Apology, this has nothing to do with Whitehall or Public Management, but here goes anyway…..
Owen (”Chavs”) Jones started a discussion on Twitter to glorify his and others ancestors who’d been involved in what, to him, we’re worthy pursuits like the General Strike. (I or you or may not agree whether this was a worthy pursuit, but that’s not the issue). Clearly, he’d been watching too many episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?”
I had the temerity to question this, pointing out it was somewhat ”North Korean” to think that inheritance somehow conferred or reinforced your political credentials.
As far as I’m aware, North Korea is the only “socialist” state that has adopted the hereditary principle. As some other contributors have pointed out, I could just as easily used the hereditary principle as applied in the House of Lords or the Monarchy. I think Owen Jones would be one of the first to say, rightly, that no-one should have a claim to make our laws just because some ancestor managed to wangle their way into Parliament. Why then should it somehow add lustre to one’s political credentials if you are on the Left? Somehow, I can’t imagine Mr Jones Tweeting that his Granddad had scabbed in the General Strike, can you? But why should it matter?
One senior trade union official, Heather Wakefield of UNISON, commented on the discussion: “Can I be a proper socialist or feminist if my grandmother was a cleaner and not in the General Strike or the suffrage movement?” Clearly you can, and are, Heather.
Owen Jones unfortunately seemed incapable of making the association or even engaging with the debate, so instead he launched a somewhat intemperate attack which somehow focussed on the fact I’m a professor. (I think it’s called playing the man?). This does however raise some interesting wider questions.
Few, for example, queried the ‘feudal’ nature of the criticisms of Ed Miliband for ”betraying” his older brother. The hidden assumption was that David, as the older brother, somehow had precedence over his younger brother and Ed had ”stabbed him in the back” by standing against him. Considered rationally, this is obviously, to use a technical term, bonkers. Neither brother had any ”right” or ”precedence” over the other. They were equally entitled to stand, and win. Only primitive notions of inheritance said otherwise. Whatever Ed and David’s relative merits, fraternal seniority wasn’t one of them that ought to have mattered to anyone.
As for my lineage, well I discovered a great, great, etc Grand Daddy who was a farm labourer in Dorset. I also found he’d married a woman called Annie Bryant, of Tolpuddle at the time of the Matryrs. My initial reaction was, I confess, great! My ancestor might have been part of the early trade union movement. But….
Annie was the daughter of Farmer Bryant of Tolpuddle, who, as far as I can tell, was the very same Farmer Bryant who shopped the Tolpuddle Martyrs to the local Magistrates. Ooops.
So was my Great etc Grand Daddy a chancer married to the daughter of the man who instigated one of the most symbolic acts of repression of workers in British history? Or was he part of the movement? And where does that leave me? Descendent of a good guy or one of the ”dark side”. I’ll never know, and frankly I don’t care either way – both are equally interesting and equally irrelevant to who I am.
For the record, I am a former trade union official, amongst other things, and led several strikes. Fortunately I didn’t get transported to Australia – I’m currently there of my own volition.
As some other contributors pointed out, those of us who think about such things choose from the many possible ancestral stories which ones we wish to use as justifications for ourselves. I like the one that my name, Talbot, is Norman – which makes me indirectly a Viking of sorts. Honest.
I wonder what Owen Jones other ancestors got up to? The ones he’s not telling us about. Still, Owen can console himself by assuming I’m the descendent of a long line of class traitors, if it helps.