Selina Todd has issue with the idea of referring to the working class as the ‘forgotten’ or ‘marginalised.’ They, like her when she was growing up and starting her role as a historian, are just living their lives. It’s these lives that she explores in The Rise and Fall of the Working Class. At Greenwich Book Festival the historian, author and Oxford don speaks with the same urgency and humanity with which she writes, weaving together personal and everyday experiences with political views. She does not see the two as distinct, with her own left wing politics being a result of her own experiences and belief that everybody can and should have access to an awesome life.
Todd’s interest in the history of the ordinary started with seeking out the stories of her own family, the seed planted by a school project to ‘interview the oldest person you know.’ It’s an inspiration, with access to archives and libraries facilitating the opportunity for a democratic kind of history in which we can all participate.
In the hour we cover both World Wars, The Great Depression, Bevan and Thatcher, but we also cover the football pools and domestic service – both the big stuff and the little stuff mingle to make The People. rather than reporting, the book and the talk is about exploration and challenging assumptions. Todd questions the idea that lack of social mobility is a sign of lack of aspiration, and the skewed practice of over work in today’s culture. She is not at all convinced by the blaming of trade unions for the changing composition of class structure, and doesn’t believe that there was ever really a ‘golden age’ of the working class.
The working class are not people to whom things are done to by the elite or the 1%. They are – we are – people living our lives. And it’s in these lives that things are happening. The election result was not pleasing to those subscribed to socialism like Todd, but that does not mean there is no hope, and she encourages us to look to movements and organisations for development where it is not happening in government, and be agents of change: ‘They know that we are powerful as a collective.’