Serious ethnographic note

The “festival of diversity”: took place on a day when Trevor Phillips, who seems a very sharp cookie, was warning that there is a real danger of the emergence of a ghetto-ised and segregated underclass in this country, however much we may think of that as an American problem.

The evidence of the say suggests he’s right. We’re only about fifty miles from London — an hour from Victoria Station if you’re lucky with the tube change. Yet the reports about gun crime, or “Polly Toynbee’s”:,,1565977,00.html argument that

bq. “Nationally 27% of people have no savings, not one penny; 25% of the poorest have at least £200 in debts … 12% of households (many more individuals) have no bank account”

might as well come from another country. I do know there are pockets of real poverty on the estates here, but nothing like half the children live under the poverty line, as they do in London.

All this happened almost imperceptibly. But it will be very hard to undo. Trevor Phillips suggests bussing — surely a counsel of despair. Polly says it would require only quite small redistributions of wealth to reverse. But quite small shifts in the tax burden have a way of growing at election time to intolerable proportions. It’s quite possible that wehave reverted to the two nations attitude that seemed natural in 1939, when Evelyn Waugh wrote a “very funny squib”: about children being evacuated from London to the quiet countryside whose inhabitants would pay almost anything to have them billeted elsewhere. It took six years of real war to produce a government which would really exert itself to end this condition. Six more years of the “war on terror” are unlikely to have anything like that effect. In fact, if there is a war on terror here, it will be a civil war.

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3 Responses to Serious ethnographic note

  1. Rupert says:

    Which governments where and when have ‘ended this condition’? Norway, perhaps, but bouyed by a small homogenous population afloat a sea of oil. Sweden, although I have seen little of the place but even so the signs of rural poverty were there. Anywhere further afield? From each/to each only works if you can measure abilities and need in ways I feel far beyond us…


  2. acb says:

    You can’t end, though you can diminish, poverty. What you might hope to do, and even we had done it for a while, is to produce a feeling of national solidarity where it is felt to be _wrong_ that there are feral, uneducated children who are my fellow citizens.

    The condition I would like to end is the one where this is seen as part of the natural order.

  3. Robert Nowell says:

    I think there are at least two factors involved in the way in which we are becoming more and more stratified by class. One is the absurd rise in house prices: I can’t be the only person living in a house I can’t possibly afford. The other is the selling off of council houses. All this means that neighbourhoods are far less mixed than they used to be when Anne-Marie and I got married in the 1950s and settled in Barnet.

    Besides the experience of the war, there was also the experience of National Service, when the males of the species on this island simply had to get on with each other – and if lucky found the process quite rewarding. Admittedly it would have been better if there had been no National Service second lieutenants and everyone had had to do their two years in the ranks. I speak as one who succeeded in failing WOSB not once but twice – and am grateful for it.

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