Wednesday, June 02, 2004

We're All Bohemians Now

Virginia Woolf's granddaughter, speaking at the Hay-On-Wye Literary festival, celebrates the triumph of the counterculture in Britain.

We can conduct relationships with people from any social class without fear of ostracism, while deploring oppressive, stratified societies.

Ah yes - I see so many underclass youths on the arms of Henriettas in Gold Cup Week, so many Tracys at Henley.

Our choice of friendships and love affairs is our own.

But our sexually transmitted diseases are shared.

The idea of chaperonage makes us laugh; women are independent. We recognise that children have potential which must not be squashed.

Instead of squashing our children we abandon them, or park them in front of a video - then when they misbehave, rather than smack them we drug them, secure in our liberal virtue.

We take it for granted that society is fluid, that informality will prevail. We do not expect to behave like marionettes at any social gathering. We are hatless, relaxed and on first name terms with people we barely know.

Ah yes - that must be why social mobility is decreasing. Or do you mean this ?

We live in a society that most people's grandparents would hardly recognise.

We also live in a society where crime rates are ten times higher than 50 years ago and where one third of the population would like to emigrate.

The glorious hypocrisy of the book festival is that this sort of stuff is always spouted in the most socially conservative, genteel places - places which our grandparents WOULD recognise. The chattering classes love to read the new Zadie Smith or hear Benjamin Zephaniah discussing his new book, "Gangsta Rap". They're just not so keen on meeting 'three friends excluded from school who find their strengths and identity through hip-hop' on their way to that nice little teashop.

Hay, Edinburgh New Town, Cheltenham, Aberdeen, Shetland, Bath.

Why not Aston, Easterhouse, Peckham, Shildon, Bradley Stoke ?

David Aaronovitch has the answer. "We're safe here in Hay ... miles away from explosions, inner-city crime, miles away even from suburbia."

And that's why the Billy Braggs, the (late) Joe Strummers, the Rod Liddles, the Jeni Murrays and most of my liberal friends, when the children come along, leave behind the consequences of their own beliefs and head for a leafy, conservative county. The consequences are for other, poorer people to face.

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