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Has society turned its back on itself?

Initially, it was a little hard to figure out what lay behind the BBC decision to commission The White Season. But when taking on board the subsequent general air of BBC defensiveness, it is probably fair to assume it hasn’t worked out exactly as planned.

A common –and commonsense- complaint was that in prefixing ‘white’ to working class, the BBC had needlessly, deceitfully and divisively racialised the social, economic and political issue of working class disaffection.

When confronted along these lines by IWCA representative Gary O’Shea on BBC London’s Dotun Adebayo programme, BBC commissioning editor for the season Richard Klein struggled to articulate a coherent reply to what the presenter described as ‘a damning’ critique.

According to Klein, a survey commissioned by the BBC found that the white working class ‘group’ were not only alienated on immigration but on a myriad of other subjects, including housing, education, crime and so on.

As columnist Seumas Milne commented: “it wasn’t immigration that ripped the guts out of working-class Britain, white and non-white. It was the closure of whole industries, the rundown of manufacturing and council housing, the assault on trade unions, the huge transfer of resources to the wealthy, the deregulation of the labour market, and the unconstrained impact of neoliberal globalisation under both Tories and New Labour. Almost none of that has had a look-in so far in The White Season,” (‘Either Labour represents its core voters – or others will’, 13 March 2008).

So why then not devote a season to addressing and reflecting all of these concerns, seeing as how they affect the working class as a whole? Whether the working class ‘formed a majority or not was neither here nor there,’ Klein insisted, and then went on to assert that ‘white working class’ was how in everyday parlance the majority described themselves and accordingly no fault could be found with the BBC in describing them thus.

In reality the racial denomination is entirely a creation of a multicultural strategy, but even today the notion that people talk of themselves in the terms described is absurd. What remained of his credibility evaporated with his repeated insistence that the high point for the Far Right in terms of popular support was with the NF back in 1979, even though the NF never had a single councillor and the BNP have amassed far greater totals in European elections since then.

Challenged on this and a number of other assertions by both Gary O’Shea and the presenter he opted to bluster his way through. Afterwards, he phoned the producer of the program bitterly complaining of his treatment.

The back story to The White Season is that BBC supremo Roly Keating supposedly woke up one morning quite overcome with “embarrassment” at the corporation’s previous neglect of this “group” (as if we all resided at the edge of some increasingly intricate patchwork quilt and the omission of serious political consideration of the condition of the working class for the best part of two decades had been little more than an oversight).

‘Has Britain turned its back on the white working class?’ Radio Five Live asked its audience in kicking off the debate. But such a title hardly makes sense if columnist Seamus Milne is right in claiming that the working class -manual and clerical- makes up “getting on for two thirds” of contemporary society. The 2007 British Social Attitudes Survey found that 57% of the population identify themselves as working class (British Social Attitudes Survey).

And if these claims are anywhere near accurate, the far more challenging question to ask (particularly in light of Margaret Thatcher’s infamous declaration that ‘there is no such thing as society’) might have been ‘Has Britain turned its back on itself?’.

But that of course is not anywhere near how the ruling elite likes to look at things. A recent study of the topic that took four years to complete, The East End: Kinship, Race and Conflict concluded that one of the specific ways in which the multicultural strategy is employed, ‘is to make the working class feel they are just a minority themselves’ the better to dampen down the expectations of the host community.

A fine example of this type of thinking can be found in an article by Richard Klein (The same person who commissioned the BBC season)in the Daily Mail on the White season. It was headlined: “White and working class… the one ethnic group the BBC has ignored”. The key word here of course is ‘ethnic’: race, not class, the very essence of multiculturalism (Daily Mail, 29 February 2008).

On top of this, The East End report continues, ‘a swathe of political measures and institutions which consolidate the rights of minorities while multiplying the sanctions against indigenous whites who object to this’ have been promoted in order to increase ‘the moral authority of the British administrative elite’, while at the same time creating a black middle class (at the expense, note, of the black working class) to buttress the existing white middle class.

Journalist Nick Cohen sums it up like this: “Andrea Callender, BBC’s head of diversity…is not only concerned with colour prejudice, but she also promises to tackle an apparently definitive list of bigotries about ‘age, gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation and number of dependents’.

Yet she does not mention the most glaring inequality in modern Britain, although she must encounter it every day…[this] pseudo-egalitarian style dominates every public institution. Human-resources managers make good money out of a career in leftism as long as they never talk about the old left’s central concern: class” (‘The prejudice that still shames the nation’,The Observer,16 March 2008).

Now it is true that the The White Season did talk about class. But this was neither a well-meaning or inadvertent deviation from the norm. From the outset it was done in a thoroughly back-handed way. In both the programme on the working men’s club ‘Last Orders’ set in Beasley and the ‘All white in Barking’ production, the views aired were almost exclusively from pensioners or those heading that way.

One former Barking resident accurately described the potrayal as almost ‘Dickensian’. The inference being that the working class was a relic: spent, decrepit and dying out and, more than anything, defeated. It also meant that the contributions on race and immigration would not have been out of place in the 1960’s. That real racial integration only really happens within the working class was, as usual, conveniently side-stepped.

The hypocrisy here is particularly striking for, as journalist Andrew Anthony observed rather bitterly, the liberal community, including ‘the hideously white BBC’, for all its eloquence on anti-racism, “is far more inclined to retreat to private schools and affluent enclaves, the better to maintain a homogenous culture while pronouncing on the benefits of diversity,” (The Observer, 2 March 2008).

Middle class sanctimony is never of course the entire preserve of the BBC. On all sorts of levels middle class two-faceedness on the issue is inescapable. Consider this contribtion from the Oxford Mail:

“What has got members of Oxford Independent Working Class Association all excited recently? After numerous occasions when opposition councillors at Oxford City Council sighed heavily whenever an IWCA member got up to speak in the council chamber, the BBC has launched its White season of TV programmes. The corporation has devoted huge resources to asking whether Britain’s white working class has become invisible. It’s a question that Stuart Craft, the IWCA leader, has been asking for years,” (Oxford Mail, 12 March 2008).

As the Oxford Mail knows all too well, the actual question the IWCA has been asking for years, both within and without the council chamber, is why so many of your heart on your sleeves type ‘anti-racists’ vigorously applaud the type of policies that encourage the working class to fight it out on ethnic lines among themselves, when it is painfully obvious that the primary beneficiaries of the in-fighting will be the ‘separate but equal’ BNP?

Now that would be a BBC ‘season’ worth watching. Over to you, Roly!

As well as fulfilling the invitation to appear on the Doton Adeyabo programme on BBC London on Sunday March 16, IWCA rep Gary O’Shea made these points and others in interviews on Radio Five Live, BBC 24 on March 7, and ‘You and Yours’ on Radio Four on March 11.
Here are a couple of samples.

(IWCA on Radio 5 Live-edited)
(IWCA on Radio 5 Live-unedited)
(IWCA on Radio 4 – You and yours -edited)
(IWCA on Radio 4 – You and yours -unedited)

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