We Need More Class Consciousness, Not Less
Blacker, Terence, The Independent (London, England)
That old favourite, the British class system, is due for yet another anguished examination. A couple of years ago, it was Lord Prescott who was being followed by a camera crew to Royal Ascot and Eton for a BBC series called The Class System and Me. Now another own-bootstraps-pulling life peer, Lord Bragg, is to present what one assumes will be a rather more thoughtful and less egocentric effort, called On Class and Culture. Yet another northerner, Alan Milburn, has reported to the Government on the issue of social mobility.
It is tempting to be depressed by this unchanging obsession with class. In 1976, Melvyn Bragg, right, pondered the subject in a TV discussion programme with Richard Hoggart, author of The Uses of Literacy, and considered how class, as presented on television, had changed since the 1950s. Reviewing the programme, Clive James detected progress - in the media, at least. After all, here were Bragg and Hoggart chatting away, without the help of a plummy- voiced BBC man. "Despite their lowly origins, they showed no sign of unease," James wrote approvingly.
Hoggart had taken a tougher line, arguing that "the reality of class has hardly changed", and, for all the pronouncements to the contrary from Thatcher, Major, Blair and others, his words ring depressingly true in 2012.
The accents of TV and radio presenters may have changed, and social snobbery may have become no more than an indicator of stupidity and insecurity, but the same division of opportunity - cruel and unquestioned - remains.
Talking to a group of bright sixth-formers at a state school on Tyneside, Alan Milburn asked what they hoped to do in life. …