Not a week goes by without a right-wing British politician or pundit bewailing the "left behind" white working classes. Most of it is bogus sympathy. Most of them have never cared about those beneath them. Particular identity politics are cynically stimulated by people of power and influence, most effectively by Nigel Farage, the most successful hawker of white victimhood.
Depressingly, genuinely concerned men and women are also now caught up in this social panic. Nicky Morgan, previous education secretary, usually measured and thoughtful, this week warned that white working class boys were outperformed by ethnic minority pupils, "whose families are aspirational and value education more."
In truth, the government's own research shows that Chinese and Indian British children are top achievers, while white and black working class kids – as well as Pakistani British pupils – are lower down the table.
The working class has been deliberately racialized and divided into the white working classes and the rest. The separation has been deepened by Brexit.
A persuasive new investigation exposes the fallacies of the current discourse. In Minority Report, published by the Runnymede Trust and Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS), Dr Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, points out that pitting white working people against those of other ethnicities provides no solutions for the disadvantaged.
Khan also highlights that white and non-white working classes have more in common with each other than they have with middle and upper classes.
It all started back in 2008, when Labour's Hazel Blears started speechifying about disenfranchised white working classes. At one debate organised by the Fabian Society, she droned on about the "ambitions" of these people who wanted good schools and good jobs and good universities. (As if black and Asian working classes had no such ambitions).
In the same year the BBC, controversially, broadcast White Season, a series of "frank" programmes on the lives and thoughts of indigenous Brits. Frank Field, Iain Duncan Smith and others took up the theme with gusto.
Munira Mirza, one of Boris's deputy mayors, opined in 2010 that race was sorted and class was the problem. No evidence was provided. Soon, these mantras became trends. At party conferences, myriad fringe meetings would discuss the exclusion of the white working classes from opportunities and either blatantly or subtly blame "multiculturalism" for this injustice.
As Robert Yates astutely pointed out, in The Observer in February: "The 'left behind' are, it is said, profoundly at odds with liberal metropolitan types. In fact, this theory has now hardened into received wisdom... Politicians, academics and journalists have chosen to run with [this] culture clash."
At a dinner party, I recently clashed with an English ex-Labour politician who was churning out platitudes about the divided kingdom. I asked him how many unemployed or non-professional white mates he himself had – and whether he would rejoice if his daughter married a part-time road builder. That, he shouted, was not fair. Isn't it? Why not?
According to these pernicious myths, we black and Asian Britons, are responsible for low white working class educational qualifications, their bad accommodation, poor health – perhaps divorces too? We are portrayed as grabby villains who steal the good life away from those with roots deep in the soil. Contradictorily, minorities are also lazy drains on the benefits system. Thankfully, lived experiences dispel many of these perceptions.
This week, I went to a large London hospital and met casual staff – cleaners, trolley pushers and auxiliary nurses. Some were English, some Scottish, Welsh and Irish, others were Ethiopians, Somalis, Nigerians, Poles, Romanians, Portuguese, and Bangladeshis. Not one white Brit said to me publicly or privately that "foreign" colleagues were the real problem.
There were tensions. For example, the Bangladeshi cleaners did not like to be supervised by females and a Scottish nurse objected to the hijab. But their primary concerns were about wages and conditions and underfunding. Bad news for those who want to think that humans are designed not to share but to compete savagely.
All those who make up the British working and workless classes are suffering deprivation because of poor employment prospects, bad housing and education. Furthermore, they help each other. On one housing estate near us, for example, Miriyam, a refugee, looks after Welshwoman Patti's two children. In exchange, Patti buys her groceries and cheap clothes. Tony, a disabled English builder is helped by Tariq, a part-time butcher.
Race, religion and ethnicity have too long been used to divert attention from class analysis and neglect. It is time to fight the peddlers of lies and fake statistics – and to demand a better deal for all those at the bottom of our cruelly unequal and unjust nation.
You may be interested in:
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- The rape victim speaking in public with her rapist is just a middle-class vanity project
- I sent my kids to private school but I was wrong – children should not be divided
- The white working class has been strategically pitted against the rest by right-wing politicians