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.