We’ve all got used to public figures being taken to Room 101, thrashed and sent forth to apologise profusely for whatever heinous words they have foolishly uttered. On November 4th Tory MP for Montgomeryshire Glyn Davies blocked a local member of the Liberal Democrats who asked him to oppose the tax credit cuts. After being contacted by a journalist, Mr Davies then said on Twitter that he was unsympathetically, ‘blocking all the whingers. He of course apologised.
A few days ago, came the latest kami-kazi blabber-mouth, rather in the same vein, MP and sports minister Tracey Crouch, who was forced to cringe and crouch for suggesting, after she was asked about tax credit cuts, that some people had not realised they needed to go without luxuries such as premium TV subscriptions. She later apologised for causing any offence.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, a shadow Treasury minister, said it was ‘outrageous’ that Crouch had said people ‘need to go without in order to make ends meet.’
Could she really have been mad enough to say that? Words such as ‘whingers’ and ‘scroungers’ do not belong within a thousand miles of modern day political discourse, as outdated as talking about the workhouse and paupers. They are so unacceptable because they are tantamount to an educated middle-class person, who probably has savings in an interest earning account, telling an uneducated, less successful person, what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Not even judges do that to the poor these days.
Advice to the lower orders is no longer allowed, those who’ve tried it never get anywhere, apart from the darkest recesses of ignominy hall. Even breezy proletarian chef Jamie Oliver had to back down a few years ago when he tried to tell Chav mothers to stop feeding their children junk food. They naturally ignored him and for awhile he was exiled to US daytime TV.
Eccentric people who take the old line of giving good advice and with it the suggestion of superiority, the sort of behaviour which once made people like Elizabeth Fry and William Wilberforce national heroes, are flinging themselves against the ziegeist in the UK, which for a long time now has said stupid and feckless Good, careful and self-denying, bourgeois and Bad. This applies to all areas of life from public services to the arts. The wind blows Tracey Emin rather than Leonardo, Miley Cyrus not Irving Berlin, Alan Yentob not Lord Clark.
I am reminded of this compulsion to embrace the down-market, the refusal to choose the worthy and adult rather than the cheap and childish whenever I watch TV or listen to BBC radio. Despite its fame for being outrageously clever in an age of duffers, Radio 4 has a problem with being intellectual and attracting the demographic it really wants; young, gifted or not as the case may be, and black.
It used to be said that newspapers never lost out by underestimating the public, now even revered institutions such as the BBC worship at the altar of stupidity, presumably for money.
A Good Read was once a typical Radio 4 programme, made for the middle classes, presumed to be at home tucked up with crumpets and home-made jam, by the middle classes who knew their worth and were proud of their achievements. It once attracted the sort of people who took Firsts in EngLit at Oxbridge but that was before the culture of illiteracy was so entrenched. For instance in an episode in 1993 we had Edward Blishen and his guests, novelists Doris Lessing and Chinua Achebe, discuss books by Tsitsi Dangarembga, RK Narayan and Nawal El Sadawi.
The change in culture came out searingly last week when Harriett Gilbert whose patrician voice jars somewhat these days against those of her guests, was joined by left-wing novelist Jonathan Coe and former Big Brother presenter and Radio 1 DJ Gemma Cairney, who has made a documentary about young people in violent relationships and looks like a toy pyjama case.
Jonathan’s choice was ‘The Complete Pratt’, a semi-autobiographical novel by the late David Nobbs. Harriett said most people would know him as the creator of ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’. Gemma hadn’t heard of Reggie Perrin or David Nobbs.
She said she liked the book and being a new wave feminist was interested in how men write about women, and she enjoyed the ‘old school language’ from a time when people used to say funny things like, ‘hells bells.’ She noted that things were difficult in olden times because people weren’t allowed to swear all the time as they do now. What she liked most was a chapter including, ‘an excellent fart.’
Laughing like a drain, to use an olden term, she said they ‘had to talk about that,’ even though Harriett clearly didn’t want to. Speaking with feminist consciousness apparent, Coe said he’d felt uncomfortable reading the book as the humour might have been, ‘too blokey,’ but he obviously didn’t need to worry.
Gemma chose a novel by Laura Dockrill, or rather a ‘YA’ (young adult) reading primer for older school children, a vividly imagined story of mermaids and pirates, called ‘Lorali’.
As she began telling us about this gem, Harriett chipped in sounding a bit school mistressy, to suggest she should credit the author with a name. Gemma not only did that but remembered that she and the author had been once been teenage friends in Brixton. She remembered her as having a mind like, ‘an astute three year old or she could be described as a crazy old lady.’ They all agreed that the book was, ‘seriously weird.’
Coe said he hadn’t been able to cope with it, and found the lack of any character in Lorali very disappointing. Gemma agreed but said it didn’t matter because she had lovely eye makeup.
Coe admitted cringingly that he was glad to have had the chance to catch up with how people now speak out there in the real world. They went through some of the language, which is probably only spoken on the streets of south London by people who hang about with black beat-box rappers; the fantasy audience of the BBC producer who put this on.
Harriett rather rashly offered ‘Pied Piper,’ from the 1940s by the once popular Nevil Shute, about a kindly elderly man leading a group of refugee children across Europe. Gemma hadn’t heard of him and was vague about the war.
‘You hear about it in school but then don’t think about it again,’ she said. Harriett agreed with her that it was, ‘A trillion years ago.’
The show ended on the correct political note when Harriett said the book ‘was sharply topical’ as it dealt with refugees and Gemma told us that she has friends who, ‘are spending a lot of time in Calais,’ hanging out with migrants.
‘We need to reach into the pit of our stomachs to see how we feel about that,’ she advised her R4 listeners.
Perhaps they will take her advice and perform this difficult anatomical trick as to many of them and the people who put this show on the BBC, she is the epitome of what they want to see out there; a colourful mass of multi-cultural, semi-educated, good hearted young people who know more about the music of Mali than Shakespeare.
There is a middle-class elite who love the cult of stupid and think all that is somehow so touching, wholesome and grand. They love to hear tosh as it reassures them that they are not narrow minded bourgeois but liberal people of the world. Their own children of course after all that expensive education sound much more like Harriett than Gemma. They might sometimes try to speak like kids on the streets of Brixton, which is most amusing, but hells bells, have a heart, it’s just entertainment, they know better really. Only a curmudgeon, right-wing spoil sport would ever criticise.