#LibDems: Death of a Class

In 1997 I had the honour of being a journalist at the Financial Times. One afternoon we were summoned by our chief exec to the large lecture hall to hear a presentation he’d entitled ‘The Cascade’.

Long-standing foreign correspondents, eminent leader writers and small fry such as myself, a sub editor somewhere towards the middle of the second section, sat in the half dark while flow-charts flashed across a screen. It was in the days when Management was still on honeymoon with PowerPoint.

On the CE’s screen, boxes were arranged in pyramid formations, with vertical lines joining them up. These pyramid shapes appeared to be what had given rise to the CE’s title ‘The Cascade’.

The presentation centred around who was now reporting to whom in some new structure, of little interest to the journalists who ethically kept away from the commercial departments and simply reported to their Managing Editor of the day who operated like a ship’s captain, making instant decisions that commanded instant respect.

Now and again the CE mentioned his new word: ‘Delight’. Then he would click on a box, which would magically open up to reveal an inner core of bullet points – how that department was going to ‘delight’ its ‘stakeholders’. When we got finally to the Editorial box and the click was made there was just one item: Free Giveaways.

‘How are we to delight our readers?’ asked the CE. This was a rhetorical question. He didn’t await the journalists’ views. Instead, he reminded us that recently the FT had offered free gold-plated pens to readers.

We should have walked out then.

It was business doing the two fingers to the professional classes, on whose expertise that business depended.

I had already encountered management bullying and disrespect in smaller financial magazines: well-educated apprentices working all hours in the hopes of being kept on, only to be fired and replaced by a new eager apprentice; long-standing reporters constructively dismissed over tiny errors. Coming from a private school and Oxford, I had already by age 25 seen the necessity of joining my union.

But this, in front all the journalists at the Financial Times, when that paper was probably at the height of its prestige (the year it told the City to vote Labour), was an insult on a new scale.

It should have been a call to arms for the entire intelligentsia. But the intelligentsia has stayed mute about its own interests as a class, its members by long British tradition ashamed to be middle class, instead joining in others’ narratives, either sycophantically identifying with the toffs or sentimentally identifying with the remnants of the working classes whom they are now rapidly joining, to nobody’s benefit. It is this unwillingness to identify with the middle classes, in both Liberal Democrat politicians and their natural voters, the educated middle classes, that has led to the demise of the Party and, with it, a class, a way of life, a way to make a living.

Since 1997 I have seen more restructuring flow charts than I’ve had hot dinners. I moved into teaching but it made no difference. Skilled labour is replaced with unskilled labour. Inspections and targets are used to bully teachers, but doing well by those measures is no protection against sacking. Teachers at every level of the education system including university lecturers are forced to re-apply for their jobs. In my sector, Further Education, most colleges have a cull every summer. The result of all this is that the hirers and firers, the managers, practise bullying and favouritism on a grand scale. End-users suffer from the instability and the lack of motivation and skill in staff and the amount of sick leave.

Anything that can call itself a profession has been attacked: the civil services, the social services, the police, the military, the creative industries, academia, librarians, medical practitioners. Professionals have lost job security, pension and prestige. Doctors are well paid, but we don’t train enough doctors, so opportunities within the NHS are limited if you are British. Lawyers can survive because they have private clients, but the underlying justice and prestige of the legal system is eroded by the lack of Legal Aid and thus also the lack of test cases involving poorer people feeding into Common Law. Scientists and engineers can get jobs in industry, but who will educate the next generation of scientists?

I come from a family that has done just about all the professions connected with words and reason, counting over the last few generations a lawyer, a vicar, an archaeologist, writers, editors, a Maths teacher in a secondary modern, an actor, a master of an Oxford college, a History professor (and some of those have been women). My uncle was the first to leave, setting up his own business in the 1980s, trading in books, caught by enthusiasm for Thatcher. Now I am switching to business too. I am the main carer and main provider for my son and I think I have a better chance of developing an income stream going forward, and having time with him, even having some kind of pension, if I let my spare room and self-publish my own text books. I may not have sufficient business in my background for it to work. No guarantees. No doubt the Tories will self-righteously approve of my insecurity – professionals brought down at last.

I won’t have time to write novels about the state we’re in that can’t get published because Waterstones wants to run a limited number of titles, mainly celebrity cookbooks; or to be an activist in a Party that has to work twice as hard as the main parties for every vote; or time to try and influence public opinion and society at all.

Here ends the chattering classes, the chatter and this blog.

Adventures in Tory Land: Democracy in Middle England, comic tales of the canvassing trail, is available on Amazon.com for £2 here: http://amzn.to/1GpXY1F

Or, if you want to twang your heartstrings more, listen to ‘What I Did for Love’ sung by Engelbert Humperdinck on youtube: http://bit.ly/1JBe0Wi

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