Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mr. Bevan's Dream: Why Britain Needs Its Welfare State by Sue Townsend (Chatto & Windus 1989)

I am told by my graduate friends that I haven't missed much. They go on to describe their last-minute cramming, their worthless thesis (button manufacturing 1797-1831), but they know and I know that, at the very least, they can write a standard essay, they can marshal their thoughts into some sort of order, and they can come up with a reasonable conclusion. Unfortunately I can't do this. I enjoy reading other people's essays (stumbling across Orwell's Inside the Whale and Other Essays was a particular teenage joy, it out Elvis'd Elvis), but I can't write a well-structured essay myself. So, in this pamphlet, I have fallen back on the traditional working class method for expressing ideas — the anecdote, or what is now called 'the oral tradition' (which is only a fancy term for working class people talking to each other but not bothering to record what they've heard). I'd better explain that my own background is working class. I use the term easily and unselfconsciously, although I am aware that in 1989 the very words 'working class' are buried in a mine-field over which we all have to tiptoe so very carefully.

Slowly, over the years, our language has been debased, so that terms like 'working class', 'socialism' and 'the Welfare State' have become pejorative and individuals using the words in conversation now tend to put them in parenthesis, either by a certain emphasis of tone or by wiggling the fingers in the air to denote that the speaker is aware of certain ironies — that the words are anachronistic in our technological age.

I am extremely proud of my background and the more I travel and read about history and the roots of what we call civilisation, the prouder I become of this huge international class. I know that they were the builders of the cathedrals, the carvers of furniture, the seamstresses of the gorgeous clothes in the family portraits. They grew the hothouse flowers, they wove the carpets, bound the books in the libraries and gilded the ceilings. They also built the roads, the railways, the bridges and the viaducts. And what is more they were fully capable of designing such marvels. No one class has a monopoly on vision and imagination. The only thing the working classes lacked was capital.

1 comment:

Darren said...

Pages 2-4.

What a wonderful writer. My sort of Labourite.