Too Good for the Working Man
'The working class suddenly scared themselves; they drew in their collective breath (the belt would come later). After the first decade in which the working class, in the shape of union muscle, had the power and the gumption to say yes or no to government policy, and had said no frequently and long, the working class felt they were teetering on a precipice - on the edge of what they chose to call anarchy, the big bad no-comprendez wolf, but which was really power. Somewhere in the Seventies, if the working class had wished it, they were stong enough to pull it off, pull it all down. But their Vice Anglais, their desire to be bullied and led by their betters, got the better of them. The working class felt that they had become demonic hedonists, because they had acquired a fondue set; they felt they had too good a time in the Sixties, because they had been told it was the decade of Spend Spend Spend and Live Now Pay Later. For a few lousy cars and fridges, the Puritan in the English character (the Welsh and Scottish never fell for Thatcher) blamed itself rather than the government.'
Julie Burchill occupies a similar position in my litany of loves and hates as the Manic Street Preachers: I know it's wrong, I know they've said and done awful things...yet somehow it doesn't bother me (not that I would listen to any record/read a book by either after 1996 or thereabouts). Both exemplify the autodidactic combination of total conviction, terrifying erudition and occasional utter idiocy that so fascinates me, despite being decidedly over-educated. She's also the only person writing in Britain today who I could imagine being starstruck at meeting, massive weight gain and appalling politics and all. So imagine my joy at receiving in the post a book of hers I'd lent out years ago, with my dog-ears, overthumbed pages and general air of wear and dilapidation all in place: the 1985 'best of' collection Love it or Shove It.
Some out and out classics are in here: the lament for the Jewish homosexual pop moguls 'The last days of the Locust'; airport novel appreciation 'Working Class Neros'; the mighty 'The End of America'; and the fine study of Graham Greene that suddely turns into a psychotic no-poperie screed, 'Greeneland Revisited'. But the best thing in here is the astonishing opening 'How I learned to stop worring and Loathe the Proletariat'. It practically negates everyhing she's written since the mid-90s as self-appointed guardian of the reputation of the working class (so hanging-and-flogging and racism runs alongside an unrepentant Stalinism). Instead, this is an essay stricken by the betrayal of the Miners, not only by the TUC but by the bulk of English workers, the failure of imagination that meant that making sure your son could go down pit after you was the ideal, other than self-emancipation, education; it fingers Wilson as the proto-Thatcher, giving away a history of struggle for colour TVs and holidays. It's an unreasonable, hopeless rant delivered with the fervour of the recent apostate. The most intriguing suggestion is that the real reason for the turn to the Tories in 1979 was that we became afraid of ourselves, and have paid ever since for that failure of nerve. Perhaps it's no closer to the truth than her current prole-idolatory - but it feels more convincing, less an act of guilty self-abnegation (if you're a highly paid journalist from the age of 16 then you're in an entirely different world, no matter how much you flex your roots) and more the real simmering rage and resentment not only at one's 'betters' but at the class you've escaped from.