Last Wednesday’s debate at York University (@YorkUnion #BenefitsYork) has prompted me to post something from an old website section I posted a decade ago. Incidentally, I read the Guardian every day as a schoolboy in 1960, when it was the Manchester Guardian. The first edition arrived mid-morning in Rochester, Kent with the legendary typos.
How do Guardian readers rob the poor?
This website section has been set up to help the educated and worthy Guardian readers tune up their moral fibre. Presumptuous perhaps, but, in poking our fingers at the do-gooders we may do a bit of introspection ourselves.
Guardian readers – the stereotype
Our stereotype of Guardian readers1 is of well-educated, caring, middle-class people working in education or a caring profession or possibly the arts. They are likely to have a strong morality and unlikely to commit a crime or do anything actively nasty.
The moral elite?
They would like to think of themselves as the moral elite. In fact, most of us can get that slight swell of self-righteous pride by just spreading a copy of the Guardian over a big table with a large cup of Arabica coffee and some French croissants.
But to become a Centre of Moral Excellence (CME) the Guardian and its readers must face up to the fact that they are, in general, extremely lucky to be given so many advantages in an unfair society. In their privileged positions they should do more than bleat about the underprivileged – they should quantify their own privilege and apologise for it every day.
Two Guardian gravy trains.
Two topics of great importance to our steriotype Guardian readership 1 is the environment and education. Guardian readers are likely to defend both the green belt and higher education /student grants. They see these as protecting the environment and providing a route upwards for the underclasses.. But it can be seen from the two excerpts fromwww.faxfn.org that
- The green belt is a way of increasing the asset value of Guardian readers homes 2
- The affluent classes are taking an increasing proportion of higher education 3
Note1: More investigation of faxfn’s Guardian reader stereotype in due course.
Note2: Very roughly, the value of houses in the UK is £2000bn, twice GDP which is about £1000bn. In 2002 house prices went up over 20%, earmarking an amount approximately equal to 40% of GDP for affluent house owners . Being middle class and with an average age in the fourties, most Guardian readers will have done very well at the expense of the poor and the young.
Note3: “The fight against university fees isn’t a major campaign for equal opportunity – quite the contrary. The poor don’t go to university. The children of the middle classes do.” – Alison Wolf, see quotes below.
“Does education matter?” Alison Wolf, Penguin 2002
- the countries which have done most to increase the education levels of their population have, on average, grown less fast than those which have devoted fewer resources to education.
- The evidence on skills suggests that employers in the brave new ‘knowledge economy’ are after those traditional academic skills that schools have always tried to promote. The ability to read and comprehend, write fluently and correctly, and do mathematics … It isn’t obvious why this means pouring extra resources into more years of education rather than maintaining quality in the places that already teach the skills.
- The fight against university fees isn’t a major campaign for equal opportunity – quite the contrary. The poor don’t go to university. The children of the middle classes do.
- …what is the alternative? [to give those at the bottom of the heap a slightly more equal chance at things] … It is simply to subsidise jobs. The most eminent and eloquent proponent of wage subsidies for the low-paid is the American economist Edmund Phelps.
I once constructed a map showing Green attitudes and the hypocrisy index. The hypocracy index was calculated by multiplying people’s stated “greenness” by the holiday flights they make. Caring about the environment and flying alot gave a high hypocracy value. The map showed high values for Westminster and Hampstead. I haven’t put in the research effort to confirm the connection between Guardian readers and Hampstead residents but that is often assumed.
The Guardian’s dilemma is that it exists in a commercial world and needs to advertise polluting activities such as air-travel. Here is a sample from the Guardian’s travel pages on its website today:
Insider guides to the world’s best cities
Amsterdam | Barcelona | Berlin | Edinburgh | Istanbul | Las Vegas | London | New York | Paris | Rome | Tokyo | Mumbai | Hong Kong
Contrast this with the message in Professor Kevin Anderson’s Hypocrites in the air: should climate change academics lead by example?
when it comes to emissions I stand by the arguments I made following my train trip to Shanghai in 2011 (for work on that occasion). At a system level, trains have an order of magnitude lower emissions than the metal bird alternative – the saving is that significant.
I don’t suppose a large proportion of Guardian travellers vist their foreign destinations in a way that is as environmentally sustainable as Kevin Anderson. Although they may do better than Times or Telegraph readers!
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