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on 26 April 2017
Great book on a neglected aspect of our history - well worth a read.
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on 23 June 2017
“There are some who inherit privilege, others who win it through luck or by chance, and then there are the vast majority of people, who have to fight for everything they get.” says Todd at one point in her conclusion. Let’s be honest, for better or for worse, the vast majority of social or political history written about the UK and the 20th Century are written by middle or upper class people who tend to paint a laughably out of touch, or insultingly narrow minded view of the working class, as chirpy salt of the earth types who are fine as long as they know their place and remain thankful for what they have. Often these are the same people who might tell you that class doesn't matter.

Along the lines of the “Forgotten Voices” series, Hall’s “Working Lives” and Kynaston’s seminal “Austerity Britain” much of this has been explored before, but that’s not to say that Todd doesn’t bring something fresh and valuable to the subject, in fact Todd takes a more politically bold approach than most of the others, which makes it all the more refreshing as a result.

We cover many significant events from 1910 onwards, like the general strike and the single minded policies of Stanley Baldwin and his Tory government, heavily influenced by the likes of Lord Rothermere who warned against “the flapper vote folly.” 1929 was the first time women between 21 and 30 could vote, though working class women had to be over 30. Todd reveals the many broken promises after WWI. Now the war was out the way, it was very much business as usual, a number of wage cuts were implemented sending millions deeper into poverty. This was how the working classes were rewarded for their invaluable part in the Great War.

Starting with the great depression and ending in the outbreak of WWII, the hungry thirties were certainly a brutal time in the UK, particularly if you happened to be working class. They weren’t punished for being poor, they were absolutely hammered. Not only were they subjected to dehumanising and draconian forms of means testing, they were routinely blamed and ridiculed for their situation by the very elite who created and profited from the circumstances they had put them in. An ignorant band of white, wealthy elite persisted in criticising the unemployed for their poverty and ill health, insisting that “they help themselves.” Sound familiar?...

If history has taught us anything it’s that if we hear words along the lines of, “We are all in this together.” coming from former public school boys, then we should be very afraid. This very phrase was banded around a lot during the war. Now where have we heard that saying before?...It was quite revealing to see how during the war, in spite of the government and retrospective propaganda, it was very much a case of some animals were more equal than others. “Many Labour Exchange officials conscripted working class mothers into the factories, but readily accepted that servantless middle class women were fully occupied with running their homes.” Todd says that, “It was certainly not an equal society, nor one in which either government or employers wanted to introduce social equality.” She later adds, “This was the people’s war-but the people were certainly not going to achieve equality.” The class divide even extended to rationing, rationing was never applied to restaurants as someone from the Women’s CO-OP guild said, “We have yet to hear of the wholesale dismissal of chefs employed by the upper classes.” The government’s response to bombing was all about doing the bare minimum, preferring to rely on voluntarily organisations. The evacuation policy was an entirely voluntarily scheme too. The middle and upper classes were far more reluctant to play their part, and were often intolerant towards taking in working class children often not helping at all.

When Churchill got booted out after the war, it paved the way for Labour’s game changing reforms, where the likes of Aneurin Bevan introduced the NHS and cradle to grave welfare provision that helped millions to get back on their feet and also enjoy some quality of life, for which many had fought and lost their lives.

It was very interesting to hear of some of the experiences of working class people at grammar school, the common myth that has persisted was that once you got into grammar school that was you pretty much set up for life, but as we see here, this was far from the case. Many complained of not being given the same attention, respect or advice as their middle class peers. Instead their experience actually embellished the class divide, as the elitist mentality was set securely in place.

She makes another good point about the explosion of pop culture in the sixties, as the government and media, both with vested interests, perpetuated the myth of meritocracy, by citing the emergence of people from the working classes being in the spotlight. But many soon became aware of, “The discrepancy between the rhetoric of the post war meritocracy and the meagre rewards that effort and ambition actually brought.” Often people who were far from working class were shoved into the category, like Lennon and McCartney and others. They made a huge, concerted effort to create the misleading impression that the tiny minority of working class breaking through were larger in number, to fool people into believing that the system must be working for everyone, even though the vast majority of the working class were suffering from huge inequality, and poverty still existed throughout the country.

I found the final section particularly fascinating, her analysis on the devastating effects of Thatcherism and Blairism was exceptionally well told. The stats speak for themselves. Thatcher got elected one year on the strength of Britain’s Not Working and yet when she got to power 1 in 10 people were on the dole and in some cases it was well above that up until the early 90s. Also, “Manual workers’ vulnerability to sickness and early death increased after 1979 for the first time in sixty years-the result of stress, unemployment and poverty.” In addition to this she tells us that, “In 1997, 4.5 million people of working age lived in households where no one worked. One is six Britons relied on state benefits to survive, a higher proportion than in any other western European country, and three times that of Germany.”

One of the things that was so revealing about this book, was how so much hasn’t really changed in terms of rich v poor. There is more spin around it, but if you dig beneath the surface you will find the same entrenched system. You don’t have to look far or hard to see that the art of ridiculing and blaming the poor for their conditions remains alive and well today. As the Tory government continues its ongoing policy of converting the UK into a low wage, tax haven economy to keep the rich richer, with the enthusiastic backing of the right wing media and tabloids, keeping their tax immune paymasters and shareholders happy. So Todd has produced a highly compelling piece of work and it’s refreshing to see social history written by someone from a relevant background, who isn’t afraid to confront the real issues behind the myths we’re so often lead to believe.
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on 18 April 2014
I very much enjoyed reading this history of the last hundred years written from the perspective and with a focus on the working class.

The first-person case studies bring the book and the history alive. They capture the solidarity, the struggle, the achievements and the advances of working people over this period. Thankfully the book does not romanticise or patronise.

In The People Selina Todd reminds us that some of the fundamental issues of inequality and imbalance of power are woven throughout this period and in many senses are more acute today. It also reminds us that governments have sought to reduce benefits and collective rights before; and that positive state led intervention and redistribution can make a positive difference; and that collective social action at local and state level is important.

Selina Todd has written an easy to read but provocative and challenging book - challenging not lest because all is still not alright and much remains to be done to secure greater equality. However, the real differences today are even more exaggerated with the super rich and the vilification of the very poor.

This book should be read by those interested in social history, politics and fairness.
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on 20 April 2014
The People. The Rise and Fall of The Working Class 1910-2010

My dad is my reading alter-ego, his birthdays and Christmas provide me the opportunity to buy the books I'd like to be reading as presents for him. He loves books on history and politics, I do too but generally struggle to find time to read them.

For his 86th birthday I bought Selina Todd's book and when it arrived I glanced at the cover and started to read the introduction, I was hooked.

My dad left secondary modern during the second world war, he worked in various manual and semi-skilled roles, was conscripted at 18 and developed his socialism via his life experiences and involvement in the Communist Party in 1950s, trade unions and the Labour Party from the 1960s. He found his way into white collar work and has since read bucket loads of books and writes pages of letters to the local newspapers in the north-east of England on a range of political issues. I tell the story of my dad as I'm proud of his achievements but also as it is the sort personal story that Selina Todd uses to chart working class history.

Throughout the book Selina Todd offers interludes from the life of Viv Nicholson who won the pools and "spent, spent, spent" but ultimately lost her wealth.

The People is full of facts, discussions of working class campaigns and injustices but what brings the history to life is the personal stories such as George McCartney, "The volunteers viewed themselves as the guardians of democracy. George McCartney, a Scottish volunteer, was certain that his peers didn't go to Spain to usher in Communism or anything like that. He went to Spain to continue the fight for freedom of a people to put a cross on a ballot paper."

The book opens with accounts of life at the beginning of the 20th century of people working in domestic service, the biggest single group at the time of working class men and women. A group that were often regarded as possessions by their wealthy employers.

The feminism that is evident throughout the book is energetic and inclusive. The stories of women campaigning provides a refreshing counter-balance to an often male orientated discussion of political struggle. The fight for universal suffrage describes both the unfairness of an electoral system that excluded all women and 5 million men without property. The bravery of the women like Hannah Mitchell who said, "without us having the vote, no one would ever put paid to the life of drudgery that trying to make ends meet caused us" is inspiring to read.

While the book is uplifting, it's also depressing to realise that the demonising of people in poverty we currently see is replicating the media's divisive portrayals poverty in the 1920s and 1930s. The policies of Baldwin's Conservatives mirror those of Cameron's coalition.

Selina Todd charts the success of the Labour Party in 1945, "Kitty Murphy was among those first time voters who put Labour into power. She had grown up in the East End of London, and had witnessed the effects of unemployment on her father and uncles. By 1940 she was a young married woman, working in the Woolwich Arsenal with her mother, father and younger brother while her husband fought abroad. In 1945 she was demobbed and cast her vote while awaiting her husband's return. The Labour slogan - "Never Again" and "Ask Your Dad" - made sense to her. "We didn't intend going back to how it was," she explained. "The Labour Party promised us that they'd do this and they'd do that and they did, they'd done it...whereas I don't think that would have happened had Churchill got back in" "

The examination of the post war Labour government both celebrates the successes of a reforming government but critics it's meritocratic method instead of an approach championing true equality. It left a question whether the 1945-51 government could have managed public ownership differently with greater worker involvement in running industry.

The post war period outlines how conditions for working class people improved as did aspiration. However, the hard work and drudgery is also clear. A search for a new Jerusalem was not as successful as Macmillan's assertion that people had never had it so good.

Selina Todd challenges the often fashionable argument about the positive nature of the grammar school system, that's an area my dad will enjoy, his experience in 1939 of failing the 11+ stuck with him.

The 1960s charts the struggle for equal pay, the exhausting nature of manual and process work and the often inhumane way immigrant workers were treated. The period saw gains in wages but economic and political power was still held outside the working classes.

The story of Jayaben Desai, an Indian woman and leader in the Grunwick dispute challenged assumptions about both the role of women and immigrant workers in accepting the status quo. While the strike was ultimately unsuccessful it did offer optimism about working class solidarity across gender and race in the 1970s.

Reading a history book about the period after 1979 seems strange. I remember those years vividly, I remember my teachers working to rule, the attacks on trade unions, the unemployment (and fear of it) and the vilification of those who need benefits. Selina Todd brings these memories back and reminds the reader of Thatcher's mantra of individuality.

The story of the working class is not drawn to a close in 2010 but is simply punctuated. Britain remains unequal, more unequal than in 1979. Trade Unions have been weakened and consequently people still are striving to have access to economic and political power. The working class has changed from 1910 but it is not unrecognisable. The story of the 100 years from 1910 offers hope of progress, highlights the importance of aspiration and recognises the necessity of organisation of the working class through the Labour movement.

I'll wrap the book up for my dad. He'll be delighted I've read it and I can be sure of a great discussion of the history through the prism of his experiences, his reading and his interpretation of working class history.

I hope whoever writes the history of the people from 2010 to 2110 will write a different story about how the Labour movement wins the argument for more equality and more importantly manages to wrestle the economic and political power to make it a different reality in the future.

A brilliant account. Thank you Selina Todd.
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on 1 July 2015
I'll not duplicate some of the other disapproving reviews. Like them, I'm on the left but irritated by the polemic. I expected to see disapproval from Daily Mail readers but I reckon they just got bored and chucked it after page 5.

Chiefly I hated the monochrome. Everything that happened to the people was bad. The book is heavier on personal accounts than on hard statistics and there is a sense that she is only interested in personal accounts if they're depressing.

Military service in WW II is dismissed as unpopular and badly paid. My father flew bombers towards the end of the war and for a Clydeside apprentice, this was educational, healthy and liberating. My father-in-law, in the navy, saw Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the age of 19. Now I'm not suggesting that this was an acceptable payback for 75 million deaths but it was a common experience which she ignores.

Those of us who were educated at working class schools in the 60s had a good chance of rewarding and involving employment. IT was a field that was open to entry for all. In fact until the mid-70s, its lack of structure meant it was open to non-academic entrants. An oddball on the shop-floor could easily find himself transferred to the computing section. She ignores these opportunities in her picture of constantly closing alley-ways.

She pictures the strikes of the 1970s as a purposeful cry against Capitalism. well the Builders' Strike of 1972 was a real strike for real goals. I was on it (as a student doing holiday work) and the shop stewards on our site were the best craftsmen and men to admire. In a weak union on a small site they had to be good. By 1978 I worked in a major industrial firm in the same town. The shop stewards were bullying and often criminal. Within a fortnight of starting I was on strike for a day. The union TASS had poached a member from my union (ASTMS). So we went on strike... I finished the decade on a fully paid lock-out because the AEU was striking for industry-wide terms (all of which we had already on our site.) So the company closed the plant down for the duration. The AEU caved in after a fortnight but I was overjoyed at my paid holiday. I mean I was short-sighted but the AEU was ensuring Mrs Thatcher's election.

She criticises Thatcher for politicising the miners' strike but lets Scargill off the same hook. She admits the government were ready to settle at an interim point. If it had been a genuine trade dispute, the miners would have settled and legitimately claimed a win. But Scargill was fighting his revolution so he carried on and lost.

At one point I was reading a couple of the depressive personal narratives and thinking, she can't honestly believe this. It turned out she didn't. She annotated them, saying that even if these stories aren't true they show how people felt. Well that's great, there's no statistical rigour and even the author doesn't believe the stories she's quoting.

She dismisses Lucky Jim at one end of the book as a university comedy. Then at the other end of the book she goes off on a rant about the toughness of the university life. If she'd ever read the book she'd find it illustrated her rant but with rather more wit.

She says she was only able to trace 20 out of 300 of her year at school to interview. Now probably this is laziness. Using social media I would guarantee to trace 95% of my far more elderly generation within a week. But I like to think instead that she just got fed up when each person she contacted said "Oh it's yourself, Selina. Jaysus, are you still a moaning git?" and just stopped.
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VINE VOICEon 23 August 2014
Selina Todd's passionate and committed history of the Working Class over the century between 1910 and 2010 has elicited some essay length reviews - a few very highly critical - here on Amazon. I think the response has been a vindication of Todd's book. People have reacted either very positively or extremely negatively to it, largely depending, I guess, upon their own particular political positions. However some reviewers appear to attribute to the book views and opinions which it does not in fact express and in doing so seem to get quite hot under the collar. For example, Todd is not guilty of the charge that she believes "Labour is always good, while Conservatives are always bad". On the contrary, most politicians of whatever hue are given a good drubbing throughout, with the possible exception of the great Ernest Bevin - born in a tiny cob-built cottage less than a mile from where I tap these lines out on my keyboard.

I have no intention of writing an essay here. Selina Todd's book is a highly worthwhile work which is both passionate and committed, and whose political stance is entirely unambiguous. One reviewer on Amazon stated that historical writing should always be objective and quoted Ranke in that connection (that's Theodor von, not J Arthur, in case there's any confusion). Objective history can be very, very dull. Many of the experiences related in "The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910 to 2010" are now beyond living memory and for that reason alone we need this book. If any of us forget what our parents' and our grandparents' lives were like (assuming we are not the Duke of Westminster), the Old Etonians will be running the entire show and we'll only have ourselves to blame!
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on 21 February 2015
Selina Todd has written an outstanding and authoritative account which validates in a profound and sensitive way the lives and histories of working class people. She has achieved this to a large extent by drawing on first person accounts of working class experience - factory workers, miners and importantly, housewives. Throughout the book, the female perspective is given equal weight with balanced and thoughtful consideration and analysis. Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the writer has been her ability to avoid glorifying or mythologising the experiences of the working class and yet at the same time provide well-reasoned discussion and explanations for what became the fabric and framework of working class history. This is powerful stuff ! A tale hitherto untold. As Selina Todd herself says, she "searched fruitlessly" for aspects of her own family's story when she began her academic career. A real sense of one person's experience of being working class is provided through pools-winner Viv Nicholson, whose personal story Todd skilfully weaves in and out the pages of the book. Well-researched, taking account of social, economic and political perspectives and enhanced by reference to surveys, studies and statistics, the author never lets the data detract from a 'story' which is always lively and often compulsive reading. Although the book encompasses the current century, less attention is given to these years. Leaving this aside, if you are a 'baby-boomer' or of similar age and have working class roots, you could well find yourself tearful as you come to the end of this book for it gives meaning, expression and a voice to your own life experience.
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on 10 September 2016
If you care about how we come to be in what is an increasingly sad and desperate place for so many of our citizens Todd's book is a must read. The voices that are captured here tell a powerful story of social change and high hopes dashed.

Selina Todd has written a fascinating and informative account in the Rise and Fall of the Working Class. An account that, especially at this time, when stories of corporate and personal greed dominate some headlines, reminds us that behind all the political and media rhetoric that is utilised to castigate the poor as feckless scrounges lies the lives of people who have a hope of a better life the achievement of which is beyond their control.

In the latter chapters Todd outlines how the reemergence of 'robber barons' (my phrase, not Todd's) as the social compact that followed the end of the Second World War began to be undermined in the 1970's and 80's, has driven the ongoing growth in income inequality and a rise in poverty that should shame a nation that would like to consider itself 'civilised'.
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on 18 March 2015
It is difficult to know how to classify this book. It claims to be history, but is written in such a politicised fashion, that it can only be described as polemic. It is also so biased that even for someone, like me, who considers themselves to be on the hard Left, this book feels tiring (for the reader) and prejudiced. That is not to say that there aren't some interesting parts, there are many of them, but they become quickly subsumed under the author's belief that the Working Class have been, historically, subject to a conspiracy of monumental proportions against them, a conspiracy led mainly by the Middle Class, keen only to protect their own interests. Todd also has the nerve to say that she is a member of the Working Class by assumption of birth, despite being a senior member of a Cambridge College! (If ever there is a sign of a member of the Middle Classes trying to be radical it is there attempt to co-opt themselves into the Working Class by dint of birth.)

This book also feels as though it has been written on the back of Owen Jones's books 'Chavs' and 'The Establishment' and picks up on themes raised by both these works. (The fact that the last 50 pages are left to an Afterword containing a series of 'Aunt Sallys' which Todd knocks down, seems to confirm this view that this is no history, but a political rant.)

The inclusion of the story of Viv Asprey, one time winner of The Pools, but who subsequently lost the money adds nothing to the text, unless one is looking for a confirmation of how vulgar we can become when we get money, but refuse guidance on how best to invest it. It is not the tragic tale that Todd hopes it will be and seems to be creating and confirming stereotypes than it is felling them.

Finally there are too many missed opportunities in this text. The Oxford 'Cutteslowe Walls' get only a passing mention, but which are surely more than just passing indicators of how the Working Class were seen by their Middle Class compatriots. The micro-narrative form that Todd uses is interesting and informative as a form of Social History, but it is both the polemical nature of the text and the failure to include key features of Working Class history in the text leaves one wondering about its true nature and, whether it should be considered 'history' at all.
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on 19 February 2015
Excellent book to understand the story of 20st century through the ignored eyes of workers.
Writing an historical book (full of interesting facts) as a novel is perfect.
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