Class warfare. I thought it had gone away. I thought Tony Blair had abolished it forever when he had a zillion seat majority. When I was a kid, I was confused as to what class I was. I asked my Dad when I was about nine and he said this "Well, the Tichbornes are the fifth richest family in the United Kingdom and we can trace our ancestry back to 800AD, so that makes the family upper class". Easy enough then, until he added "However, in 1948 the Labour government nationalised the proceeds of all inheritence that had been held intestate for more than 75 years. Our side of the family lost our inheritence then as the cash had been held as a result of the Tichborne trial". He added "So now we live in a semi detached house and I own my own business, which makes us middle class". Oh I said, "So we are middle class". He then added "Well it's not quite that simple. I work with my hands (he mended cars) and come home covered in muck every day, so you could also make the case that we're working class". By this point I was slightly confused. Then he added "And I'm Australian, where there is no class system at all, you're just rich or poor".
At this, I asked him what I should consider myself. He replied "What I'm trying to say, is that you can be whatever you want". I thought long and hard about this. I decided then, that for the purpose of class definition, I would like to be Australian and duck out of the whole thing. A little later, I asked my mother. She came from an Irish background on her fathers side. The family were all staunch republicans. Her mothers side were what may be best described as "gentry fallen on hard times". She simply reiterated what my father said "You can be whatever you want to be, don't worry about it". My mother explained that she was pleased to take my fathers name as she hated the stigma of an Irish name. She said she was proud of her Irish roots, but hated the bullying and racism she'd received as a result in 1920's and 30's. She told me she aspired to be upper class in revenge on her tormentors. Of all the family, she was the one who most enjoyed visiting the ancestoral home of the Tichbornes in Hampshire.
My parents also had aspirations for their children. My eldest brothers were despatched to a non residential private school when they failed their eleven plus. My eldest sister was also despatched to a private school, my parents wanting her to grow up properly. My next sister was rather bright so she went to Grammar School. As she didn't get on too well, the third sister was sent to private school as well, assisted by a scholarship, because she is also rather clever. They have all done rather well. When I came along, it was a bit of a disappointment for my parents. I was educationally subnormal. I didn't start speaking until I was four. I didn't learn to read properly until I was 11. I'm dyslexic and I still can't spell. It was 100% clear that I wouldn't get a scholarship, so they decided that it would be foolish to throw good money after bad and sent me off to a comprehensive School. For me, it was probably the best thing they could have done. As I learned to read and cope with my dyslexia, I was able to hold my own. In a class with people of all abilities, I was able to get on with being me. In the 1970's, bullying was par for the course. You just had to cope as best you could. There was no fairness in the treatment of pupils and what constituted discipline then is now designated as child abuse. Being a Catholic school, there was also a strong anti establishment ethos amongst the boys.
The final part in this toxic jigsaw of my psyche was the advent of Punk rock in 1976. Many of our class saw the Sex Pistols swearing on the Bill Grundy show. Perhaps the strangest thing for me was that I thought it was great. In 1977, I saw my first punk rock gig and I now had a scene I fully fitted in with. I associated with the "outsider". I formed my own band and started writing songs. I look at the songs we wrote and am still amazed at the maturity of the work my collaborations with Peter Conway at the time produced. We chose subjects which seemed so extreme at the time that we hid the lyrics from parents.
Like many people from the punk era, I took on board much of the ethos. I became extremely cynical towards the powers that be. I realised that divide and rule was the favoured weapon of the establishment. This was most starkly shown during the 1984 miners strike. Policemen were bused around the country, because they found that they wouldn't necessarily follow orders when brutalising their own communities. I have spoken to many police officers who served during the miners strike and most are not proud of their role. The Police have a job to do. When we have riots and murders, we recognise their value. I have come to realise that the British Police are an outstanding institution. They get many things wrong and there are many incidents where we can show fault, but given the huge scale of the job they have, we have a force to be proud of. The police force has changed beyond all recognition from the 1984 miners strike. They still have a job to do. During the riots of last summer, we saw the necessity of a police force.
The recent double murder of policewomen in Manchester shows that the job is still inherently risky. Criminal gangs are now far more armed and organised than ever. Mobile phone technology gives criminals a communication system as sophisticated as the police. The police are never 100% sure what will greet them in any situation.
Which brings us to Andrew Mitchell and his "plebs" and "morons" outburst. I have, on occasion, met some extremely obnoxious policemen. The last one was in 2008, when I got a ticket for performing an illegal turn in Central London. I was taking my mother in law for dinner, following the death of my father in law. We were trying to cheer her up, it was her birthday. As ever, I started being polite. The officer explained that I'd performed an illegal turn. I explained that I'd not noticed the sign. I then said "I guess that is a common mistake, given that you were hiding behind a tree waiting to nick someone". His response, to what was not intended as a dig was to say "I can keep you here all night". I responded by saying "That's my mother in law in the car, her husband recently died and it's her birthday. I've no problem with you issueing a ticket, but I'd appreciate it if you let us get on our way". He responded by saying "I don't care if you have the fucking pope in the car, you will stay here as long as I tell you". I was taken aback by this outburst. I said "excuse me officer, you have no right to swear at me. What would you do if I swore at you". He responded "I'd fucking well nick you". At this I then said "Officer, you have just sworn twice at me, my wife, my mother in law and my three children heard that. I have no problem with you issuing me a ticket, but unless you apologise, I will make a formal complaint for your behaviour and swearing. I have five witnesses in the car". At this, the officer glowered at me and said "I apologise for misuse of the English language". He then said "You are lucky, I could nick you for three separate offences, I'm only issueing a ticket for one". I sarcastically responded by saying "Well I do appreciate your kindness".
As we made our way, my then 75 year old mother in law said she was shocked and outraged by the officers behaviour. She asked if I was going to make a complaint. I replied "No, I said I would if he didn't apologise and he did". In truth, I was seething all night. I understand Andrew Mitchell's frustration, but I would never take the bad behaviour of one officer as an excuse to besmirch the whole force. As to describing the police as plebs, that shows to me a man who has a problem. That shows a man who has no respect for his fellow citizens. If Mr Mitchell felt the officer was unreasonable, he could have complained. A word from him would most certainly have seen the officer get a telling off at the very least.
As it was he chose to insult the officer and the rest of the Police force. Mr Mitchell should go and it is a disgrace that David Cameron cannot see this. It seems that there is an echelon of the Conservative Party that believes the law doesn't apply to them. They feel a class apart from the rest of us. My guess is that the general public will not take kindly to the fact that Mr Mitchell has been excused by the government for his behaviour.
Vince Cable yesterday joked that he was a pleb. I think that the vast majority of the nation would rather be a pleb than be associated with people like Mr Mitchell. I happen to think that this is one example where the phrase "Divide and rule" may not be the case.