The Sunday papers were awash with ink about last week's latest political slur from Conservative politician, Howard Flight. As if Prime Minister Cameron doesn't have enough to worry about with rebels and drunks from society disguising themselves as students and throwing fire extinguishers from rooftops, Flight's thoughts on the government's restructuring of the child benefit policy could have waited - at least for a few more weeks when the festive season is in full swing and the country would be too drunk to know who he is and what he has to say. But when it comes to remarks on class any time is bad time, particularly when the face of said statement is a quintessential, class-ical Tory chap,
"We're going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it's jolly expensive but for those on benefit there is every incentive. Well that's not very sensible".
A furore would be putting it mildly to describe the media's reaction, making it a top story last week. For those of you who are regular visitors to my blog you will know I am fascinated with themes of class and I explore social difference through association in much of my artistic practice. What surprises me the most about Flight's comments are that they could and should have been a lot worse. 'Breeding' may not have been an intelligent choice of prose but in light of another story that hit the weekend headlines of an unemployed twenty-five year old male from Tyne and Wear who is to father his fifteenth child, I would have expected Flight - soon to be Lord Flight with his appointment into the House of Lords - to have used more jolly harsh words. The fact of the matter is, class expression is inherent in everyday British life: from the public school boarding house addicted to the rants of ranks on Jeremy Kyle to the Facebook status demanding the end of a 'freeloading Monarchy', the subject of class has always been contentious on both social and political landscapes. It is well documented that the Labour government under Gordon Brown and the aspiring Tony Blair divided the class gap even wider than Margaret Thatcher had in the Eighties under the Tories - Blair, as always, defies the record now finding himself Thatcher's neighbour in Eaton Square - a fine example of New Labour irony if ever there were one. Flight's remarks therefore are far from fantasy and more a reality that is on everyone's muted lips. What is more disconcerting is the fact that society is entering a climate that is so controlled and monitored, freedom of speech has become a risk rather than a right. Minette Marrin's Ugly words but true article from The Sunday Times (p.28 - 28.11.10) explores the merciless 'ears and eyes and bloggers everywhere' environment which Flight seems more than conscious of,
"... MPs feel they cannot say anything except the blandest nonsense".
It is unclear whether Flight's installation into the House of Lords may be sacrificed as a result of his remarks that have been condemned for poor taste rather than his own taste on the poor, rich or indifferent. Freedom of speech is not as tolerant in the world of politics as it is in the media, but it should not be down to the media to judge that freedom. The truth is known best to hurt but it will hurt more if truth is silenced in a world of fantasy and political correctness. What is certain is that the developing WikiLeaks disclosures will reprieve Howard Flight from next Sunday's papers. What jolly good news.
Queue in/appropriate Spectator advertisement I came across on the train...