A working class hero is nothing to pretend to be

Paul McCartney was always my favourite Beatle. Not only because of his superior songs, although Jet is better than any of John Lennon’s solo output. But also because he never followed the absurd craze amongst arty types of “pretending not to be middle-class” (this is a middle-class home, whatever Mr Lennon’s pretensions).

Today, I’ve been mostly riled by Internet-ists playing the “prolier than thou” game. A Twitterist entitled @MediaActivist believes that capitalism is evil and should be abolished, not regulated. He also believes that he doesn’t have enough to eat. The latter isn’t just lies, it’s offensive, mad, patronising lies. Thanks to the combination of capitalism and socialism that has prevailed in the UK over the last 100 years, everyone has enough to eat. Anyone who says otherwise on the Internet is talking shit [*].

I very much like Laurie Penny‘s writing, but it often falls into the same trap. Ms Penny is poor because she’s chosen to be: she has a degree from a respectable university, and hence could easily, were she into such things, get a horrible job as an accountant, IT project manager, recruitment consultant, or similar. The reason she’s got no cash is because she’s – completely reasonably, because working as a junior accountant, project manager or recruiter is horrible – decided to live in a rats-and-roaches share-house whilst making it in the media. I did the same thing 10 years ago; sadly, the lure of “no rats and no overdrafts” seduced me to the dark side.

People sometimes slate writers like Ms Penny for their privileged background. They should be boiled in oil. The point isn’t the background, and if you judge anyone by their background then you’re a worthless prick. The point is that, if you’ve got half a brain and the right to reside in a developed country, you are unspeakably and amazingly economically privileged, whether your dad was the Duke of Canterbury or a tramp.

If you’re capable of participating coherently in a debate about poverty, whilst having the unqualified right to reside in a developed country, then you’re not poor, even if your income’s a fiver a year. The only people who are really poor in the UK are the people who aren’t capable of participating in such a debate. We need to do more for those people at the margins of society, but that has absolutely cock-all to do with how the majority of people who’re basically middle-class [**] live.

Relatedly, this is you, me, and everyone else reading this post:

Unrelatedly, give money to these people. Also, whenever the UK next has a government, write to your MP and point out that it’s a revolting, unspeakable state of affairs that over a million British citizens don’t have abortion rights, purely because we’ve left the lunatic theocrats on both sides of lunatic theocracy to it rather than saying “no, fuck off, this isn’t a game, be sensible”.

[*] the only UK citizens who don’t have adequate food, heating, healthcare, etc are people who are too challenged by whatever disabilities they suffer from to claim the benefits that otherwise mean that all UK citizens have adequate food, heating, healthcare, etc. And someone who’s a coherent Twitter activist does not fit into that bracket. Many non-citizens are screwed, and I don’t believe they should be, but that’s a separate point and it’s to do with racism rather than capitalism versus socialism.

[**] spurious ‘75%’ stat removed. I’m willing to defend the proposition that on any sensible indicator, 50%+ of British people can be described as ‘middle-class’.

17 thoughts on “A working class hero is nothing to pretend to be”

  1. I had forgotten Instant Karma. It's a good track at least in the same calibre as Jet and LALD, unlike most Lennonery (and, to be fair, unlike most solo McCartnery). Even so, I'd rather hear Jet than IK.

    Incidentally, half of the reason for posting this post is the hope that people will post me YouTube links to excellent songs that will cure me of my McCartney fixation. More YouTube links to excellent songs are, in general, required.

  2. In circumstances too odd to explain, I once talked to McCartney and got to ask him loads of questions about Beatles songs. The two sides to them can best be seen in 'Getting Better' off Sgt Pepper

    "You've got to admit, it's getting better, getting better all the time (it can't get much worse)"

    Lennon wrote the bit in brackets.

    I reckon his best one (if you're looking for counterweights) is 'I'm So Tired' off The White Album.

  3. "Thanks to the combination of capitalism and socialism that has prevailed in the UK over the last 100 years, everyone has enough to eat. Anyone who says otherwise on the Internet is talking shit."

    I was starting to miss your sweeping statements, John B.

  4. That could've been phrased better. "Everyone who's a UK national in a position to comment on the Internet also has the ability to get enough to eat" is true, given that lack of mental capacity to claim benefits you're entitled to is the *only* thing that stands between "being a UK national" and "getting enough to eat".

    I'm assuming here that the kind of mental capacity required to make political comments on the Internet is roughly similar to the kind of mental capacity required to navigate the benefits system, admittedly, but I don't think that's a terrible rule of thumb.

  5. "If you’re capable of participating coherently in a debate about poverty, whilst having the unqualified right to reside in a developed country, then you’re not poor, even if your income’s a fiver a year."

    Quite. It's one of the things which seriously pissed me off about the Hills Report on wealth inequality. They deliberately and specifically left out what we already do to reduce wealth inequality. We've all got something that is indeed wealth, a serious chunk of it too. It's called the welfare state.

    (As an example, from their own report, the average household in the bottom 10% of the income distribution gets around £10k a year in various benefits. An income stream of £10k a year is wealth and valued as an annuity would be wealth of around £200k. Maybe that's not quite the way to measure it but the existence of said welfare state is indeed a form of wealth which we can calculate the value of. As another example, they included private pension savings as wealth but inexplicably left out the State pension as wealth.)

  6. I think you're been rather optimistic about the employment prospects of graduates, even junior accountant jobs and rather lowly admin can be well out of reach at times for some people with good degrees.

    Where you are right though is that even the vast majority of unemployed have enough to eat. It would be much better to take the argument to quality of life issues and point out that a lot of people have to take 'horrible' jobs that aren't that well-paid, are insecure and don't pay enough to be able to afford decent housing etc.

  7. @Igor, thanks for that sensible comment, with which (when I'm in non-ranty mode) I more or less agree.

    @Hagley, thanks for the post – I've retracted the 75% figure because it's spurious, and I agree I could have done more in this piece to emphasise the difference between "people in the UK who are basically middle-class on any sensible metric" and "people in the UK who are unequivocally not middle-class but still have access to food, housing, heating and healthcare".

    @Paul, I'm not counting anything credited "Lennon/McCartney" to either of their solo careers, even though I know that quite a few White Album and Abbey Road songs are basically solo compositions. I'm So Tired is a very good song indeed, and it's better than anything either of them did officially-solo. Also, did you ever write up the other things Macca told you? Would be interesting…

  8. "Would you annuitise income from employment too?"

    Probably not….for income from employment is dependent while income from benefits isn't in quite the same way.

    BTW, do note that I'm not stating that my calculations are correct (in the longer piece at the ASI I do make this very clear). They're to illustrate the point. That there's this thing called the welfare state which is a source of guaranteed income and thus wealth. To disregard or ignore this in measuring wealth inequality is simply wrong.

  9. income from employment is dependent while income from benefits isn’t in quite the same way.

    Income in benefits is not the same as income from an annuity, because benefits income can be changed at will in either direction by the government of the day, and will in any event change as your eligibility changes (for example, if your kids grow up, as they tend to, there goes your child benefit).

  10. Woman
    Jealous Guy
    Whatever Gets You Through The Night
    Instant Karma
    Just Like Starting Over
    Imagine

    added to that, the whole "Plastic Ono Band" album more or less pisses on anything recorded in the next ten years.

  11. "Probably not….for income from employment is dependent while income from benefits isn’t in quite the same way."

    Yes, but it seems to me that if you want a proper measure of wealth inequality you need to make an estimate of this – something like employment income averaged over the last 5 years.

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