By Guest Writer Colin Brazier.
I joined journalism when it was on the cusp of an evolutionary leap.
It was the early 1990s and the Murdoch revolution was well underway.
The print unions had been put to flight. The National Union of Journalists was in retreat. Hot metal had cooled, typewriters had been supplanted by new-fangled word processors.
Grizzled old soaks still disappeared for long liquid lunches. At TheYorkshire Post four pints of bitter was not unknown, and appeared to be no impediment to lucid copy.
New boys like me tried to keep up, but preferred the smell of coffee beans to hops. We still signed ‘indentures’; a promisory note of loyalty in return for tutelage, and a throwback to a world where a 16-year-old apprentice like Charlie Wilson could rise from running copy between hacks to editing TheTimes without troubling the higher education sector.
Yet we were different, or so we arrogantly assumed. We had been to university and this enlightenment had changed the terms of our engagement with local newspapers. They were a means to an end, and the end – metaphorically if no longer literally – was Fleet Street.
Our link with a locality had been snapped by leaving home for university. Any idea of a life spent toiling at the coal-face of a regional title was disdained. Journalism was no longer a trade, but a profession. Media studies was not yet a byword for dilletantism and hinterland-free mediocrity.
The people, I was told, got the journalism they deserved, since we reporters were a reflection of the society from which we sprang. But a quarter of a century ago, as I was starting my adventures in medialand, this eternal verity was beginning to wear thin. Now the garment which stitches polity to people is very nearly sundered.
The extent to which a group-think holds sway has been much in evidence post-referendum.
The utter incomprehension of some colleagues at the result would be comical were it not so injurious to the sub-constitutional role played by the Fourth Estate.
There is a sense of indignation that a majority of voters did not cleave to the group-think. The whiff of class-hatred hangs heavy in the air. This morning I risked pariah-status in the canteen queue by suggesting it was patronising to ascribe the working class with prejudices we could neither test nor vouch for. Dismissing their opinions as motivated by xenophobia precludes any notion that those uneducated poor folk might actually have a coherent view on sovereignty or national self-determination.
This democratic deficit has been well ventilated over the weekend. Janice Turner, in particular, wrote beautifully and wisely in Saturday’s Times about the folly of denigrating “retired miners who now drive taxi cabs”. It is no surprise that contrarians like the brilliant Julie Birchill, who has written at length about the demonisation of white-working class ‘chavs’, came out for Brexit.
Part of the seething fury felt by some of my co-workers lies in that feeling of being hoodwinked, of not being as smart, as omniscient as they, hitherto, imagined. Their self-esteem is bruised. Nobody likes to find out that the world they thought existed turns out to have been built on miopia and wishful thinking.
The biggest reality check since Clement Atlee’s 1945 election landslide should not have been such a revelation. In the absence of newsrooms peopled by journalists who broadly reflect the country (and who, therefore, might have had a chance of understanding what was happening on the council estates), journalists fell back on polls.
And, even though they turned out to have been of dubious reliability during last year’s general election, we elected to trust them again. What option did we have? A dwindling number of journalists, mostly to be found on tabloid newspapers, have anything approaching an intimate appreciation of Britain’s demonised white working class.
Middle-class media-folk have a default position. They assume the lumpens are incapable of parsing the world around them. Oh, dear reader, they do. They just arrive at different conclusions.
I was brought up by a single mum, not least because my father was held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. One of my sisters, a teacher, followed me to university. Another works on the check-out at the local Co-Op in Bradford. One of them has a good grasp of politics, but don’t assume to know which one.
My background permits me to venture two perspectives unconscionable to many of my colleagues. They are paradoxical but no less true for that.
First, many working class whites repudiate the post-war orthodoxy regarding aspiration and higher education. They look at people – like me – who have gone to university and forsworn their communities as a consequence. They know they ought to encourage their children to work hard at school. But what’s the point? Raising children is hard work. Why expend all that emotional capital only to see the offspring embarrassed by your table manners.
Second, many working class whites think journalism is a crock. They may not have been to university, but they know people who have. And they realise that a media studies course offers poor value for money. Local newspapers, once an outlet for bright poor kids, are often populated by graduates who are just passing through, supported by the bank of mum and dad.
Hire more ‘chavs’, especially in broadcasting. It’s not, as Pope Francis avers, always easy to love the poor. But if you want to understand Brexit Britain, it’s an idea whose time has come.