Hey Mr Osborne, there is a Plan B (but you may have no idea where he’s coming from)

27 Mar

Wonklifebalance reads with interest that the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel has apparently concluded that it is a lack of opportunity for youth that caused last year’s riots.  Such lack of opportunity has its seeds in inadequate parenting, inadequate schools and excessive brand-led consumerism.  Hmmm…

This analysis comes as no surprise to anyone with a vague interest in the growing gap between rich and poor (or rather ‘anyone from the squeezed middle upwards’ versus ‘the poor who don’t care about education’).  Who are the troublemakers, the people with no stake?  As a couple of voices have already said elsewhere, they’re not just juveniles: 30 and 40 year-olds also burned and looted.  So how have we got to this place where thousands ruined the streets of London and no-one is altogether sure why?

Wonklifebalance recently attended TEDx and heard the rap artist/actor/director) Plan B speak about growing up in East London – before that a couple of his albums had crossed her threshold, so his views are not a novelty.  In his TEDx talk he referred to the unthinking use of the term ‘chav’ in the media, and how it had come to signify ‘Council Housed and Violent’; he made a bold contention that the stereotypes attached to this word and the group it described would  not be tolerated for other ‘out-groups’ (read our descriptors for race and gender distinctions) .  There was a sharp intake of breath in the Guardian-reading auditorium as the well-educated audience digested this proposition.  He has a point.  In a society where the habitual distinction is between ‘the haves’ and ‘the have-nots’ we’ve all got rather lazy in labelling the ‘nots’.  And they are people too.

Plan B talked about being some sort of parental figure for those who are ‘parentless’ through the inadequacies of those who care for them and the stringencies of the environment in which they do so: all rather patrician some may think – but at least he’s trying to do something – at least give some profile to the issue.  There are those who say this is a view which lacks coherent vision or underlying ideology: but think of the times we are living in – it’s not the Seventies of The History Man, where a gung-ho lecturer could reform the underlings with  ‘a bit of Marx, a bit of Freud and a bit of social history’  –  a bit of Nike, a bit of Puma and a sense of local celebrity perhaps?

Wonklifebalance attended a good University on the back of education encouraged by parents who where council-housed themselves – they had an escape through good schooling which is sadly lacking for ‘their sort’ today.  When first in London working for an NGO, a member of staff asked where I’d gone to school; when I replied ‘the local comprehensive’ the person looked flummoxed and then said ‘I had no idea that people like that could turn out to be you’ – just like that, straight-up.  Most would say that Wonklifebalance is thoroughly middle-class, but perhaps it’s time we all reflected on when we actually last met ‘poor people’ and precisely what we thought of them.  As John Cleese’s Robin Hood said of ‘the poor’ in ‘Time Bandits’, ’Oh you must meet them, I’m sure you’ll like them. Of course they haven’t got two pennies to rub together…..’


One Response to “Hey Mr Osborne, there is a Plan B (but you may have no idea where he’s coming from)”

  1. Andrew Manson (@AndrewManson1) March 28, 2012 at 1:27 PM #

    Wonklifebalance – great piece above. Towards the end you mention getting the comment ‘I had no idea people like that could turn out to be you’. This chimes with the feedback I got during the first round of piloting I did for my work in 2007. I’m also struck by Plan B’s words about labelling and stereotyping. It’s very powerful stuff when you get into it, or on the receiving end.

    You might like to see this, five years on it’s the neatest distillation of my work for teachers to use with KS3 and 4 students. It’s all about challenging stereotypes, through independently produced workplace case studies, or ‘labour market experience’ as it’s referred to in the trade. Would be good to know what people think of it.


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