The UK’s white working classes have no greater champion than the Spiked Online journalist Brendan O’Neill. Day after day, year upon year, he’s plugging away at his Telegraph Blogs account, dedicated to defending the proletariat against the metropolitan liberal chattering classes, which seek to attack and belittle England’s honest workers with such predations as anti-racist activism, independent film, healthy eating, gay marriage, rap music, the Occupy movement, immigration and the Leveson Inquiry. It truly is, as his tagline says, ‘a culture war of words’.
Today O’Neill is talking about social mobility. There is a trendy North London consensus about social mobility – okay, there probably isn’t, but O’Neill needs to say there is so that he can denounce it, so let’s follow his argument.
Is there anyone the great and the good hate more than an upwardly mobile member of the working classes? A raft of abusive terminology has been created to diss these strange creatures. They’re seen as ‘yuppies’ or ‘Loadsamoneys’, waving their wads of cash around with a sneering look of self-satisfaction on their faces. They’re always described as ‘grasping’ and ‘ruthless’. They are treated like fish out of water, such as when The Guardian snottily said that wealthy working-class footballers labour under ‘the misapprehension that drinking champagne is a symbol of class’. And they are always depicted as soulless, as lacking in community spirit, as so selfish that they would rather escape the poor communities they grew up in rather than stay put and muck in […]
And so the Left sneers at these socially mobile workers, because it would prefer that they stayed put rather than unwittingly shining a light on the fact that the Labour Left’s historic talk of boosting everyone’s fortunes has been so much flimflam. Their ambition is slated because it is too much of an uncomfortable echo of the kind of life and drive that Labour once promised to deliver to all. These people should stop focusing on ‘getting out of somewhere’ and instead, in the embarrassing words of Leftist author Owen Jones, celebrate their ‘working classness’. That phrase suggests that being working class is an innate trait, like sex or hair colour. But it isn’t. It’s a social condition, or a social predicament if you like, and like all social conditions it can be overcome and transformed.
While expressed with his usual tinfoil-chewing abrasion, O’Neill’s argument has some sense to it. It’s interesting therefore to look back at his reaction to a piece by Lynsey Hanley, in which she discussed working class racism and conservatism. Hanley grew up on a Birmingham council estate and is now a London journalist. For O’Neill, this made her a ‘self-loathing prole’:
We often hear of self-loathing Jews, but what about self-loathing proles – working-class people who look back with contempt at the communities they had the misfortune to grow up in? There’s a very good example of it in today’s Guardian, in this column by Lynsey Hanley, a woman who has made a writing career on the back of the fact that she grew up on a council estate… Ms Hanley writes of the ‘terrible ignorance’ of the community she used to live in, prior to her moral and mental rescue by ‘metropolitan elite liberal values’.
Perhaps keen to assure her current employers that she is now one of them and has been scrubbed clean of any trace of working-class brutishness, Ms Hanley sneers at the ‘view of life’ that held strong in the community she was born into. These people were ‘paranoid, suspicious, mistrustful, misogynist and racist’, she says. She heaps disdain on the ‘social conservatism’ of white working-class communities, which are given to ‘silently or violently rejecting anyone who is different or who expresses a different opinion to that of the crowd’. Thankfully for her (and let’s face it, probably for the community she was born into), Ms Hanley escaped from this ‘crowd’ (in pre-PC times they called it ‘the mob’) by embracing what she refers to as metropolitan, liberal values.
So, Brendan O’Neill attacks opponents of social mobility for working class people, and at the same time condemns working class people who have the temerity to escape the ghetto.
Okay, these columns are a year apart, consistency is in some ways overrated and anyone can change their mind – still, most writers would allude to the contradiction and talk a little about how their views have evolved.
It cannot be that O’Neill is a chronic and compulsive attention seeker who will say more or less anything to get a few annoyed social media reactions?