In the first of two posts about the attack on the working class I looked at perceptions of so-called ‘chavs’, which Owen Jones writes about so well in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, and the misguided and tragic view held by so many that characters like Vicky Pollard and Catherine Tate’s Lauren accurately represented the working class. This time, I’ll examine music and football in this country, which once saw as much working-class input as The Labour Party used to.
My thesis is that the dearth of diversity in music of today can in part be put down to the lack of diversity of the backgrounds of those who make it. ‘They’re all the same’ (which I hear a lot on the doorstep) is starting to apply as much to music as to politics. There always has been significant input into music from the middle-classes, and so there should be. But it used to be alongside, not at the expense of, bands with working-class backgrounds.
‘It hasn’t always been like this’ is starting to become my implicit catchphrase, but in the 80s, there was far more variety. On one hand you had The New Romantics (not that I liked many of them) - Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Dead or Alive et al - many of whom embraced Thatcherism and eschewed any working class roots (they may as well have been middle-class). Billy Bragg was so incensed it led him to start performing: "One day I saw Spandau Ballet on Top of the Pops wearing kilts singing Chant No 1 and something in me snapped. I was waiting for a band to come along to play the kind of music I wanted to hear, and none was forthcoming, so it was that moment I finally realised it was gonna have to be me". Jeremy Vine writes: 'With their high-stacked hairstyles and flashguns bouncing off limousine bumpers, The New Romantics celebrated low taxation, enterprise and individual spirit. Duran Duran's most famous line: "Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand," seemed to translate as: "I've made a lot of cash under Thatcher and now I'm going to splash it out on a bird whose bikini is falling off."
In recent years, the only genres that have emerged – the likes of grime and dubstep – have derived from the underground scene and some of the few working class musicians left. Grime, originating in Bow, East London, was pioneered by Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Kano.
Reality TV doesn’t help. Simon Cowell’s got it into young people’s heads that the only way for the working classes to get into the music industry is by entering The X Factor and dominates the British music industry so much that even when an internet campaign successfully kept The X Factor off xmas no. 1, it emerged that Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing In The Name Of' was released by Sony, which Cowell owns a subsidiary of. With music of today becoming increasingly bland, samey and the industry dominated by middle class people like Cowell, I worry the petering out of working-class influence will lead to an even greater lack of change and development over the next few decades.
On football, Jones writes: ‘A game that was at the centre of working-class identity for so long has been transformed into a middle-class consumer good controlled by billionaire carpetbaggers. Caricaturing all working-class fans as aggressive hooligans intent on mindless violence has provided the excuse to keep them out'. From 1990 to 2008, the price of the average football ticket rose by 600%, well over seven times the rate of everything else. It's even more depressing when major footballing figures disregard their roots and justify the obscene price rises by falling for media caricatures and the fallacy that all fan problems come from the same people it sees as ‘chavs’.
Terry Venables claims: ‘Without wishing to sound snobbish or be disloyal to my own working-class background, the increase in admission prices is likely to exclude the sort of people giving English football a bad name… the young men, mostly working-class, who terrorized football grounds, trains, cross-channel ferries and towns and cities throughout Europe.’
The Hillsborough Disaster exposed the prejudice – dating back to the 80s – in sections of the media toward working-class supporters. The Sun infamously claimed that Liverpool fans ‘picked pockets of victims’ and ‘beat up police constables giving kiss of life’, fabricated claims later shown to be untrue. It has been boycotted in Liverpool ever since.
MP Stephen Pound points out: ‘If you look at the working-class heroes – people like Frank Lampard and David Beckham – what’s the first thing they do? They move out of the working-class areas into Cheshire or Surrey. The role models don’t have the confidence to stick with it.’ A far cry from the days when footballers showed loyalty to their clubs throughout their career, even often proudly living in that town/city, be it Manchester or Macclesfield.
Former sports minister Andy Burnham last year said English football had to change: ‘Since the Premier League was created we have had commercial forces running riot, fans priced out of going to football, money not benefiting the grass roots or the lower divisions’.
Schemes like Burnham’s call for more clubs to be owned by supporters – like Barcelona and several others mutual democratic models in Spain and Germany – are well-intentioned and along the right lines. With Labour out of government and Burnham (its only vocal advocate) moved remit, however, it in this country seems a distant dream, just like, I fear, lots of my wishes for the increasingly middle-class run football and music industries to be opened up to all once more.