Posts Tagged ‘Ben Pimlott’

The Victorian Ancestors of Alf Garnett and the ‘Thatcherite Workers’

February 24, 2016

John Stevenson, in his chapter ‘From Philanthropy to Fabianism’ in Fabian Essays in Socialist Thought, ed. by Ben Pimlott, (London: Heinemann Educational 1984) remarks on how the improvement of living and working conditions by municipal councils in Victorian and Edwardian England were often opposed, not so much by the upper classes, but by the lower middle and upper working classes. These parts of the lower classes were bitterly opposed to further rises in the rates, and so bitterly criticised the sections of the working classes below them.
He writes

Although growing national wealth meant that rateable values were increasing, providing greater funds for local government, there was already evidence that rate-payers, particularly at the lower end of the scale where they included some of the better paid workmen, self-employed artisans, shopkeepers and other sections of the lower middle class, were often opposed to demands for greater expenditure through the rates. Often, the most damning indictments of the poor came not from the rich, but from the ‘shopocracy’ and ‘respectable’ sections of the working class. (p. 25)(My emphasis). This is the ‘aristocracy of labour’, whose emergence Marx believed had interrupted the increasing impoverishment and radicalisation of the working classes, holding up the emergence of Socialism and the coming revolution.

Alternatively, you can see here the emergence of working class Conservatism, the ‘Alf Garnett’s and ‘Thatcherite workers’ that hated and continue to hate the people below them, despising them as the undeserving poor and all too eager to find ways to stop any expenditure on them. Maggie Thatcher was very definitely a member of the ‘shopocracy’, and it was the central plank in her claim to be somehow ‘working class’, even though she wasn’t. It’s roughly the strata of society that reads the middle-market tabloids, the Daily Mail and the Express. And its roughly the kind of people New Labour targeted as the ‘swing voters’ they need to get into power by taking over elements of Conservatism – the worship of Maggie Thatcher and the free market as universal panacea, welfare cuts and conditionality, all while loudly talking about ‘aspiration’. Well, very many people have aspirations, and they’ve seen them blocked by the Thatcherite attitudes espoused by very many individuals in this section of society. It’s time these class attitudes were tackled and removed, for the good of everyone.

Fabian Socialist View of Democracy vs Public School Elitism

April 20, 2014


Peter Archer in his chapter on ‘The Constitution’ in Pimlott’s collection of Fabian Essays, stresses the importance of democracy for Socialism, and gives a few brief descriptions of its opponents, one of which sounds eerily familiar.

For Socialists, it is fundamental that every issue is decided ultimately by the wishes of the majority. For any other method of resolution entails that an elite has allocated to itself the right to pronounce the majority wrong. For the High Tory, convinced that some are born to rule; for the Platonist, proclaiming that distinguishing good from evil is a question of knowledge; for the meritocrat, persuaded that only some are intellectually fit to be entrusted with deciding the course of history, it may appear justified to exclude the many from a share in deciding the fate of all. But an essential part of the commitment to equality is the belief that the right to play a part in guiding the affairs of the community attaches to each member of that community, irrespective of the names and status of their relations, the cost and nature of their education, the size of their fortune or the letters behind their name. Even the elitism of the early Fabians, referred to by Rodney Barker, was subject to the right of the people to call the elite to account. Indeed the Fabian commitment to gradualism arises, as Shaw explained, not from satisfaction with present injustices, but from a recognition that improvement cannot come about more quickly than we succeed in persuading the people that it will really an improvement.

This doctrine continues to come under attack from two directions. First are the high priests of the classical tradition, who are prepared to concede to the masses a right to choose, provided that they choose within the frame work of beliefs established in the public schools of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

He then goes on to discuss the other source of opposition, the doctrinaire refusal of those on the Left to compromise their policies for the sake of winning elections.

But the description of the High Tories, the presumption of the moneyed elite to have the exclusive right to rule, and the limitation of democratic choice to Victorian and Edwardian Public School ideas, just about perfectly describes the attitude of Cameron, Osborne and this current government of public school toffs.

It’s time we took democracy back from them, and voted them out.

Fabian View of the Need for Freedom of Information in Government and for the People

April 20, 2014

Fabian Book Pic

Peter Archer, in his paper on ‘The Constitution’ in Fabian Essays in Socialist Thought ed. Ben Pimlott (London: Heninemann 1984) 117-131 also strongly recommends the ending of information given only on a ‘right to know’ basis to ministers in government, the removal of part of the Official Secrets Act and the passage of a Freedom of Information Act.

But this has given rise to two problems which Dicey [19th century constitutional theorist] scarcely envisaged. One relates to freedom of information. Those who are entitled, and indeed expected, to make informed judgements, need the information on which to make them. And this is true not only of electors, but of those within government itself. The circulation of documents on a ‘need-to-know’ basis sometimes denies even to Cabinet ministers information on matters which are essential if they are to be more than departmental administrators.

For the general public, the inhibitions are even greater. The time is long overdue for a repeal of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, which in a single sentence, bursting with alternatives and disjunctions, creates over 2000 separate offences, and would render liable to prosecution anyone who passes on information about the cost of a military uniform. Even the Society of Conservative Lawyers, in evidence to the Franks Committee in 1971, did not ‘consider it appropriate, in a free society, for journalists or other interested persons to face the prospect of criminal penalties merely because their investigations in the sphere of government activity proved to successful for the comfort of the governors’. But open government requires more than freedom to disseminate information. It requires an obligation upon government to make the facts available, except where there are specific reasons for concealing them. In 1982, the Fabian contributors to Making Government Work proposed a Freedom of Information Act, providing for a Director of Open Information. There would be ‘a presumption that all information of a factual and analytical nature available to government would be disclosed’. and where it was necessary to apply a criterion, it would be decided (subject in certain cases to a final government right of refusal) by the Director.

I don’t know whether documents are still circulated amongst ministers at Westminster on a need-to-know basis. However, I got the distinct impression that under the increasingly presidential system of British politics, the independence of Cabinet ministers is still severely circumscribed and they are pretty much departmental administrators, expected to do the wishes of the Prime Minister.

As for the Freedom of Information Act, this has indeed been passed, complete with an Information Director. However, this is another pillar of open government, which the government is reforming in order to curtail the public’s right to examine the operations of government and its decisions. As for ‘the presumption that all information of a factual and analytical nature available to government would be disclosed’, the government has consistently denied this view. Researchers asking for information on the government’s Workfare programme have been refused it on the grounds that it would generate opposition, make the policy unpopular, and stop it from working. Mike over at Vox Political and other bloggers, who have requested information on the number of people, who have died after having been assessed by Atos have had their requests refused, and then been denounced as ‘vexatious’ for daring to ask them. Mike is due to have his case heard by the Information Tribunal later. We wish him the best of luck. However, the operation of the Freedom of Information Act needs to be reformed so that there is a positive presumption in favour of releasing the information, regardless of whether or not such information will make the people’s governors uncomfortable.