Wednesday, June 09, 2004

remember the pro-working class point of view?

John Reid does

"I just do not think the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking, but it is an obsession of the learned middle class," he said. "What enjoyment does a 21-year-old single mother of three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette."

It’s characteristic of a certain kind of reformer to respond to the difficulties of working class lives by trying to deprive the people who lead them of their pleasures, solaces and consolations. Given the fondness of New Labour for the technocratic delusion, it’s a tendency that’s had a good deal of encouragement in recent years. We can't end poverty. But we can make poverty perform.

So it’s nice to see the Health Secretary sticking up for the harassed smoker. In times past, the pro-working class point of view – the idea that the government has no right to interfere with the pleasures and the choices of working people - was very strong in the Labour Party and provided a necessary corrective to the zeal of the middle class pokeynose element. “A little of what you fancy does you good” doesn’t sound much like a developed political philosophy. But really it’s about including the whole population in Mill’s calculus of individual rights, rather than quarantining the poorest as objects of experimentation and reform.

However, he’s not quite there yet.

Faced by calls for a ban at the meeting attended by health professionals and the local community, Mr Reid said: "Be very careful, that you do not patronise people because sometimes, as my mother used to say, people from those lower socio-economic backgrounds have very few pleasures and one of them is smoking. I worry slightly about the unanimity of the middle class professional activists on this."

Lower socio-economic backgrounds, indeed. I don’t think I’ve heard a senior Labour politician use the phrase “working class” for about ten years. It’s one of the most striking taboos in the whole Blairite cargo cult. Simply uttering it would cause the whole magic kingdom to vanish in a puff of smoke. The terrible power of the words would sweep the Blairistas from the hallowed precincts of the Tate Modern and leave them swigging Diamond White outside an off license in Swinton.

We can dream. Come on John, you know you want to…