Thanks to Alan Smith (letter February 2) for his engagement with several letters of mine and for his generally kind remarks. In fact, he is a bit too kind in calling me “bilingual”. Even in my “best” foreign language, Italian, I would claim to be no more than a moderately competent but clearly non-native speaker.
I do, however, think that he falls into two false dichotomies. He appears to perceive an inconsistency between my “scathing” criticism of Jacob Rees-Mogg and my disapproval of remarks about the imagined personality of other contributors to the letters page. I have never met (to name a few) Alan Smith, John Chamberlain, Roger Watts, Keith Jones or Ken Clibery. I may disagree with them profoundly, but have no reason to doubt that they are all perfectly decent old boys. Jacob Rees-Mogg, however, is a public figure. His £82K parliamentary salary, plus additional pay as a minister, may be pin money to him, but he is paid from public funds and accountable to public opinion. The same is true of Boris Johnson, Keir Starmer or Jeremy Corbyn.
The second false dichotomy is between my level of education and being a bloke in a pub. My lunchtime local when I worked as a lecturer was rammed with Ph.Ds, the humming of whose brains drowned out the click of dominoes. Joking aside, I can assure Alan Smith that I was (until recently prevented) a regular in perfectly ordinary working men’s boozers in Walsall. In letters in the E&S I rarely if ever raise obscure points about Grimm’s research on consonant change in Germanic languages or about labour process theory. If I get a bit tetchy about, say, the ludicrous representation of Jeremy Corbyn as some kind of far-left figure, I could call upon my young friend the first year undergraduate to bear witness that Corbyn is, at most, a classic left social democrat. I know excellent people who left school at fifteen who could demolish the bizarre chopped logic that makes Nelson Mandela a secular saint while demonizing his comrade Fidel Castro. Their understanding is self-taught with, perhaps, some input from trade union education. In a nutshell, I may have three degrees, but I don’t need any of them to grasp the nature of capitalism,
I choose that example because on the day that Alan Smith’s letter appeared I read a chapter about attitudes to Castro and Mandela in Akala’s book Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.
He is a college drop-out and a self-taught working-class intellectual.
As depressing news emerges of yet more patronising of the manual working class by Starmer’s “new New Labour”, I wonder who will try to encourage similar self-education for all workers?
Alan Harrison, Walsall
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