As I continue to study for a doctorate, I’m uncomfortably aware of how little I know about most things outside my field. So much so that it feels almost wrong to stray away from my subject and write about three stories that have become national news: a Labour MP who disrespected a working-class man; a Lord who told a taxi driver his place; and a High Court ruck over a Conservative MP who called a copper a class-based name.
Even if we no longer need the wood cutters to chop down the trees for paper, there still seems to have been an inordinate amount of newspaper stories on these seemingly trivial tales, stories of a very old type, which Katherine Briggs, in her introduction to ‘Folk Tales of Britain’ (vol. II), calls jocular tales. These, she says, have a “purpose as social comment. They may be used either to repress and hold up to scorn undesirable behaviour or as a retaliation of the underprivileged against their superiors in wealth and learning.”
All three of these stories are of this type, and of a particular kind: stories of the powerful being undone by the actions of supposedly lesser folk. Even in the case of Emily Thornberry, or if you prefer, Lady Nugee, the story is really about her fall via the reaction – on twitter, by ‘White Van Dan’ himself in the Sun – and its counter-plea by her van-driving brother in the Guardian. ‘Plebgate’ has an ironical twist in that the policeman wins largely because a High Court judge deems him to have been too plodding to have made up the insult.
These are stories my husband’s family enjoy, in which bosses are always wrong, buyers sold pups, and the educated fools; these last I suspect are sometimes told against me, and add to my uncertainty now about writing outside my subject. They also bring me back to thinking on what I know from my life and from working with the press and not from reading in books.
And what I think is these incidents happen. All the time. What is news is that so many of these stories are being reported right now. And this news is another old and comforting story, that an election is coming and across the country ordinary people are furious. And, as in the jocular tales, it is ordinary people who become powerful, and who will decide who will win next year.