Friday, 3 January 2014

How the ragged troused philanthropists were right...

'The present system means joyless drudgery, semi-starvation, rags and premature death; and they vote for it and uphold it. Let them have what they vote for! Let them drudge and let them starve!'.
So proclaimed Frank Owen of the 'ragged trousered philanthropists' who had the audacity to vote Conservative. And thus was born the myth of the Tory working class - trained, almost dog-like, to nod to their betters and defer to their thoughts.

It always seemed that 'the left' are deeply concerned at the prospect that any 'worker' might vote for a political party other than one 'of the left' (whatever that means). After all, Tories "despise the working class", how can a member of that class vote for them?

All this explains why the Conservative politicians for whom 'the left' reserve the greatest vitriol - even hatred - are those who challenge their perspective. When Norman Tebbit, Eric Pickles, Patrick McLaughlin or even Nadine Dorries speak up the sound of left-wing hackles rising can be heard right across the nation. These people are the acme of class traitorhood, the very personification of false consciousness, the quislings of the working class.

The left is quite comfortable with David Cameron and George Osborne because they are what Tories should be: inherited wealth, top public school, Oxford, horse-riding - all the stereotypes of left-wing iconography. It makes for an easy campaign, roll out Dennis Skinner ranting about privilege, talk about 'out of touch Tory toffs' and add in images of top hats (or that over-used Bullingdon photograph - I wonder whose copyright it is, they should have made a fortune).

The problem is that it really isn't as simple as that, this class divide malarkey. For sure we can show people about the idea of surplus value with three slices of bread and a knife but that doesn't make it true nor does it put a roof over someone's head and a meal on the table. More to the point Norman, Eric and Nadine are proof that, not only does the Conservative Party not "despise the working class" but people from that class can get to powerful positions in the Party. This is not how it should be!

Today a man earning fifty or sixty thousand a year as a skilled operator working on shift is considered working class (and will most likely be a member of that working class institution Unite the Union) whereas a man earning half that amount from his fields is a rentier ("boo-hiss"). The argument to those ragged trousered ones a hundred years ago - that they should throw off those capitalist shackles - no longer stands since the ragged trousers have been replaced with designer clothes, two weeks in Tenerife and a new (-ish) Audi.

It seems the 'philanthropists' were right - invest in the free system and everyone gains. We don't know whether Owen was right (although there has been the occasional hint as to socialism's inadequacy as a system) but it doesn't matter because capitalism worked. The 'conditions of the working man' (the improvement of which Disraeli had set as the Conservative Party's mission) were raised and continue to rise.

We will continue to see the myth of the working-class Tory peddled - the idea that independence, self-reliance, hard work, decency and choice represent some sort of misplaced confidence in the capitalist system, a confidence that will fail the working man. And the belief that some syndicalist wonderland will come forth from the casting aside of capitalism.

Those values - working class Tory values - that the left rejects are in the soul of the Conservative Party. But we are, above everything, pragmatic and know that the consequence of Frank Owen's system is not Utopia but Venezuela.



Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Simon.

The vitriol aimed at the Conservative party by those of the Left (usually employing that awful Aneurin Bevan quote) continues to amuse/baffle me.

If anyone else other than a Leftie were to express similar sentiments against any other grouping (social, religious, ethnic or political, with the exception of the BNP) there would be uproar.

And yet, if you point this out to them they just retreat further into their self-imposed ghetto of the mind. Challenge them on it, and you get nowhere because they cannot begin to contemplate the absurdity of their reasoning. For instance, point out to the Leftie that the Tory party of the Bevan era and the one of today are remarkably different animals and he'll just say "No they're not", and trot (sic) out some bore specious class-war.

This is when you hit them with a quote from Disraeli, and the one from Bevan about the poverty of aspiration of the working class. I can guarantee that about 95% of them will attribute the Bevan quote to a Tory, and vice versa.

They are so self-righteous and blinkered and immune to reason that I sometimes wonder why I bother arguing.

Anonymous said...

My GOD man have you ever looked at a graph of distribution of wages? Your estimate of what people earn would be laughable if it wasn't so very wrong made worse by stagnating wages, rising costs and house prices that make owning a home a fantasy for most young people.

While I'm passing on wisdom only political elites really think in terms of left and right. Your target is a largely meaningless straw man.

Finally, PLEASE look up the different definitions of capitalism and markets preferably while getting a rounded education of economic history before making grand statements.

Simon Cooke said...

Dear Anonymous...why is it always the anonymous who are rude, do they have no balls, too scared to reveal themselves?

I never suggested that wages were evenly distributed but that the conditions of the working man are vastly better than the conditions described by Tressell. Which they are.

Sadly too, your wisdom appears to be moderated by an unwarranted anger at current circumstances.. To the point where, sadly, it has vanished.