Featured Politics

Strong Britain; Divided Nation?

Creating division is nothing new in British politics, especially under conservative governments. The public are constantly pitched against each other: immigrants v ‘British’ people (whatever that means); working v unemployed; young v old; everyone v Muslims and so on. The government’s latest focus (with help from cross-party MPs, I should add) – which in itself is nothing new – is dividing white working class people from non-white working class people.

MPs on the Education Select Committee have decided that the term “white privilege” has contributed to the “neglect” of white working class pupils. Tory MP Robert Halfon says that white working class kids have been “let down and neglected” by the system for decades. He added: “privilege is the very opposite to what disadvantaged white children enjoy or benefit from in an education system which is now leaving far too many behind.” As a white person from a working-class background, I have something to say about that but before I do, I recommend watching the Weds 23 June edition of Tysky Sour on Novara Media. Michael Walker presented excellent analysis of the Education Select Committee’s report and looking at relevant data, comes to very different conclusions.

First, is the obvious point that everything Halfon and his Tory chums have done in government show that they couldn’t care less about working class people. They have made cuts to child benefit; they have almost completely dismantled support projects like Sure Start; local council cuts have fallen much harder on poorer areas; they have refused to invest in council housing or to help insecure workers against unscrupulous employers.

Second, is the wilful misunderstanding of the word ‘privilege’. To say that I am privileged because I’m white is not to say that my parents never struggled for money when UK manufacturing was left to rot under Thatcher. It’s not to say that I went to a brilliant school which set me on a sure path to success. It’s not to say that I’ve never been unemployed or worried about how I was going to eat AND pay the rent while earning too little to get by.

My white privilege means that those things didn’t happen because of the colour of my skin: they happened because successive governments have ignored the needs of the working people who keep the country running and create profit for the richest few. My white privilege means that when I was smoking weed with other white mates; or when I was hanging around a street corner on my own with my hood up against the cold while waiting for someone who never showed up; or when some (white) lads started a fight with myself and a friend and my drunken self-defence ended up with me pinning my assailant to the ground and punching him in the head, I was never worried that these things would land me in trouble. Would I have felt the same way if I wasn’t white? If I wasn’t white, would I have felt able to apply to University? Would I have been given a place on the course even though my portfolio really wasn’t up to scratch? Would I have been given a chance of a more secure role after only a few weeks as an office temp? I could give many other examples of situations and opportunities that might have worked out differently for me and I’m sure if I was black, I’d be able to give many more.

I fear that this latest attempt to divide us will work because the right wing media will be only too glad to amplify it as a real example of how white people are really the victims.

In stark contrast to this reality, comes the news that the government would like all school children to sing a song titled ‘One Britain One Nation’ on 25 June. Let’s put aside the questions about whether the government understands how many nations there are in Britain (at the moment) and whether anyone involved bothered to check that all British schools would actually be open on 25 June. The lyrics present Great Britain as a nation united, which is precisely the opposite of what the government and the media have been striving for in recent years. The first verse talks about surviving many wars, as though we didn’t start most of them. It talks about opening our doors, as though Priti Patel stands out on the cliffs of Dover with flasks of tea, calling for asylum seekers to make their home here. It talks about celebrating our differences as though Eid and VE Day were treated the same when it came to tales of lockdown lapses. The song ends with the Hitler Youth (Britler Youth?)-style chant ‘Strong Britain, Great Nation’, which seems to be an attempt to brainwash our children into being future GB News viewers who only open their eyes to absorb the false reality they’re being sold.

It turns out that the song was written as part of a well-meaning local project in Bradford. In a way, that makes it even worse: the government have taken a piece of work they haven’t produced and want to use it to make children believe in values they are actively undermining. Hopefully most Schools will decide not to take part in this ridiculous show of misplaced patriotism but just in case, I’ve already asked my son to blow raspberries throughout the performance.

Photos used in the header image taken by Rocco DipoppaAndreea Popa and João Barbosa on Unsplash

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SoapBoxJury
Star Wars and Socialism. Troll me at your peril. He/him - also cool with they/them.
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