Deal with devil is a small price to pay to snub the snobs

There’s been lots of good journalism in the last week, much of which I missed through a combination of work schedules, two weddings and connection problems. One of the more noteable examples of fresh thinking on the election and matters arising is from Newton Emerson, who argues that this deal was not really aimed at the middle classes (of which he is a proud member), which might go to explain some of the underwhelming response amongst some commentators in the media.

Northern Ireland society comprises a middle class, a lower-middle class and an underclass and it is the lower-middle class that has swung Sinn Féin and the DUP into pole position. Analysis of that swing over the past 10 years suggests that actively floating lower-middles number around 150,000, making them easily the most important local electoral demographic. In fact, the past decade has been a remarkable time for the lower-middle class all round.

Booming property prices and a huge expansion of third-level education have granted them unprecedented levels of wealth and access. This has happened so suddenly and on such a scale that they have felt no need to shed the collective chippiness that characterises their view of the world and of themselves. Northern Ireland’s lower-middles might not yet have a shared sense of identity but they are all quite clear that they have not compromised their own identity on the way up.

This facilitates the most effective test for determining whether or not someone is lower-middle class – they call themselves working class, yet they have more money than I do. They might also have a university degree, even if it is only from Queen’s, and a four-bedroom detached house, even if it is only in Glengormley. To this extent the decision to vote for Sinn Féin or the DUP becomes an increasingly important signifier of their bogus street-wise posturing.

  • kensei

    And if that wasn’t an article designed to illustrate why the “middle class” are despised, I don’t know what is.

    So patronising, smugly superior and full of sweeping generalisations, it could almost feature in an Alliance party manifesto.

  • The Third Policeman

    How can there be a middle class with no upper class? Thats just stupid.

  • Ken,

    Try playing the ball, rather than kicking at the shins of the writer. Whatever it is you don’t like about his tone, there is a thesis in there to be proved or falsified.

  • joeCanuck

    Mick

    I think you’re being a tad unfair towards Kensei.
    When Emerson says things like
    “even if it is only from Queen’s”, and
    “even if it is only in Glengormley”,
    I think he has invited comments such as
    “So patronising, smugly superior and full of sweeping generalisations”.
    Regards,
    Joe

  • There may be an issue of tone: I said as much in my first response. But I am getting fed up with people forgoing the discussion of real issues for periferal emphemera. You might as well complain you are not going to listen to someone because you don’t like the colour of the tie they’re wearing.

    It’s perhaps unfair that Ken gets jumped on when it is such a commonplace on Slugger. For that I apologise. But still, it has to be said that such distractions help drag the standard of debate through the floor!

  • GavBelfast

    I don’t know how much it adds to the debate, but an amusing piece.

  • Roisin

    What ball? The “writer” has it shoved so far up his own behind it’s not possible to play it without kicking him.

    No wonder the working class have more money than him, if this is an example of what’s he’s paid to do for a living.

    The article is supercillious rubbish of a type one has become accustomed to emanating from that “writer”.

    [i]There’s been lots of good journalism in the last week[/i]

    Good journalism? It should come with a free colouring-in section.

  • Roisin,

    Now, now. Heading for a yellow?

  • Henry 07

    Mick

    Why the ultra-protective attitude to journalists? From what I have read of Newton Emerson I’m sure he wouldn’t mind a bit of ankle tapping.

    He has after all accused 150,000 people of bogus street-wise posturing.

    For you that constitutes a thesis in there to be proved or falsified! Really?

  • Roisin

    Tut, tut, Mick. What kind of ref are you? If the man obstructs the ball with his body that’s his look out. Don’t be expecting FIFA to call you just yet.

  • GavBelfast

    Henry,

    Why have you re-invented yourself? Does Ray Houghton’s goal 13 years ago not mean anything to you anymore?

    😉

    I didn’t think the criticism of Newton Emerson was too personal either, and I’m sure he wrote the piece to irriate anyway.

  • kensei

    “Try playing the ball, rather than kicking at the shins of the writer. Whatever it is you don’t like about his tone, there is a thesis in there to be proved or falsified.”

    I am not kicking the shins of the writer. I didn’t mention the writer, merely that what he had written are sweeping generalisations without much to support anything, and he has been somewhat condescending about it. You often find that people who want debate don’t actually do that.

    I have met Nationalists who refuse, point blank, to vote SF and mutter about “Republicans” apparently unaware they are talking to one. It is almost totally independent of class considerinmg most were worse off than me. What he is suggesting is variation of “Decent people don’t vote SF/DUP”. It isn’t even remotely true. How many times has this message been comprehensively destroyed at elections?

    The UUP had it’s own problems and was always vulnerable to the DUP, but the SDLP’s problem was that it ceded the movement of the process to SF, and with that the ability to appear confident and moving forward. For an aspirant community such as Northern Nationalism, this was complete death, but it is as true of the middle classes as it is the working and lower middle classes.

    I also take issue with:

    “The question now is what shall we reap? During the last phase of the peace process a left-leaning middle-class establishment built a consensus on the need to reach out from the centre by holding hands while reaching down from above by waving cheques. Lower-middles find this distinctly underwhelming.”

    First, both SF and the DUP were involved in the Assembly and had much more latitude to act independently. There weren’t actually many checks waved – water charges were introduced, nothing was done with tuition fees, the assembly has no power over tax and the whole thing didn’t run long enough for an appreciable effect. It’s at the moment both SF and DUP are trying to get more money out of the British for a give away or two.

    Can we also stop with the façade of “centre” parties? There is absolutely no evidence to back that up.

  • Token Dissent

    I would suggest that the thrust of Emerson’s article is correct. It is now the “lower-middles” who are swaying elections. Although SF and the DUP have become more ‘respectable’, equally the last few years have seen the traditional (?) middle class’s influence decline dramatically. Not only is their electoral turn-out continuing to fall, also the reduction in direct input of the left-of-centre establishment within party structures is equally prominent.

    I agree with the thesis that as a social group lower-middles are aiming to maintain a sense of working-class grievance, whilst enjoying the rewards of the new unbalanced economy. There is therefore a clear conflict of interests within the leading parties of nationalism and unionism – but has this not always been the case? The one difference this time could be that the structure of government and apparent lack of opposition within the assembly may open up previously blocked possibilities for new political alliances.

  • Roisin

    Henry,

    There’s no thesis to be proved or falsified, as he hasn’t even troubled himself to state what definition of middle, lower middle, and working classes he’s using.

  • Guys,

    I don’t care whether Newt wrote it to wind people up or not. Just try not to get wound up by it here.

  • Roisin

    [i]I don’t care whether Newt wrote it to wind people up or not. Just try not to get wound up by it here.[/i]

    No offence, Mick, but you seem to be the one who’s getting wound up.

    Newt couldn’t wind my alarm clock.

    Which reminds me, I have middle/lower-middle/working (delete as applicable) class work to do today. Bye for now.

  • John East Belfast

    I suppose what Emerson might be saying is that as the DUP and SF draw the majority of their votes from the lower middle and working classes and because these two parties were the centre of attention the last couple of months then the deal is about them.

    SDLP, UUP & Alliance by and large draw from the middle and professional classes and as they are sidelined then so are their voters.

    Having said that I think it is wrong to think there is such a link as the deal that was done was really about the political classes of the DUP & SF.

    It wasnt about social issues or the economy or any sort of class issues.

    Indeed the people who vote for DUP & SF were quite happy to follow whatever lead Adams and Paisley came up with.

    Meanwhile as for Paisley it is also pretty apparent there was no ‘deal’ at all and what really happened that he had painted himself into a corner and was offered Joint Authority or Power Sharing and chose the latter.

    Ultimately this deal was about SF & the DUP and the voters of any class were considered as secondary – either sheep that would follow behind or sidelined.

    The whole thing was a massive con.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Some ‘collective chippiness’ on display here.

  • susan

    Newt writes, “For example, the Human Rights Commission is currently seeking an end to all custodial sentences for women and young offenders.”

    The Human Rights Commission is NOT currently seeking an end to all custodial sentences for women or young offenders, nor has it ever.

  • Shore Road Resident

    nope, it’s just seeking the closure of Hydebank and the women’s unit at Maghaberry, which isn’t the same thing at all..

  • and while you’re at it Mick… I’m surprised you didn’t rush to defend those you usually feel the need to defend CCOB, Ruth “the Dud’ and Keving “MOB” Meyers from the savaging that they got from Feeney !

    they are pompous twits and when this is pointed out you rush in with threats of yellow and claims of ball not man.

    They write Op-Ed pieces which means they write from the heart and so it should be fine for us to wish for their by-pass.

    Don’t suck up to them… you’ll only encourage them. You’re project here in Slug has been more beneficial to society over the last few years than any contribution from the three mentioned in the whole of their careers. They should be doffing to you not the other way around.

    Good stuff Roisin

  • susan

    Newton Emerson presumes to tell his readers what is in the mind and hearts of those he brands the “Lower Middles,” but declines to identify and/or quote a single individual living, breathing man or woman in the street as a direct source to add credence to his claims. He then grossly misrepresents and mistates a basic fact about the reforms recommended by the N.I. Human Rights Commission.

    This is “good journalism”?

  • Quaysider

    So it’s down to a misrepresentation of the facts now? An hour ago you said the claim about the HRC was completely untrue. There’s certainly truth in the point about lower-middles having a different attitude to quangos than the middle-class establishment parasites they exist to employ.

  • SuperSoupy

    What a load of fundamentally flawed tripe mixed with the odd misinterpreted statistic posing as analysis.

    While there has been a undeniable shift in voting patterns Newton’s contention this is due to a change in the ‘lower-middle class’ is not supported by any research.

    Apart from the fact he defines this ‘lower-middle class’ solely on the basis of his personal prejudice and snobbery there is no supporting evidence anywhere to suggest this is the demographic that changed voting pattern and altered the political landscape

    The whole piece is based on this unfounded contention and a demographic that is only defined by the author’s bias.

    Utterly worthless as anything other than an example of the writer’s own snobbery and bitterness at the electorate not reflecting his own stance.

    It should also be noted that HRC has utterly rejected his contention they are seeking to end custodial sentences.

  • Quaysider

    SouperChippy…

  • SlugFest

    It’s rather difficult to prove or disprove an op ed piece, but we sure can point out the contradictions.

    “Northern Ireland’s lower-middles might not yet have a shared sense of identity”
    Then why did they, as a group, vote for either Sinn Fein or the DUP – as Emerson claims? Political allegiances speak loudly – nowhere more so than NI. Emerson clearly considers voting for SF or the DUP as an identity marker, yet he claims they have no shared sense identity – a simple logic test disproves Emerson’s own theory..

    “but they are all…”
    Eh, what? By using this expression Emerson contradicts himself again. If there is no shared identity, why is he lumping them all together?

    “they have felt no need to shed the collective …”
    Eh, what what? Contradictory terms yet again: the use of “collective” and “they” belies his argument.

    “Booming property prices and a huge expansion of third-level education have granted them unprecedented levels of wealth and access.”
    Any chance hard work and determination played even a tiny part, Emerson?

    Why exactly must the ‘lower-middles’ be expected to morph their belief system into something that better resembles what Emerson considers more respectable as an up-and-comer? Northern Ireland’s caste system has continued unchallenged for far too long. That Emerson ridicules those that were once below him speaks volumes about his own insecurities and materialism and very little about ‘them’.

    “their bogus street-wise posturing …”
    How is their street posturing bogus? If I grew up on the Falls through the height of the Troubles, then in later years the fates decided to smile upon me financially and I bought myself a four-bedroom detached, am I any less street wise than those who still live there? Is there some unwritten rule that once I have that four-bedroom detached I must then dismiss my formative years on the Falls? My view of the world would be – and should be – greatly different than those that grew up as middle class. How grossly arrogant and borderline maniacal for Emerson to expect me to ‘shed’ that ‘view of the world’ and transform myself into a martini-drinking, time-to-mow-the-lawn-lest-the-neighbors-get-uptight quiet desperation snob

    Emerson has clearly gotten in touch with his inner child, revealing a jealous three-year-old throwing a tantrum because his playmate has more toys than he does. His snide remarks re: a Queens education are nothing less than ironic, for how educated and intelligent can a man be if he is forever banding together people into “us” and … dare I say it … the dreaded “THEM”?

  • Quaysider

    But you’ve just proved his thesis by revealing that you are exactly the sort of person he’s talking about!

  • SlugFest

    Quaysider,

    A long-winded, borderline bigotted diatribe does not a thesis make!!!

    What exactly was Emerson’s point in this piece? Does he have any data that breaks down how many middle-classers voted for the DUP or SF?

  • Ziznivy

    This piece is patently not supposed to be ground-breaking political research. As wry observation though it is entirely on the money.

    The point about “lower middles” is that the term working class is now a fallacy. Those who claim to be working class are largely doing so to claim some sort of spurious authenticity.

    Certainly among unionists, holding on to the vestiges of their “culture” (and by this I mean embracing narrow Ulster nationalism and its proponents in the DUP) has become a preferred method of proving this “authenticity”. As they become more affluent and educated they grasp unto their parochialism all the more vehemently.

    Middle class nationalists meanwhile have always suffered from that disease to a larger extent.

    If Emerson is being condescending to the electorate, that is because they have proved they deserve no greater consideration.

  • kensei

    “If Emerson is being condescending to the electorate, that is because they have proved they deserve no greater consideration.”

    Ah, right, so we are back to the bastards have spoken, then

    http://www.nuzhound.com/articles/irish_news/arts2007/apr4_the_people_have_spoken__BFeeney.php

  • willis

    This article does seem to be full of self-loathing. There is a need though for a proper analysis of the people whose “time has come”. Orange and Green Chuckies.

  • I don’t know about the rest of it but having spent too many years at QUB I’m beginning to think his snide comment about degrees from that institution might not be too far off the mark.

    I guess my family would probably fall into what he terms the “lower middles”, and it’s always made me wonder that so many of that group feel so unhappy with the extent of their lot that they have to go that extra yard to prove their working class credentials. I’m not sure that SF/DUP success can be wholly attributed to that phenomenon, but in my gut it seems to me to be a contributing factor.

  • kensei

    “I don’t know about the rest of it but having spent too many years at QUB I’m beginning to think his snide comment about degrees from that institution might not be too far off the mark. ”

    Well, accept for the fact it has been accepted into the Russell Group and the institution is respected by employers and a degree from there will get you to interview, which is what most people care about.

  • DatzReit

    “How can therer be a middle class with no upper class? That’s just stupid”.

    Never lived in NI meself, but my best guess would be that anyone with REAL money got the hell out of NI as fast as they possibly could and have all moved either down South, over to the ‘mainland’ or further afield.. Hence, no upper class society left in NI.

  • SlugFest

    Datz et al,

    hate to be pedantic, but if that’s the case, then the middle class defaults to being the upper class … that is, the uppermost class. upper, middle, lower … they’re all comparitive adjectives.

    now let me say, as i failed to mention it before: i almost always fully enjoy Emerson’s writings. but this piece really got under my skin, and i can’t help but sympathize with with the newly-wealthy (nouveau riche being a perjorative term), formerly working class blokes not adhering to the unspoken rules of upper echelon society. as groucho marx said, i wouldn’t want to be part of any club who’d have me as a member.

  • exile

    slugfest
    Upper, middle and lower class, despite appearances to the contrary, are not comparative adjectives. They describe culture, form of work, and the origin of the person’s wealth (or lack of wealth). Any GCSE economics or sociology textbook should shed a little light on the subject.
    The catagories are a little blunt, so nowadays we use A, B, C1, C2, D, and E. They broadly correspond to the old classes, and have the benefit of valuing form of work and education (and therefore cultural outlook) above money.

  • SlugFest

    Exile,

    Now THAT’s pedantic.

    Darn … here’s me with that four-bedroom detached right next to Emerson’s, trying my damdest to fit in with the neighbors, clearly not knowing my B from my C1. How gauche! I guess that Queens University degree of mine really is useless.

    Now tell me again … which one is the dessert fork?

  • Quaysider

    Yet another demonstration of precisely the attitudes outlined in the article, SlugFest.

  • SlugFest

    So i should then be the ‘acceptable negro’*?
    http://www.edofolks.com/poem/negro.htm

    Here’s the thing i just don’t get: in politics, as well as personal relationships, people gravitate towards where they feel they belong. with rare exception, humans feel the need to fit in, to be liked, to be respected. Now since Emerson wants more working-class people (regardless of current economic status — i’m referring to those that consider themselves to be, or to be from, a working-class background)to vote for the more moderate political parties, why then alienate those people by mocking their education and their past? he, and any other middle classer who wants to detract votes from Sinn Fein and the DUP in the next election would be much better off greeting their new neighbors with open arms.

    * yes, i admit it: did first hear that phrase when watching the ‘real world’ on mtv. sigh.

  • Quaysider

    Did you actually do the “Is it ’cause I’m black?” thing there? Sheesh.

  • SlugFest

    Addendum: let’s say i’m that up-and-comer from the Falls. i’ve got my new house and i’m proud of my achievements. if my neighbors set out to make me feel that i don’t belong — that i didn’t go to the right uni or my mannerisms are too common — i’d continue to cling to my working-class roots. i’d keep the house, but i’d visit the old ‘hood as often as i get. i’d resent my neighbors and continue to vote Sinn Fein.

    that’s just human nature.

    what emerson really needs to do the next time he’s got a new neighbor from the Falls is bring over a tasty casserole as a housewarming gift. that ought to do it.

  • Bill

    Bring some beers and invite him to the Ireland Australia game.

    We might not win but we won’t be practically beaten until we are confirmed to have scored less runs on the day (unlike our seventh ranked neighbours (I will leave out the bad neighbours comment))

  • Aquifer

    Newt has something. We are at an interesting moment, maybe a revolutionary one in terms of how our society develops. There is nobody left to blame any more, no need for chippyness or deference. There is just jobs and houses and some chances to get ahead.

    And with socialist utopias discredited, and the upper classes at play elsewhere, there is no point buying into any political pyramid schemes or kissing ass.

    So get used to working overtime.

  • Comrade Stalin

    kensei:

    Well, accept for the fact it has been accepted into the Russell Group and the institution is respected by employers and a degree from there will get you to interview, which is what most people care about.

    You chuckies have certainly come far. In the late 1990s when I was at QUB republicans regarded it as a dirty hovel of unionist oppression, following several employment discrimination issues and other matters such as the treatment of the Irish language.

    I think that in general people have got the wrong end of the stick on Newton’s article. People in Northern Ireland think they’re special. That’s why we’ve got the brazen cheek to ask the British to fund our economy and not tax us the same as everyone else, because we deserve it for being special.

  • jg

    ” People in Northern Ireland think they’re special. That’s why we’ve got the brazen cheek to ask the British to fund our economy and not tax us the same as everyone else, because we deserve it for being special.”

    Testify

  • kensei

    “You chuckies have certainly come far. In the late 1990s when I was at QUB republicans regarded it as a dirty hovel of unionist oppression, following several employment discrimination issues and other matters such as the treatment of the Irish language.”

    I’m not a “chuckie”, for the ten billionth time. Your statement would rather reflect that Queen’s has come further than Republicans, no?

  • chauncy

    So now that Bertie and Ian are puckering up and religion, like the wicked witch, is melting, does class suddenly reappear as a divider…No time given at all to savour any other overlaps or bridges built, best drive a wedge? Or is it perhaps a creeping normalisation..?

  • páid

    Newt Emerson is a funny, witty, shrewd and perceptive writer IMO.

    In fact, one of the best about.

    I still miss the Portadown News.

  • Alan

    “nowadays we use A, B, C1, C2, D, and E.”

    Which is worse than an augmented 4th.

    See http://thelemicmusick.net/davidcherubim/tritone.htm

  • exile

    comrade stalin
    Bang on. Sooner or later the indulgence will dry up, and a hard rain will fall. The parties with their hands on the gears of power had better get economically wised up, because the “lower middle class” that put them there are now getting used to a prosperity that can only continue if the local economy learns to stand on its own two feet. Northern Ireland will have finally grown up when economic failure is punished at election time. Emerson’s point is that SF will have trouble balancing the interests of its voters who are still genuinely working class, and the economic interests of those who are now doing quite well, thank you very much, but still voting SF.
    Maybe class politics is divisive, Chaucy, but its better than what we have now. A growing class consciousness might be as much of a social glue as we can expect.But I wouldn’t hold your breath. The ability of people to vote against their own economic interest is enduring. The english working class used to love voting conservative.

  • Seán

    The next question is how many people in NI gain from the fact that it is not able to stand on its own two feet?
    How many people gain by their inability to interact with the real world?

    “Northern Ireland will have finally grown up when economic failure is punished at election time”

    but will the shoice be more failure as there is more to be gained for some people?

  • Greenflag

    Sean,

    ‘The next question is how many people in NI gain from the fact that it is not able to stand on its own two feet? ‘

    Answer : Too many

    Next Question : Why would they want to stand on their own two feet ?

    Answer 1: A political impossibility -A two legged stool cannot stand alone neither can a house divided

    Answer 2 : Circus elephants learn at a very young age that they cannot break free from the chain that binds them to the stake in the ground . They learn this lesson so well as calves that even when fully grown elephants they will not attempt to break loose from the chain that binds.

    In a similar way Northern Ireland ‘Unionism ‘ in particular has learned over 80 years that political and economic independence is neither possible nor desirable.

    The Unionist political elephant was tamed early in its development. By contrast by the time HMG started devoting serious time to ‘taming’ Irish Nationalist elephant it was already a hundred years too late .

    The Act of Union was in fact the Act of Disunion for that’s what sowed the seed of ultimate political separation of the majority in Ireland from the ‘cousins’ across the water!

  • JG

    Greenflag

    In other words, did the Confederacy win this particular “war between the states” which kept a flawed economic system going for longer than it should have done?