Monday, 25 May 2015

There are worse things to be than the most working class city in the country.

You might not have known there was a competition, there is it has to be said less glitter about it than Euro-vision, but Stoke-on-Trent has been crowned the most working class city in the country, beating rivals like Sunderland and Wolverhampton into a cocked hat.

Is that such a bad thing? I suppose it means the long awaited sequel to Notting Hill isn't going to be called Bentilee, but there are worse things to be than working class.

That said the term doesn't mean what it used to, when applied to towns or people it no longer signifies honest toil in a skilled trade; all too often it is a lazy media stereotype for economic bottom feeders clinging to the decaying edge of the rust belt. As Owen Jones puts it, the working class have gone from being the salt of the earth to being the scum of the earth.

At least they have in the eyes of the sort of media types who love hanging negative tags around the necks of cities like Stoke and then having a good laugh about it in their Hampstead drawing rooms. They probably used to pull the wings off flies when they were children too.

I agree that we need more high quality jobs in the area and support to help people at all stages of their working life move away from repetitive manual labour. There are though far worse things to be than working class, and I'm more than proud to define myself as working class.

To me the working class identity is composed of values that are, for the most part exemplary, these include valuing that someone works hard not just the type of work they do; having roots in one place, loyalty to family and friends and a lack of patience with all things pretentious. There is, despite the stereotype of shell suit clad slobs slumped in front of the X-Factor, also a long tradition of intellectual curiosity amongst working people, often linked to a strong strain of creativity.

The alternative to this, the cool, atomised metropolitan existence pushed by a largely upper middle class media and advertising industry seems shallow by comparison. All brand names and over priced coffee sipped in painfully fashionable parts of the country. A house of cards for which the inmates probably wear having paid too much as a badge of honour.

We need to embrace not reject the best of working class values, something I thought about last week when I read that Tristram Hunt believes that Labour must 'raise its game' if it wants to win the 2020 election.

What he meant, I fear, was that they need is slicker PR, sharper suits and fewer awkward principles to get in the way of doing as leadership candidate Liz Kendall said, Mr Hunt has hitched himself to the wagon of her campaign since his own leadership ambitions turned to dust, 'whatever works' to trawl in the votes.

Working people need a voice in politics like never before, but it won't come from a Labour Party that lost its way in the nineties and will never find it again by scrabbling about on the middle ground. They might be better looking to parties like the SNP, Plaid Cymru or the Greens to articulate , which might explain why those three parties continue to grow amidst the barren landscape of British politics.

Far from cringing in shame working class people should celebrate their identity. We need more of the values associated with working class communities like Stoke in public life. Like judging people on what they do rather than what they promise to do tomorrow and a belief that we are all part of a shared enterprise called society, not just endless individuals wielding the 'sharp elbows' David Cameron and his kind believe to be a prerequisite for success in no interest other than their own.

Working class it a worthwhile thing to be, but the only people who will speak up for us is ourselves. It is time we got off our knees, stopped worrying about the cheap jibes of lazy media types and started celebrating who we are and what we've got to offer.

Say it out loud; we're working class and proud.

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