Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I only read it for the sports pages

In today's New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof claims to find an analogy between contemporary American political culture and Britain in the 1980s in terms of polarisation. This supporting anecdote is presented:

[From his British college days in the 1980s] Two friends, both named Chris, epitomized Britain to me back then. Right-wing Chris was an an ardent Conservative from the south, a graduate of an exclusive private school; left-wing Chris was a working-class bloke from the north, a Labor Party supporter from a state school. Right-wing Chris read The Telegraph; left-wing Chris read The Guardian.

That was pretty typical of the tribalism of Old Europe. Left and right came from different social classes, lived in different areas, attended different schools and despised each other.

A "working-class bloke" who read the Guardian? As a Guardian reader might say, Je crois que Non. To stick with Nick's introduction of class terminology, "working-class blokes" read the tabloids. Cafe lefties read the Guardian, while perhaps sneaking a look at the Telegraph, just for the Liz Hurley pictures and the sports pages -- not as polarised as Nick would have you believe.

No incident better encapsulates what a "working class bloke" makes of the Guardian than the following from a Liverpool vs Chelsea match a few years ago. Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler hurled some graphically illustrated abuse in the direction of Chelsea's Graeme Le Saux, with the general implication being that Le Saux was gay. Amongst the evidence that Robbie had marshalled in support of his thesis was Le Saux's interest in antiques -- and the fact that he reads the Guardian. This story provides more details. Robbie, the self-styled working class bloke, wouldn't be caught dead near any broadsheet, left or right.

That being said, somewhere in the British-US analogy, there is a point. But there are more obvious points of linkage than the newspaper of choice of one's college friends. Like Rupert Murdoch. But we need to do more research on that.