Something strange and disturbing is happening in Britain. There is a fever in the air. People are troubled by perturbing questions. Why did Sheryl take Gazza back? Can anything save The Spice Girls? Will Geri live up to her ego? Why ‘as Tony Blair started talkin’ funny?
Most vexing of all, the Daily Mail, which devoted ten pages to Paul Gascoigne’s problems and a double page spread to the departing Spice Girl, asked the next day with sublimely unconscious irony, “Geri, Gazza and a world going mad – what are we to make of Britain’s current obsessions?”
In the House of Commons, William Hague and Tony Blair were asked to comment on the omission of Gazza from the England World Cup squad, and gravely responded. Labour MP Gareth Thomas urged Busty Spice to think again. Youngsters will be distraught at her departure, he warned. At the very least, they must have trauma counselling. The Samaritans reported that they were on standby.
Allan Massie, in the Mail, thought we had all gone mad. “When serious newspapers and the BBC and ITN take their scale of news values from the downmarket tabloids, we are in trouble. Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”
He is, however, wrong. Britain has not gone mad, it’s gone proletarian. Today we are all downmarket. In these piping times of industrial peace, it’s difficult to recall the debt that the middle classes owed to Old Labour and the militant trade unions in the good old days of chaos, when the working class masses were kept impoverished and therefore quiescent. Such prosperity as existed was enjoyed by the middle classes whose values were in the ascendant.
Then it all went wrong. The unions were tamed and New Labour kitted itself out in Tory clothing. Women flocked into the workplace, ushering in the era of the double income partnership (family became a dirty word) and for the first time in history the masses enjoyed prosperity. And, since money is power, proletarians were able to assert their tastes and values. Nobody, save a few left-wing romantics, wanted to know the poor old C2s and Ds when they were broke. Now everybody was wooing them, and none more enthusiastically than the BBC, long the playground of marzipan Marxists.
Soon we were all at it, rings in our ears, studs in our noses, effing and blinding with the best of them, and, whenever it suited us, exhibiting a brutish disregard for others. Feeling hungry? Munch a stinking cheeseburger on the bus and sod the rest of the passengers. Want to have a word with your mum? Bellow down the Nokia in the middle of a crowded train. Going the wrong way in your motor? Do a U-turn in the middle of a main road and wave two fingers at any bastard who objects.
The middle classes, who saw nothing remotely romantic in the sans-culottes, adored them when they emerged in jeans by Calvin Klein. It became the height of fashion to affect a working class accent and to adopt proletarian enthusiasms, particularly football.
Dr Anthony Daniels gives a striking example. “I was paid to go to Rome to watch England play Italy. At the airport after the game, a middle class English woman approached the desk and spoke to the airline employees in standard English in a voice that was almost plummy. Once she had rejoined her footballing mates in the bus which took us to the aircraft, however, she adopted the glottal stop, denigrated the stupid Eyties and use f… or its derivative every second word. The thirst of the English middle classes for downward cultural mobility, and for immersion in the life and culture of the underclass, now seems irresistible.”
The Prime Minister is at it. Appearing on Des O’Connor’s World Cup Party Show (what one would have paid to have seen Harold Macmillan do that), Anthony Charles Lynton Blair adopted the phonetic forms native to a costermonger’s mate. Dropped aitches, glottal stops and y’knows peppered his anecdotes. Describing a presentation from a French mayoral party, Tony recalled that, instead of the customary “li’le” piece of pottery that one expects as a gift, he had received an ‘orse. “‘E’s come back to England,” he added.
Of course, politicians have always sought to ingratiate themselves with the masses. In the past, however, they confined such sucking up to elections and went no further than kissing working class babies, drawing the line at talking common. But in the People’s Britain it’s the People’s Voice that counts, and we should all strive not merely to listen, but to mimic.
The result is a coarsening of life, which is ignored by many, welcomed by others, and regretted by a few. Advertising and marketing, which must perforce follow money, are slavish in their pursuit of the proletariat and its middle class impersonators.
When I was a child, the jolly red London buses trundled the streets carrying slogans such as “My goodness, my Guinness” or “Aaah Bisto”. Not any more. For one thing, it’s forbidden to suggest that beer is beneficial. I recently saw an ad on the side of a 329 promoting something called Gulp. It read, “No nurse, I said prick his boil”. My, ‘ow they must have laughed at that in the Blair ‘ousehold. “Did me ‘ed in,” said Cherie with a throaty chuckle.