I was listening to ‘Working Class Hero’ by John Lennon the other day. While I’m not a huge fan of Lennon’s, nor indeed the Beatles, I have always considered ‘Working Class Hero’ to be a true 20th Century folk song. It’s a song you could imagine (‘scuse the pun) the likes of Bob Dylan penning during his early electric years – if he had been born and bred in Northern England instead of Minnesota, USA. As a song it’s pretty simple and regardless of any hidden meanings that analytical lyric hounds may attach to it, the song is at it’s very roots an ode to the salt of the Earth working class folk that are all too difficult to find in early 21st England. It’s a song penned while people were being sold the Capitalist dream. A time shortly before the floodgates opened for benefit scroungers, dossers and layabouts. A time when the country was changing at an exponential rate in which the social problems of 21st Century Britain would be seeded.
A few short years after this song was released Britons were being told that we were all Middle Class, or even that the class system was no more. Of course this was complete and utter spin designed to usher in Thatcherism and it is in this era that I grew up. The real fact of the matter was that the age of consumerism had exploded and products that were once the preserve of the rich were becoming much more affordable for those on lower incomes. It had little to do with everyone being Middle Class.
I work to earn just enough money to put a roof over my head and food on the table and therefore I consider myself Working Class, because I work hard for a living. The fact that I don’t work down a pit does not mean that I am not working class (although I did used to work as a labourer for about 6 years before becoming trapped in an office). Since the shift from manufacturing to the service sector, offices and call centres have become the new factories and coal pits and therefore the unskilled workforce that feeds them are the new Working Class, but one that has lost it’s sense of community and camaraderie.
But what does class matter in the 21st century anyway? Do we still really need to label people and stick them into categories? I would argue that we need it today just as we didn’t really need it back then. It’s basically just another way to socially stigmatise others which is something we are doing already but without using class as a label. Most people in Britain have either used or have heard the word ‘Chav’ and while people’s definition of it varies one thing is for certain; it’s a truly classless label. You can be a Chav on a council estate just as easily as you can be a Chav living in some posh detached house in a cul-de-sac in rural Kent. It’s all about outlook. If you’re a loud, obnoxious twat with vulgar dress sense and covered in bling then you are a Chav in my book. Ok you might drive a brand new Subaru WRX with full body kit instead of a 5 year old Fiesta RS but that just means you’re a rich Chav instead of a poorer one.
Proving that modern social labels can transcend classical class ideas almost blows my argument out the water but I have a trump card up my sleeve that will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the class system in the UK is very much alive and breeding. I call this class the ‘Idle Class’.
So who is the Idle Class? Well basically if you’re a bone-idle layabout that lives their life by trying to beat the social system and never work a day in your life then you’re in this class. The dossers, the scroungers, the benefit cheaters – those who live off the taxes generated by the rest of us. Yes we are in a difficult economic time and people are finding it difficult to get work, but this Idle Class does not include those wanting to find work only those who do everything they can to avoid it. It breaks my heart whenever I’ve heard people label this group as Working Class. Working Class they most definitely are not, by very definition surely to be Working Class you should be working or at least trying to find work? These folk are the sub-class, people who feed off the generosity of the state which equates to stealing from you and me. But are they really that different to “the folks on the hill” from John Lennon’s song?
Frank Gallagher from the TV show ‘Shameless’ has got to be the quintessential Idle Class Hero. It’s just a tragedy that people actually aspire to be like this goon. But just as a top banker who plunders the money of the poor is taught to “smile as you kill” do the Idle Class snarl as they blame the world for their idleness, after all it does owe them a living don’t you know?
Before I dirty everyone with the same bog brush let me make myself clear; I do believe in the benefit state. There are thousands of folk who genuinely need the help it provides but given the choice would prefer to be able to earn their own way. It’s just a shame that those who genuinely need the help of the state suffer because there are far too many scroungers who know how to beat the system and live an idle life of Riley. Times will change and different social problems will rise but while the Idle Class are allowed to get away with sucking the system dry are we not just as idle for doing nothing to stop them?