Our Dalit class had enough problems before Philpott

by Kevin Meagher

So which class does Mick Philpott belong to then? I guess he would end up in the “precariat” group, described as the “poorest and most deprived” in the BBC’s new parlour game, the Great British Class Calculator.  After this last week it’s hardly a cheap shot to point out that he’s not exactly working class is he?

Hear, hear! snarks George Osborne, keen to insert himself into the furore over whether Philpott’s life on benefits caused his descent into immorality, chirruping the sentiments in Wednesday’s Daily Mail whose notorious headline labelled him a “Vile product of welfare UK.”

“There’s a question about the welfare state, and taxpayers who pay, subsidising lifestyles like that” Osborne intoned the other day, not one to let the chance to make a cheap political point pass him by. Not so much aspiration as aspersion nation.

Perhaps, then, Osborne and Paul Dacre can tell us when the rot set in? Just how many years does it take idling on benefits, as they see it, to warp someone’s values enough before a man will set fire to his own house and kill his own kids? Ten years? Twenty?

Given Philpott stabbed a former girlfriend back in 1978 – relatively speaking, years of full employment and plenty – could it simply be that he wasn’t wired-up properly to begin with and his employment status has nothing to do with his proclivity towards violence and nihilistic behaviour?

Back to class though. Twenty years ago, we talked gravely of “the underclass” to try and characterise those left high and dry by Thatcherism. You know the ones. Britain’s Dalits – our unloved and unwanted countrymen and women who long ago slipped out of the mainstream. Those whose ignorance is supposedly exceeded only by their fecklessness. The untouchables on housing estates we would gladly cross the road to avoid; that’s if we ever ventured into their neighbourhoods to begin with. Which we don’t.

The right now offers them castigation, the left, pity. But belief in true equality – in the equal worth of all – means these people should never have been allowed to sink so low in the first place. However sink they have; left with poorer health and fewer qualifications, living out a prospectless existence amid pawn shops, take-aways, drug-dealers, loan-sharks and bull mastiffs. Reduced to existing in the here and now. Too unskilled to keep pace with the modern world of work and priced out of low-skilled jobs by cheaper, immigrant labour.

No wonder they hate politicians. But given they’re not on the electoral register there’s not much they can do about it. I wonder if any of the parties knows how Mick Philpott votes? I suspect his street hasn’t seen a canvassing team in quite a while. The only time politicians meet these people is when they are pouring out tales of misfortune to them at their surgeries. Our political parties have nothing to say to those at the bottom of the pile because they want nothing from them. Labour long ago gave up trying to mobilise them.

I’ve argued here before that the party needs to reassert a patrician concern for the lives of the poor. Not simply in providing a welfare state to ward off privation, but to understand what is important in reintegrating them back into the mainstream. But this is territory the left doesn’t like.

This is where the break-up of families should be regretted. Where fathers married to mothers is the best way of bringing up kids. Where it is normal for family members to go out to work and provide. Where education is cherished. Where respect for oneself and for others is taught. Where a sense of community and reciprocity towards other people is expected. Where right and wrong are absolutes.

It is a mark of how the left has changed in the past 25 years that talking about some of these values is now thought to be taboo. But they are not the preserve of the middle-class as the Mail believes, nor the political right in the shape of George Osborne. They are working-class community values too; a forerunner of “the big society” where people took pride in social solidarity with one another and sought to pay their own way and look after their own families. Where the instinct among those without money, or family connections, was to stick together and look out for each other.

Pulling back from upholding these values over the past three decades has left the state to take a larger and larger role as worklessness, crime and family breakdown took over.

In office, Labour was content that a rising tide would raise all boats. An unbroken period of growth up until 2008 would generate sufficient new jobs and opportunities. But it’s a bit hard to stay afloat when your community is scuttled to begin with. So scheme after scheme was implemented to replace what society would previously have provided itself. Hence a welfare-to-work scheme here, a SureStart centre there.

Some interventions helped, others didn’t, but after all this effort sympathy for our dalits is at an all-time low. Mocked in shows like Little Britain and Shameless, a generation of track-suited young men are left to rot their brains smoking high-strength cannabis as they self-medicate to deal with their undiagnosed depression, while girls with too little self-worth see pregnancy as a path to adulthood. Political support to address their plight is now non-existent.

A dose of tough love by those genuinely concerned at their condition is required. Sometimes that means a kick up the backside. More often it means an arm round the shoulder. Labour’s approach to the welfare state needs to be about turning it into a nurturing state, helping people on a path towards providing for themselves, keeping them firmly part of mainstream society and removing the obstacles in their lives that stop them from claiming their rightful place in it.

Mick Philpott is a monster and deserves his punishment. He comes from the dalit class but is a grotesque exaggeration of it. His poor children deserved so much better. Just like the millions of British kids whose only inheritance is a noxious cocktail of bad parenting, lousy schooling, few opportunities, fewer role models, no jobs, scare amenities and nihilistic distractions.

Addressing their plight is a big challenge and a series of Labour welfare ministers failed to rise to it, too eager to placate liberal opinion and instead rely on Gordon Brown’s largesse to mask the problem. The price of that failure? Calls for reform are now led by a sneering right-wing newspaper and a millionaire Tory Chancellor.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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11 Responses to “Our Dalit class had enough problems before Philpott”

  1. Lynne says:

    Mick Philpot belongs to the criminal class.

    Those of us who are old enough, remember what life was like prior to Thatcher. It was so much better. Very few people you would label as underclass and no beggars in the streets. There were plenty of jobs around that paid a decent wage, not a minimum wage.

    People need jobs that pay a good wage and decent homes to live in and bring up their children. Or is that too much to ask?

  2. e says:

    The Philpotts of this world come from all classes. For a considered examination of his lifestyle, surprisingly I can recommend last night’s Newsnight (broadcast Friday 5/4/2013). That said, being myself one of the ‘untouchables’ of which you speak I salute you – though of course, you’ve missed a bit out. The fact that to date well paid jobs that sustain a good living without recourse to benefits beyond access to good schools, a good nhs service, and council housing continues to feature. But no longer dominates, the problem for the future….

  3. swatantra says:

    Definitely the ‘Sciver Class’. And don’t make any excuses for him. A kick up the backside is more appropriate than hugging that kind of hoodie. Its quite wrong to suggest that Labour have ignored them; the opposite is the case, vast sums of money have been poured into trying to improve their lot, but all to no avail; they’ll take the money and run, and carry on as before.
    The problem is that their attitudes and lack of any values are simply passed onto the next generation. Break that cycle now, and give that future generation a chance.
    The tragic manslaughter of his children is in fact a separate issue, and should be dealt with separately; he should have got life sentences for each of the six.

  4. It is telling that the main voice insisting that the wrong was simply that of the perpetrators has been that of Ann Widdecombe. Her improbable foray into light entertainment seems to be coming to an end, and not before time.

    We must uphold the full compatibility between, on the one hand, the highest view of human demographic, economic, intellectual and cultural expansion and development, and, on the other hand, the most active concern for the conservation of the natural world and of the treasures bequeathed by such expansion and development in the past. Such an approach might be termed “catholicity”.

    It is positively hilarious, though also rather sad, to hear people complain in a single breath, both about immigration, and that the lower orders are having too many children. If our society at large, so to speak, had carried on having such sizes of family with the full and proper assistance of the State, then how much immigration do you really think that there would have needed to have been? And do you imagine that there would now have been a demographic imbalance within the traditional population against the middle and the skilled working classes and in favour of something else entirely? A population group which is determined not to reproduce is doomed to be replaced.

    As for Shameless George, who was yesterday caught using a disabled parking bay and who recently travelled first class on a second class rail ticket, does he imagine that people like him just exist naturally? Or has he considered that it is their many and various exemptions from the fiscal burdens borne by everyone else that make it possible for them to create the demand for, say, cocaine, or sadomasochistic prostitutes?

    Shameless is now well into its final series. Something similar on the overclass, completely cut off from normal society both economically and morally, is long overdue. George Osborne embodies it perfectly.

  5. LesAbbey says:

    It’s by understanding history that we can plan for the future. I’m sure lots have said the same thing before in many different ways. Let’s apply this idea to Kevin’s ‘untouchables’. Call them what you wish, underclass, lumpen proletariat, or even Cameron’s ‘broken Britain’.

    What we do know is that although they have always been there the numbers have increased exponentially since the 1970’s. I suspect the direct cause of this growth won’t be argued in that the deindustrialization of Britain that started under Thatcher plays the major role, although others may argue that welfare benefits do not do enough to reduce the numbers. This argument would be less benefits would drive people into work (not much good if there is no work), or lower the count through starvation and ill health (certainly would reduce the numbers and worked in the 19th Century).

    Once we accept the first argument of deindustrialization we are then faced with how that came about and what measures were taken to relieve its effects. I suspect that both the Thatcherite and New Labour answers would be similar in that nothing politicians could do would make that much difference.

    Against the followers of Thatcher I would say look at Germany and France. Both countries were faced with similar problems of dying industry but they supported and protected industries and jobs. Against the new Labourites I would say your crime is worse. You knew the situation in the old industrial towns and cities. You knew the hiding away of unemployed on false disabled counts and fake education numbers. Yet knowing this you didn’t tackle the problem when it was an optimum time of economic growth. You decided that flexibility of the labour market overshadowed any other policy. You built more growth on the back of cheap imported foreign labour instead of accepting lower growth and an aim of full employment. I bet you even chuckled at Shameless.

  6. swatantra says:

    Unfortunately that is the power of Media.
    We saw a similar faux pas in the 80’s with Alf Garnet, who was supposed to be depicted as a bigoted selfish patriarch and yet turned into a folk hero; instead of laughing at him, the audiance were laughing with him, and taking up those self same attitudes of racism facism and xenophobia. ‘Shameless’ was shameless in portraying that small group of working class scivers as flipping heros and role models. We saw a similar exercise in ‘Bread’. About time the Media undertook its duty to inform educate and entertain more seriously.
    Widdecome’s forages into the underworld of the underclasses turned up the Philpots; Kyles outrages programme turns these awful people into folk heros; and Social Services are no better in coming up with perpetual mitigating excuses for them and their atrocious behaviour.
    Its about time Labour got a grip on these sort of people who give the rest of the derving poor a bad name. Firm but Fair.

  7. John reid says:

    When shameless started, the producers felt at first that working class people up north would be offended, same as The only way is Essex people would too, maybe they took to it as a semi documentary, certainly the story line of a fake child kidnap to raise moneyturnedout to be true, but to compare shameless people unemployed with philpott, is wrong

  8. andy says:

    Is it not the case that the Philpott clan (in essence two families) weren’t benefit scroungers but in fact had a working adult in each unit and were in receipt of working tax credits. Therefore does it not follow that by holding them up as an example of everything tat is wrong with the benefits system, the tories are in effect slagging off every working family that receives tax credits.

    Anyway, a serious question. In many areas there are local council elections this year. Labour MPs who are in those areas are stating in the local press etc that should Labour win in 2015, they will definately overturn the ‘bedroom tax’. However, as far as I am aware, the Labour HQ are saying they have no firm commitments to anything as yet and will review things once in Office.

    Does this mean said Labour MPs are lying?

  9. e says:

    @ swatantra you worry me. Do you imagine a promised land where there are no wrongs is within Labour’s or indeed any political party’s gift; where shameless people of whatever class don’t exist? A society which doesn’t offer media moguls like Murdoch, or channel 4, fodder with which to fashion their story? Surely not, “it’s the economy……”

    @LesAbbey “deindustrialization we are then faced with how that came about”: that was born of an idea; that nations should specialise for globalisation and support neo-liberalism. “And what measures were taken to relieve its effects”: that would be as little as possible along with neutralising unionism, and the demonization and pauperisation of those left unemployed.

    We are where we are as they say, amidst renewed measures taking ‘us’ down this same road to nowhere with a vengeance. The economy is facing a fall-out from the biggest debt bubble in history, a disastrous unintended consequence of experimental globalisation. Where for f**k sake are the imaginative capacities that see beyond blame and lies and are capable of breaking the 30 year old framework that has so evidently harmed.

  10. LeftIsForward says:

    The recent attacks on the poor in the right-wing newspapers, which have been framed on the “Philpott represents benefit-claimants” strawman, have been absolutely disgusting. The vile abuse directed towards the disabled, the socially excluded and the impoverished isn’t just sickening, it’s a direct breach of their human rights and should have been illegal.

    It’s also harmful to class-consciousness. If this is what it means to be “working class” in modern Britain, it’s no wonder that so many people who really *are* working class continue to self-identify as “middle class”. It’s Stockholm Syndrome writ large – people associating themselves with the very people who are oppressing them, and making it more likely they vote for right-wing parties that are intent on keeping them down! For all the bile-filled newspaper headlines, there is no shame in being working class – in fact there should be great pride in a shared history (NHS and the introduction of the welfare state) and modern achievements (including minimum wage, and the equality agenda). On the other hand, judging from the way they have run this country, its institutions and its economy, there should be great shame in being a member of Britain’s privileged elite!

  11. John Reid says:

    Leftisforward, any links to the Tory press using the philpott case to attack the disabled, rather than the over stated welfare saw him get 50,000 a year, regarding Stockholm syndrome for people who probably are working class as in they grew up in a council home, and read a red top newspaper, is the on census over the last 35 years hat someone aspires to feel that their life is better if they call themselves middle class, away of the Tories destroying the working class, or is it that the majority of working class people post 1979, don’t care about their working class routes and want to call themselves middle class and if that means ,so called snobbery of reading the daily mail, or noting voting for a far left socialist party, and maybe buying their council homes, then so be t, that’s what they wanted and aspired too, it’s not Stockholm syndrome to feel materialism is wanting a so called better life or themselves.

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