They don’t served tinned tomatoes at the Groucho Club

[pullquote]Lindsey Dearnley: Since quitting tattooing, I started an online business making and selling Christmas elves, only to find sales slow enough to cause me serious financial hardship. The kind of hardship that involves walking everywhere and subsisting on tinned tomatoes and potatoes for days at a time. I am now poorer than many of the `woe is me` long term unemployed that I tattooed. [/pullquote]

Its becoming increasingly rare to find a photo of Jeremy Corbyn that doesn’t have Owen’s boyish face hovering somewhere in the background. 2016 has seen a rise in the media presence of this self-described fourth generation socialist who seems to pop up on Question Time every other week. Learning that Jones, a Guardian journalist, would be giving a talk at a local Labour Party fundraiser, I decided to meet him face to face.

The fundraiser consisted of the kinds of Labour supporters who were once the backbone of the party. Older people, a good number of them well into their pensions, people who probably believed in a Labour of a by-gone era, the kind now finding themselves marginalised by the influx of Momentum and its lurking Trotskyists, the likes of which appeared not to have bothered attending the fundraiser. The hard work of actually running things was just not radical enough I suppose. The kind of people who do bother to maintain clubs and put on food and raffles, tend to be decent and ordinary, and I got the impression many of them had invested too many years of support to abandon their party, no matter how much their party had abandoned them.

For those unfamiliar with his appearances and writing, the titles of his two books: “Chav’s, the Demonisation Of the Working Class”, and its counterpart “The Establishment, and How They Get Away With It” should give a good indication of his political focus points. No doubt many would like to take him to task on many of his beliefs, but my particular bone of contention surrounds his failure to address the serious issues that mire the lives of the working class.

I have a more than personal interest than most in his portrayal of life below the breadline. We were both raised in Stockport, are of similar age and attended comprehensives just a few miles a part.  Owen and I are the product of parallel childhoods, yet somewhere along the way, a chasm opened between our conclusions about social degeneration. I’m guessing it was around the time he left Oxford to take up work as a Parliamentary researcher and I took up tattooing in an all-male barbers shop.

Owens talk was brief and light-hearted, a primer for his “Politics of Hope” campaign . No rally cries here. The “Politics of Hope” was inserted frequently, along with the “Politics of Hate” to describe the right (who are forever`on the march’ ) I was intensely irritated to the hear my opinions caricatured as an outward manifestation of inward hate. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many people veer to the right as they get older. For me it was the culmination of first hand experiences, meeting countless people whose lives were merely a series of chaotic, often violent encounters, where drama was wilfully created and children casually neglected. Eventually I was forced to conclude that the most serious issues facing the poor were social in nature, not financial. After all, I am no better off myself. In “Chavs..”, Owen repeatedly downplays the role the poor have played in their own social misery. He dismisses the notion that fatherless childhoods play a significant part in anti-social behaviour, deriding Cameron for once saying ‘social problems are often the consequence of the choices people make’, and denies Charles Murray’s work which claims that family breakdown is behind the rise of an “underclass”

Owen writes in Chavs ‘The social problems that undoubtedly affect many working class communities have come to define the`chav`caricature…the political establishment have gone out of their way to convince us that these are moral issues, and indiscipline that needs to be rectified’

However the notion that the working class might be as responsible for their own moral conduct as everybody else, does nothing to empower them and only re-enforces their already well developed sense of eternal victimhood.

He goes on to say ‘In blaming the victims, the real reasons behind social problems like drugs, crime and anti-social behaviour are intentionally obscured, symptoms have been confused with causes. The communities that suffer the most are the biggest victims of the class war unleashed by Thatcherism.’

The perpetrators of crime and anti-social behaviour are the victims of nobody, nor should the poorest in society be demeaned by having their moral agency linked to their financial solvency. Since quitting tattooing, I started an online business making and selling Christmas elves, only to find sales slow enough to cause me serious financial hardship. The kind of hardship that involves walking everywhere and subsisting on tinned tomatoes and potatoes for days at a time. I am now poorer than many of the `woe is me` long term unemployed that I tattooed (yes they have money for that) and never once have I considered stealing, or smashing up a bus stop, or blaming Margaret Thatcher for my predicament. The poorer I became, the faster I stitched elves together..and mice..and penguins..the wolf at the door is a great motivator.

The government really doesn’t owe me anymore money, it once paid for my degree in its entirety. While that may not have led to a job, it gave me a wider frame of social reference than I would have experienced otherwise. It is clear to me that the middle classes place far more emphasis on education and instilling in their children a sense of personal responsibility sorely missing among the countless people I have met on the sink estates. Some families don’t even care if their children go to school, claiming they were being `indoctrinated` into becoming sheep, and faced frequent visits from school officials who they see as ‘oppressors’. Ten years ago, I’d have claimed that marriage was optional, that father’s didn’t matter, that the government owed me a living for which I did not have to work, and that women were oppressed by the patriarchy. A life lived among the poor, rather than at a table at the Groucho Club or similar that a successful career in the Labour Party would have bought me has forced me to reject the victim mentality and sense of entitlement now deeply ingrained in the lives of the very poor.

Had I carried on in academia, I might well have kept the same views as Owen, but the sheer weight of day to day life among the working classes wore my patience and liberalism down until the ugly truth was too obvious.

I don’t doubt Owen’s enthusiasm and dedication, but seeing first hand the reality of family break down I can no longer subscribe to a progressive ideology that continuously undermines the foundations of the family, foundations that once provided the working class with their main source of strength; personal responsibility and duty towards their families.

After the talk, an auction was held, and the grand prize – a bottle of wine signed by Jeremy Corbyn – sold for £60. A calendar featuring Ed Balls best dance moves sold for significantly less.

I got a chance to speak briefly to Owen. A Christmas party is no place for a debate, so I engaged in small talk, and found him to be affable. I mentioned I was writing for the Salisbury Review. He drew a look of concentration “Sorry, I can’t say I’ve read it” he said smiling.

“Oh, you may not have seen it” I said “It’s very conservative”

“Well so long as your not writing for the Daily Mail” he laughed.

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3 Comments on They don’t served tinned tomatoes at the Groucho Club

  1. Lindsey,

    That is a great article. I think you are preaching to the converted though. Try getting it published in The Guardian, where it needs to be read.

  2. I don’t disagree with the general thrust of the piece but the writer appears to make the same mistake as Owen Jones. Genuine working class people do have the values of aspiration and personal responsibility. The “irresponsible poor” may well share a similar background but do not share those values. If you don’t work, or aspire to work, how can you be “working class?”

  3. Ms. Dearnley,
    I have visited and worked in many countries and communities around the world, many of them quite poor, but I have never encountered the attitude expressed by a significant portion of the English working class anywhere else, although parts of the Middle East come close. The attitude I refer to is the resentful, nihilistic apathy, underpinned by a profound moral and physical laziness, moronically self destructive, as if to threaten self humiliation as some kind of blackmail. We can all laugh at the “Doreen’s Story” parodies on youtube, but they contain a lot more than a grain of truth about part of the English working class.
    As for your acquaintance, the boyish faced Owen; I am more cynical than you, he knows perfectly well what the problems are and how to at least partially solve them, but he seeks a political career and like the rest of the labor party he needs the backs of the dysfunctional poor as his ladder to political office. If his “disadvantaged” constituents suddenly assumed personal responsibility and improved their condition, which they most assuredly would if they embraced work and even modest ambition, well they would probably vote Tory and that wouldn’t help your boyish faced Owen would it?