Friday, June 27, 2008

Here Is The Social Immobility News

Back when the news was The News

BOM needs your help in an important survey on Britain's social mobility crisis.

Question 1:

Thinking about your rose tinted backlit childhood (when you had no responsibility whatsoever for balancing the family finances and your peer group were the people living up your street) and comparing that with what you face today, with soaring energy, food and mortgage costs, and the fact that loads of undeserving fat cats get paid a packet, do you feel you are now better off, worse off, or about the same?

Question 2:

Do you think your obvious lack of success in life is due to your own shortcomings, or do you think it's because Britain's class-bound society denied you the chance to progress?


There used to be a time when Tyler thought the news was... well, The News. After all, it was read out with high authority by men with deep RP voices on The B.B.C. Home Service.

Now, Tyler has always been extraordinarily naive in such matters, and it took a traumatic experience with Robert Dougall* to make him realise the real world isn't quite like that. In reality news objectivity never existed: journalistic bias and spin has always been there.

Still, in recent years, the situation seems to have got a lot worse - or at least a lot more obvious. Much of today's news comprises little more than manufactured stories from pressure groups of one kind or another. All over Britain - but mainly clustered around Westminster - such groups are spinning stories geared to tickling fancies among media gatekeepers. It's the only way.

This morning BBC R4 Today has been giving extensive coverage to a survey by education pressure group the Sutton Trust on the social mobility crisis.

Social mobility has been much in the news this week (eg see this blog), so on one level, fair enough. But the survey itself is a monument to misleading questions and equally misleading answers. Indeed, although he wasn't challenged on it at all, the man from the Trust himself sounded embarrassed and keen to get onto the more general issues.

You have to hand it to them: the Sutton Trust manages to get this story into the media with commendable regularity. Indeed, a quick Google reveals they did the same thing precisely one year ago today - 27 June 2007 - so their diary system clearly works well.

Of course, the real question is even if you accept there's a problem, what's government supposed to do about it? And on that, despite all the spin and propaganda, even this survey says fully half of us think it's nothing to do with government.

Which is some small crumb of comfort.

PS There's a large literature on social mobility in Britain - indeed, it's yet another growth industry. Tyler's added some of it to his mountainous reading list. But an initial eyeballing suggests that, while education is clearly important (as Sutton argues), the acceleration in mobility that took place through most of the last century reflected an economic transformation. In particular, as manufacturing and other manual occupations declined, the number of higher rated service jobs increased. Such a structural shift is arguably now behind us, so there's less scope for the kind of movement picked up by analyses across standard definitions of socio-economic class.

*Footnote BBC newsreader Robert Dougall (above) was the man who shattered Tyler's illusions about the news. He'd been a pillar of authority for decades, but when he retired, he appeared on a chatshow and started referring to people as ducky. Ducky! Even Kenneth Williams didn't call people ducky. On that day, long before Christopher Morris, a sadder and wiser Tyler realised news is just another branch of show biz.

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