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Home > Politics

Blunkett: Definitely hard work

24 December 2004

There isn't much left to be said about the David Blunkett/Kimberly Quinn affair, except perhaps that if Blunko and Simon Hoggart can get their legs over with a vivacious, actually-quite-attractive millionairess, there's hope for us all. It would actually be less surprising to discover Claudia Schiffer was once part of a love triangle with Simon Mayo and Fred West.

However, thanks to the affair we've been treated to a retrospective of Blunkett's speeches, and apart from his ratherhypocritical emphasis on stable family units, one thing that emerges is how much Blunkett is obsessed with the concept of 'hard working' citizens.

Just one of many hard-work-related comments was that 'a yobbish minority' could make 'the lives of hard-working citizens a living hell'. In a speech about the police he applauded 'hard working' officers, inadvertently implying that a sizeable proportion of the police don't work very hard at all. Even immigrants and asylum seekers are sorted into hard workers and skivers. 'The UK has always welcomed hard-working immigrants seeking to better themselves and contribute to our prosperity,' said Blunky.

So what's this all about? Well, 'hard-working' in the Blunkett context is more about its opposing concept: namely a benefit-dependent underclass that doesn't want to work. A recent Daily Mail editorial cut to the chase by contrasting the 'hard-working, home-owning, pension-building middle classes' and 'the feckless and welfare-dependent', which pretty much clears up any confusion about where New Labour gets its policy ideas from.

So is this analysis valid? Of course, there is a genuine culture of people who don't want to work. Others have genuine difficulty meeting the basic the basic requirements of employers, whether it's basic literacy or just turning up five days in a row. However, it also has to be pointed out that while there are plenty of jobs, many of them are shit, or worse. It's perfectly possible to do a grim job and be worse off than if you hadn't bothered - low wages are fine so long as your rent and the cost of living is low. But that's another article.

What interests us is this idea of being 'hard-working' in general. Most people don't crave hard work for the sake of it. Or rather, they look for a system of rewards that makes sense.

When people do work very hard, it's probably not the result of a Protestant work ethic. Highly-paid people often work very hard, especially in terms of working long hours. But if you're an A&E consultant or an international IT trouble-shooter for a merchant bank, then hopefully you're bright enough to have realised what the career might involve. If not, there must be a lot of A&E doctors out there going 'Bleeding to death, you say? Eight stab wounds? Can't it wait 'til Monday?'

But most of us are neither highly paid nor in a job we're particularly committed to. If your job is organising conferences, you probably derive satisfaction from a job well done, but you don't have the same commitment to what you're doing as, say, the ANC. And having a deep ideological conviction that the world needs another 'e-business solutions' conference in Swindon isn't being a hard worker, it's what psychologists call 'being a twat'.

The whole concept of being 'hard working' gets even more confused the further down the work hierarchy you get. Crap manual jobs are quite literally hard work, and usually badly paid and mind-erasingly boring to boot. Plus it's not particularly edifying to realise that the only reason you haven't been replaced by a robot is because you're cheaper than a hydraulic claw. 'What did you do today, Daddy?' 'I lost my self-respect at the dogfood factory.'

The more realistic you are about it, the less being 'hard working' has any real meaning. People want to be treated fairly and they're neither highly driven nor On The Buses-style shirkers. Like so many concepts that politicians love, once you probe it, it disappears.

What's irksome for most of us who devote a lot of time to slightly unsatisfactory jobs is being told we must be 'hard working' by Blunkett. At least on this topic he's not being a hypocrite: Blunko is widely regarded as an extremely hard-working person.

But politics is less of a job and more of a compulsion. The cliché that politicians just crave power seems true - just contrast the amount of time they devote to spin ('An airborne AIDS virus epidemic? Sounds like a good day to bury bad news!') with actually devising workable policies. They also love the game of politics, as you can tell when they occasionally come out with some impossibly obscure political factoid that noone except a politician would know, eg.

'I'm the third youngest MP to have been elected in a by-election in the constituency of Little Milksop since Thursday, 11th of October 1781, when Pitt the Shorter replaced the Earl of Smegshire, who died in a horrific syphilis accident.'

What would Blunkett be doing if he wasn't a politician? Working in a dogfood factory? It's unlikely, although maybe a few months of sliding about in BSE-infested entrails might make him a little bit more realistic about working hard.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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