Sunday 20 May 2012

Polly of the Manor; a tale of Modern Labour

The Lady of the Socialist Manor

I’ve been catching up with Dominic Sandbrook’s three-part telly series on Britain in the mid1970s on iPlayer.  It’s a visual accompaniment to his recently published Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979, which I acquired fairly recently, opened, skimmed but yet to read properly. 

I admire Sandbrook as a social historian; I have ever since I read State of Emergency-the Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974, which I reviewed here some time ago (A Tale Unfolds, 21 October, 2010).  He has a nice relaxed style, a wonderful attention to detail and a witty and perceptive way of looking at the issues of the day, be it political, artistic, sporting or cultural.  There was something he said in the final episode of his present series, something touching on the Labour Party, that immediately set a train of thought in motion, ending in an amusing – and frustrating - terminus.

Actually, it wasn’t really about the Labour Party at all; it was about Margaret Thatcher.  It was simply that she wasn’t such a great innovator but she had a unique quality in a politician – she had the ability to listen.  More than that she translated what she heard into policy. 

The big issue here concerns the sale of state-owned council housing, generally believed to be one of the great flag ship policies of the first Thatcher administration.  But this was nothing new; senior figures in the Labour Party had even flirted with such a move after it became evident, from doorstep canvassing, that it would be enormously popular with ordinary working-class voters, many of whom were anxious to join the property owning democracy. 

But it never went beyond an idea, because it was generally understood that such heresy would be blocked by the left, who believe in managed people and managed lives.  Thus it was, according to Sandbrook, that the ideological high priests of Labour effectively handed victory to Thatcher in 1979, pledged to set the people free from council serfdom.  Irony of ironies: Thatcherism was a new Peasants’ Revolt! 

I’ve just come up with the serfdom analogy as I was writing.  My original focus was on nineteenth century novels which touch on issues of class, specifically those which deal with forms of noblesse oblige.  I’m thinking specifically of the work of Jane Austen, where one of the chief pastimes of gentlewomen is to deliver baskets to the parish poor; mercy, charity and condescension all rolled up in one!

That’s it; that’s the modern Labour Party, condescending and patronising in its attitude to the ‘deserving’ poor.  The Islington socialite socialists are the contemporary version of the likes of Emma Wodehouse.  Here the awful Polly Toynbee must stand as an avatar, walking around the homes of the lower orders, wearing her bonnet of self-righteousness and carrying her basket of doles, a perfect fright of snobbish condescension.  

It’s all a huge joke, of course, though like all good jokes it carries a hard core of truth.  Quite frankly I think the Labour Party is a criminal conspiracy against the people of this country.  The last government did untold damage, what with its aggressive wars abroad and its profligacy at home.  We will be paying for its incompetence for generations to come.

But the people who will pay most are this movement’s ‘natural’ constituency, the working class serfs living in council ghettos.  Gordon Brown, the previous Prime Minister, preached to them about ‘British jobs for British workers’, a sound bite of stunning stupidity, even for that charmless Presbyterian ogre.  The truth is he headed a government, as did Blair before him, that guaranteed a bonanza for foreign workers at the expense of the native British.

 I could take my historical parallels still further. I see a new form of the late Roman Empire.  All the work is done by a class of foreign helots, while the plebs are kept alive by bread, circuses, pot noodles, daytime telly and Simon Cowell.  Oh, yes, and there is the occasional basket of cant from the Polly of the Manor.  Why people vote for the Labour Party, why the non-labouring poor vote for it when they are treated with such condescension and contempt, is utterly beyond my comprehension. 


  1. The downward spiral of the British Empire, going, going, ?

    1. Well, yes, there are fragments here and there but it isn't defined as an empire anymore.

  2. If you haven't yet come across P. J. O'Rourke you are in for a treat.

    The reason I mention this book is because, in the opening chapter he describes the difference in the way a 'conservative' and a (US) 'liberal' approaches the problems of hunger.

    A woman and child are standing by a road holding a cardboard sign that reads: "Hungry."

    The conservative passing by immediately drives to McDonalds, purchases some nourishing food and returns to the woman and gives it to her, asks if there is anything else that might be done such as helping find shelter or work . . .

    The liberal passing by immediately drives home and calls her representatives about starting a new multi-billion dollar federal fund to provide free tofu burgers to all low-income families. (I paraphrase.)

    The point about 19th Century 'good works' is that responsible people took care of those they knew - helped them find work, shelter, food . . . but in so doing, excluded those they knew suffered merely because of their own irresponsibility. Such individual intervention is anathema to those who believe people are property of the state. So 'Lady Bountiful' is an object of scorn in all socialist and Fabian propaganda.

    Ironically, the real model for socialist intervention is the workhouse.

    1. This O'Rourke fellow is clearly worth further examination!

      That's an excellent point about the Workhouse, something else to set the wheels spinning.

  3. Simplicity, I think. It is easy to believe that with a camera above your head to watch your sleep, goods to be delivered 'ere wake of day, and the promise of security and safety that everything is right with the world. But of course in reality, the goods arrive damaged or tampered if at all, security is an illusion in the best of times, and that camera... Well, the less said about it the better.

    In short, people crave to live simple, beautiful lives; most all of us do. And unfortunately people began to believe the promises given to them that this - instant food, sub-par 'entertainment', exhaustion at home and a life free of thinking - is exactly that. A simple life. Pleasant, although something eludes them...

    I'd say, let us turn east to Byzantion but - wait, what's this? Welp, looks like lead in the water struck fast and hard and they bit the dust before we did if Kerberos, frothing and rabid at the gate is any indicator.

    Really, it boils down to this: when do the sleepers awaken and realize the gates have fallen down around them?

    1. I'm awake, Satyrnalia; you are obviously awake, as are the other perceptive people who comment here. I keep waiting for the rest, but I fear they are too deep in the seductive illusions of the Matrix. Alas, we are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep. :-)

  4. "Why people vote for the Labour Party, why the non-labouring poor vote for it when they are treated with such condescension and contempt, is utterly beyond my comprehension."

    Of course, my answer can only be laid out in general terms but it is worth a try.

    First, identify the different types of Labour voter.

    1. Northern. Urban. Tribal. Socialist. The Co-op

    2. Southern. Marxist. Left Wing. Loony.

    3. Welfare dependents.

    4. Immigrants (about 80% of those that vote, vote Labour)

    5. The Polly's of this world. Many can be seen in London NW3 collecting their uniformed children from Private School while voting according to a misguided conscience.


    The above list accounts for most of the Labour vote. Not all, by any means, but a huge number ie millions.

    1. Nobby, you may have covered just about every angle.

  5. I probably know more working-class voters than you do Ana, and I can tell you that they vote Labour because they think the party represents their interests. A delusion, I know, but the more intriguing question is why middle-class voters would support Labour. No, wait, Orwell has the answer: "The truth is that, to many people calling themselves socialists, revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which ‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon ‘them’, the lower orders" (The Road to Wigan Pier).

    As for the council house sell-off in the 1980s, you're going to have to try a lot harder if you want to convince me that it was anything other than an unmitigated disaster. You're probably aware that I grew up on a council estate, but I won't go into the details, although it was nothing like the dehumanizing ghetto that you portray. Its construction (like many others around the country) was a necessary response to an acute housing shortage after the war, and now that local authorities are no longer allowed to build social housing, that shortage has returned. I will concede that many inner-city estates were built on the cheap and became 'sink' estates, which is in line with the picture you paint here.

    However, the reason I regard the sell-off as a bad idea is that it was driven by ideology not common sense. Those "anxious to join the property-owning democracy" were keen because it was like a free cash hand-out (like the various privatizations).

    1. Dennis, I respect your insight and experience here. Sorry I did not mean to imply that all council estates are ghettos. After all, who would want to buy a home in a ghetto? I was thinking latterly of the big inner-city estates, places like Tower Hamlets and Toxteth.

      I really wish you could get iPlayer in Hong Kong. The next best thing is to buy Sandbrook's new book, which I hope to review here in the very near future. If you do we could compare notes.

      The thing about a home, surely, is that it's not just another asset, like stocks and shares; it has a much more personal value. Those who bought their homes did not do so, in the main, for the re-sale value. Rather it had the effect of releasing personal savings in home improvements, a reflection of pride of ownership.

      In a way it's a bit like the old landlord tenant relationship in rural Ireland before security of tenure was introduced. People simply had no incentive to make improvements when it could all be taken away, something Trollope touches on in his Fineas Finn novels (part of the Palliser series).

      Personally I do believe the whole move was more governed more by common sense than ideology, but that's because I believe that Thatcher was a common sense rather than an ideological politician.

  6. Oh I am glad you don't like Polly either. She reminds me of the word hypocrite and the colour red.