The Blanket

Class War

Newton Emerson

Right, that does it. I’ve had it just about up to here with Sean Smyth, Billy Mitchell, David Ervine and everyone else who hasn’t noticed that the class war is over.

I’m middle class. It’s great - if you’re one of the few people in Northern Ireland who isn’t middle class, I recommend you give it a try. It’s got nothing to do with how much money you have (I’m permanently broke.) All you have to do is conquer the fear of appearing to have ideas above your station, and as if by magic, you’ll be free.

Although my father’s family is astonishingly wealthy and well-bred, my mother was a working class girl. She went to school with no shoes on. She had TB. She can still make a bag of mince last all week. But my grandparents, being traditional working class people, made sure this wasn’t all she could ever hope for in life. My mum was the first person in her street to go to university, and now she can fake middle-class so well only an expert could tell the difference.

Of course my grandparents are still embarrassingly common, but their proudest achievement in life is turning out stuck-up kids. They both worked 12-hour days for 50 years to do it, but their working class values paid off - and pushed the family up a rung. The post-war growth and social opportunities working class politics delivered enabled the vast majority of their peers to do the same. And so the working class is largely no more, its passing a triumph of the values that defined it.

So when the red end of the local political spectrum talks about ‘the working class’ today, it’s generally referring to a group of people the original working class despised - that vicious, idle, stupid, criminal predatory underclass, the eternal cuckoo in the working man’s nest, frustrating his hopes with a worthless culture of inadequacy, conformity and resentment. Yet we now allow - even encourage - such people to hijack the mantle of ‘working class’, and to use its political language. The result is that when they’re not stealing from their neighbours, today’s ‘working class’ are stealing from everybody by demanding services they’ll abuse, facilities they’ll destroy and a general sufferance they’ll take as a right. When their cynicism eventually collides with our impatience, that will be the end of the welfare system - a final insult to my grandparents’ generation.

The insistence that this country still has a significant working class is only encouraging these people. Of course there’s a powerful desire in Northern Ireland to hope for a new kind of politics - but it’s pathetic to think the alternative is an old kind of class politics, which no longer applies to this or any other Western society.

Worse, the ‘working class’ myth is re-writing recent history at the very moment we should be looking at it honestly. Time and again we hear how working class people bore the brunt of the troubles while the middle class turned its back. This is dogmatic delusion. ‘Working class people’ nurtured the troubles, sustained them with their gormless hatreds, and continue to inflict their recreational tribalism on the rest of us. Those lucky enough not to be caught in the middle have been wise to stay out of it. Those caught - still caught - in what we euphemistically call ‘working class areas’ have been patronised beyond endurance by the suggestion that their plight is a function of their ‘place in society’.

Northern Ireland does not have a class problem - it has a sectarian public order problem, increasingly camouflaged behind the outdated rhetoric of class division. Anybody adding to that rhetoric is adding to the height the few remaining actual working class people must climb to become as middle class as the rest of us. I assume that’s their rightful aspiration - and if you think that assumption is an insult to those people, imagine how they feel being considered ‘of a class’ with the absolute scum of the earth.

Newton Emerson finds inspiration for his articles through the sports of sailing and skiing. He prefers to write in the conservatory.






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A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular.
- Adlai Stevenson

Index: Current Articles

11 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Class War
Newton Emerson


Nationalist Euphoria - Unionist Despondency
Billy Mitchell


Silent But Lethal

Anthony McIntyre


Democratise Democracy
Davy Carlin


The Pentagon's Secret Weapon
John Chuckman


8 August 2002


Billy Mitchell


Frances McAuley - Resisting the Loyal Sons of Hate

Anthony McIntyre


Intense Winters
Miguel Castells Artetxe


Modernising Republicanism
Davy Carlin


Another Death in Turkish Prison Hunger Strike




The Blanket



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The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
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