Union chief's warning to Brown

In the latest in's 'Posh in 2007' series union boss Tony Woodley warns Gordon Brown

Many of the docks my union grew up around are now 'waterside developments' and many of the car factories my mates worked in are now retail parks. Some might say "that’s that, then, goodbye to the working class".

But I’ve noticed something. There is still an elite in our society making millions of pounds a year, often for work of no very obvious benefit to the wider community. And there are still millions providing the goods and services we all need yet being paid a pittance, living in poor housing and under the permanent shadow of insecurity.

That is why class still exists. The fact that the Westminster media circus turns a blind eye to it does not mean class no longer matters, but it might explain why for so many people politics matters less and less.

Of course, my life would have been very different if I had been born Anthony Fortescue-Carruthers rather than Tony Woodley nearly sixty years ago. Everyone understands that. But the shocking thing is that a baby born today could have their life options just as much foreclosed by class as did most of the people I grew up with. The outward forms of class distinction may have blurred somewhat, but inequality and social immobility are greater problems now than they have been for at least forty years.

There are those who say this doesn’t matter if everyone is getting better off. But none of those saying it are living on council estates starved of investment, I can’t help noticing.

That social mobility could get worse after ten years of a Labour government, and worsen at a rate higher than in a US led by a Neanderthal right-wing administration, was unimaginable to those of us that celebrated a Labour victory in 1997. Why has that happened?

It is not about Tony Blair being posh. That is the least of his shortcomings, and one that he genuinely can’t help anyway. It is the shift to the right initiated by Mrs Thatcher and only very inadequately reversed by Labour that is the root of widening inequality. It is not likely to be a coincidence that during these years the Labour Party’s membership haemorrhaged, voter turnout in working class communities has fallen, and collective representation of working class people, politically and at work, has declined.

'We’re not interested in the working-class', has been the message, to which working class people have said – we’re not much interested in you then, come to that.

Now I wouldn’t vote for David Cameron if had just come up from the pit. It is his policies, more than his accent, which betrays his class. But Labour shouldn’t rely on its name alone to secure working class votes. Gordon Brown will be judged on what he does not who he is, and if we’re going to aim for a society that judges everyone in those terms – women, men, worker, employer, black, white, disabled or able – then he needs to start closing the massive gaps in wealth and power that still divide us.

Read more from our series looking at the issue of class and 'poshness'

Tony Woodley is general secretary of the T&G section of Unite

At 19 Tony Woodley began working Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory where his father George was the full time works convenor. Tony joined the National Union of Vehicle Builders (NUVB), soon to become part of the T&G. Rising through the ranks of the T&G he became the organisation’s general secretary in 2003.
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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State