John Prescott's examination of 'class' looks like being a real dog, and will only really attract the attention of the BBC bashers railing at the license fee being lavished on the 'personal prejudices' of a politician they hate. Same lame old dog. By the same token, why is anyone paid to present any Tv programme? It's a nonsense.
The real issue is how much of a dog's breakfast Prescott will make of presenting the simple realities of class, which are the same now as they have been since Arkwright's first mill started rolling.
The less power you have over your destiny, the more working class you are. As the excellent 'Coal House' recently illustrated, a collier owned his mandrill, and that was about it. That was the extent of his capital, and did little to protect him and his family from the vagaries of the global marketplace, and offered as little hope of escape to more security.
The grocer of the small business class who supplied his family with food would have had to borrow some money to set up, and therefore be more 'capitalised', and therefore be a little more secure, but not much. His wholesale suppliers would have been proportionately more in control of their own destinies, and those of others, and so on until you reach the Rothschilds and Murdochs of this world.
It's not rocket surgery, John. Nothing to do with how many designer labels anyone wears, or what they sound like, or how much land their great-grandparents owned. Simple a matter of knowing where the next meal would come from. Or to update it a little, how to pay the mortgage or hang on to your pension.
Leaving aside the inconvenient fact that John Prescott's politics are about as genuinely radical as a tea cosy in Tunbridge Wells, the fact is that any genuine examination of class realities and political truth is probably only to be found in the more obscure depths of Open University modules. The BBC as such steers well clear of questioning the prevailing assumptions of consumerist politics. Of course, things may have to change now that we know what a lie they were.
It will be interesting to find out if Prescott knows the story of George Orwell's experience on the liner bringing him home on leave from the Imperial Burmese Police Force. Orwell recounts how he was ashamed to see a steward or midshipman making off guiltily with the remains of a pudding from the table of the first class passengers, like a shifty child. The fact that this skilled craftsman, with the lives of many in his care had been reduced to this indignity helped Orwell to make the decision to resign from his imperial post while on leave, and become a writer. If he does know this story, how would Prescott relate to the steward? Especially as he has hardly retained much dignity himself in the last ten years.
What becomes clear very soon in this programme is that class is almost completely defined in terms of manners, appearance and habit. His visit to a country house gent concentrates entirely on the indefinable refinements of privilege, the phoney modesty of what is known as 'taste'. Prescott earns a ticking off for the "fucking great chip on your shoulder" from his lordhip, who declares his irritation at people who 'make it more important than it really is. And another from Simon Hoggart who accused him of being 'classless' and 'not comfortable in his own skin.' Both leaning entirely on the essentially pre-industrial definition of class, the one favoured still by those furthest up it. The one which states that 'class' is irrelevant. That everything is simply a matter of 'being considerate to others' and other variations of 'playing the game', and the fact that a merchant banker is worth a thousand sewer mechanics is nothing to get 'a chip on your shoulder' over.
Manners don't matter, class represents an injustice, and is therefore very important to those at the sharp end. Those uncertain of their futures. To them, their class is something to escape from, not try to refine out of existence. The problem is that when they get as far away from it as possible, their definition of class changes to defend their new role as beneficiaries of the same injustice they once hated. It again becomes about culture and 'identity', not economic role. Something completely 'complex, subjective, and non-sensical' as the idiot-narrator informed us.
Prescott proved something by apparently not having heard the term 'chav' (or pickey'). And when enlightened proved even more by being instantly and thoroughly disgusted ("arrogance beyond belief"). When introduced to three working-class teenage girls, he asked them what it meant. They threw together some words - 'Burberry' - 'labels', but were clear that class was 'not about how much money you've got, but what you're doing.' They hadn't heard of Gordon Brown, or know what Parliament loked like; thought teachers were 'posh people' and been expelled from school for fighting with them. They sounded a bit like voices from Mayhew's rookeries, but after a free dinner reflected that 'it was really nice to socialise... And I hope that if he takes away one thing, it's that there's no such thing as the Chav Class.'
Suddenly, they knew the word socialisation'. And knew what they were missing. They obviously know what 'alienation' means, even if they've never heard the word. But what Prescott showed was that it doesn't take a PPP contract to break it down, just human contact.
In spite of these little glimpses of reality, the general prospects for rest of the series aren't good. The direction is clear, use the antiquated, subjective, middle-class definition of class, and all will be well. It creates the 'complexity' which TV film makers love, which means they can justify a longer series, and do more location shoots to illustrate the endless parade of paper cut-out cartoons masquerading as 'issues'. And if one of the cartoons happens to be a labour politician from working class 'roots', so much the better.
Anyone wanting a clear illustration of class should go straight to 'Coal House' and avoid this soap opera about the death of Blairism. This will be no more enlightening about class than the BBC's pathetic recent defence of racism was about race or class.