writing, it’s an excellent article, I identified with all of it. I am sure there is lots of sociological research that would confirm what you say about working class students feeling inferior and not doing as well. I read an article about research that you are more likely to be successful if you are a middle class low achiever that a working class high achiever.

    You should definitely contact the guardian but you could approach more overtly left wing publications like Red Pepper or somewhere like that. Not that I know many – there could be loads.

    I am in the second year of a fully funded PhD in art, investigating the experience of the British working classes within the neo-liberal period through photo books. I went to a crap state school and left sixth form with one A Level in art and a really good portfolio of art work, then did an art degree. My grammar can be dodgy and I’ve always lacked self-belief and confidence. After many years of minimum wage jobs, I trained as a secondary school art teacher but couldn’t get a job after my training and didn’t have the confidence to do supply work. I think because I had always looked up to teachers and tutors that I didn’t feel good enough and this obviously came across. After my degree I spent many years working in bars and then two years in call centres – I found it very difficult to get a decent paid job. I am now 37 and earn £1000 a month for doing the PhD and it’s the most I have ever earnt. My parents are not political in the slightest and I grew up not having any particular sense of identity. I wish I had understood I was from a working class family and the role it was playing in my life experiences as I was growing up – I think it would have been a great comfort. The silver lining now is that I am getting to draw upon my experiences for my studies.

    I am a big Jeremy Corbyn fan and have followed him and what the media have written about him since the first day of the leadership contest when I hadn’t even heard of him but was really impressed by him.

    Good luck for the future, I hope you’re dreams all come true xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hilary Temple · January 18, 2016

    I was fascinated by your piece. You are an interesting person and you have interesting things to say. You write well and vividly. Even if the Guardian isn’t interested I bet there are others who are. And Jeremy Corbyn has awakened something in the British population at large, I think, and although you are OK without that, it is a bonus as far as the general atmosphere in society is concerned. Remember also that women feel like impostors: I’m a graduate, from the kind of middle-class background you are rightly a bit alienated from, and I always felt when I got a job that someone was going to come along and prove I couldn’t do it. Even as you read these responses your confidence is going to rise – and that is what the ruling class have above all else, they think they’re bloody wonderful and entitled to everything that’s going! If only we could instil confidence in our kids we could outface the public school twats.
    I’ll be looking out for your work!

    X

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Alex Scoppie · January 19, 2016

    Send what you write to The Gruaniad – and the Indy, The Mirning Star, The Mirror. Send it to your local newspaper too. You’d be surprised what a newspaper will print, if it’s well written, interesting and by a member of the public. You deserve to be heard, and we deserve to hear you. At the end of the day, what’s the worst that can happen?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Charles Wickenden · January 24, 2016

    Well it’s the only blog (actually any column) that I read regularly, and its taken me 6 days to get round to this one. You write engagingly, with a coherent argument and find interesting angles on a dry subject. You’d be far too counter-cultural for the Guardian and your inclusion still wouldn’t tempt me to buy it (well I’ll buy the one you’re in). But you do deserve a wider audience so give it a go and don’t take the first offer take the best one. That may be a bourgeois thing to say but for once you have the luxury of choice which most working class people don’t get.
    Just one small point I think you’re painting a rosy picture of our manufacturing past. Surveillance was a cornerstone of the very earliest capitalist industries. Factories are designed to atomise workers behaviour and its no different in call centres. Most radical progress will need to be nurtured away from the workplace like it has always done. The armed forces vote for Labour in 1945 was developed in the barracks not on the parade ground.
    Now with true working class inferiority I’ll worry about whether this is worth posting before I do.

    Liked by 1 person

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