If you’ve seen the news recently, you’ll have noticed a row has flared up between two of the most unlikely people, namely Labour’s Shadow Minister for Culture, Chris Bryant, and James Blunt. The latter was angered by Bryant’s remarks that our media needs to be more diverse and gritty to better reflect contemporary Britain, and that currently it is too dominated by public-school elites and Downton Abbey type programming. This caused Blunt to lash out with a surprisingly vitriolic display resplendent of Thatcher-era rhetoric. He accused Bryant of being motivated by ‘the politics of envy’, stating “Mr Bryant's populist, envy-based, vote-hunting ideas” [are] more likely to hold the country back than "my shit songs and my plummy accent". He then continued to declare that his “boarding-school education had perhaps protected me from your kind of narrow-minded, self-defeating, lead-us-to-a-dead-end, 'remove the G from GB thinking' which is to look at others' success and say 'it's not fair'”.
As I said, this really would not look out of place in a Thatcher speech or any Daily Telegraph editorial from the past 40 years. However, Blunt’s foray into right-wing, individualistic populism himself really does not boil down to much more than that: individualistic populism.
Firstly I have to concede a bit of ground to James, and admit there is indeed, among some sections of the Left and Right, a quite irrational hatred of people being Oxbridge or public-school educated. Whilst it is true that a disproportionate amount of those in public life are from these institutions, this should not detract from the achievements these people have made or invalidate their views. It is no secret that darling of the left Owen Jones went to Oxford, for example. However, this is not where Bryant was coming from.
The fact is, no matter how much conservative thinkers may laud the primacy of the individual, no one makes it in this world on their own. Even if someone has managed to start a business from nothing, it cannot be a successful business without having schools, technical colleges and universities to train people who work for you, without hospitals and doctors to keep them healthy, without roads and airports to transport your products, and, crucially, without a population with enough disposable income to buy them. The Right may love to pretend that aspiration and achievement are solely the preserve of individuals, and that nasty, spiteful lefties such as Chris Bryant are holding us back, but in fact it is the existence of comprehensive education, the National Health Service, minimum wage and the welfare state that form the fabric necessary for individuals to succeed.
So, Blunt would do well to realise, far from taking the great of ‘Great Britain’ it is the left that have created so many of the institutions and granted so many of the rights that allows to be as such. Life is not a story of successive individual achievements, but of a collective endeavour which ultimately empowers us all to succeed and attempt to fulfil our potentials. Given this, when Chris Bryant argues that perhaps our media should reflect more of those ‘ordinary’ lives and stories, I know which side I’m on. Don’t you?