Monday, January 19, 2015

Escape from the “Mawoks”


This is a piece I wrote in December 2002 well before UKIP and Farage and his Men of Kent and Kentish men came so malignantly into the public eye. It is actually substantially about them, though of course I didn't realise it at the time. Its a bit of a rant, something I needed to get out of my system I think! Anyway I share it with you now, twelve years on, for what it’s worth. It may explain one or two things!

One of the reasons that I could never vote Conservative is that to do so would link me (however tangentially) with a group of Tory voters that I cannot stand. I call them the “Men and Women of Kent” (the “Mawoks”), although they are to be found throughout the Home Counties and variants of the type can be seen across the length and breadth of England. In declaring this bias I can be accused (as we shall see) not only of biting the hand that fed me, but also of a prejudice bordering on racism. Over the years I have tried to rid myself of this unworthy intolerance, but unsuccessfully. The time has come now to reveal my problem and to seek guidance as to whether it is curable.

Sometimes prejudice is based on ignorance and fear (the most racially intolerant people I have met have rarely ever mixed with people of races other than their own) but my personal bias is the opposite. I am of these people that I despise - born and bred. I was born the year after the end of the Second World War in Orpington, Kent. Orpington is known for chickens, for one spectacular By-Election win for the Liberals in 1962, and for being the archetypal London suburb. I was only born there because it was where, pragmatically, my parents chose to live. They were not of the area (Dad was a Lancastrian and Mum was a real Londoner) but Dad needed to live somewhere where he could commute easily to the City where he worked. Orpington Station had regular services to Cannon Street – so Orpington it was to be. The town lacked anything that was remotely interesting. An architecturally anodyne High Street, housing estates built during that great splurge of speculative house building of the 1930’s and schools and other facilities necessary to serve a dormitory suburb. It was, then and now, on the cusp between London and “the country” – the extensive and (I must admit) beautiful “Garden of England” started just south of the Town. Just north was the beginning of the ugly sprawl of South London. Orpington was classic Mawok country – a fertile land for that key Mawok provider, the Estate Agent.

The Mawok has many obsessions, but housing is the main one. Between 1946 (when my parents bought a small semi on a “Davis Estate” off the Sevenoaks Road) and 1968 (when they reached the heights of a detached house with substantial grounds in the prime area of Keston), we moved every four or five years. Upward mobility was measured by the house you lived in and my father’s successful career funded my mother’s aspiration to have a bigger house in a better road. The phenomenon I have described is, of course, as prevalent today as it was forty years ago. The drive to have bigger and better housing is the main Mawok motivator. Our first house cost around £800 in a very tight housing market in 1946 (£21,000 in 2002 money). The same house today would sell for around £250,000 – a more than tenfold increase in value in real terms! No wonder today that the wealthiest members of the Mawoks’ Golf Clubs are the Estate Agents.

As the Mawok moves upwards so other lifestyle elements develop as well. For my Father his car, his Golf Club and my education were the most important (in that order). My father always had a car – a “Company Car”, naturally. Before Government began to tax company cars at their real value this was the most sought after of all the employment perks. Like our housing obsession the phenomenon of getting your employer to pay for your car is a peculiarly English thing – particularly for Mawoks. So every three years or so Dad would have a new and bigger and better car to go with the bigger and better house. And like the house this reached its ultimate apotheosis in the late sixties when he secured a Rover 2000 – truly the first of the “executive” cars. At the age of Fifty Dad had the detached house in Keston, the Rover in the drive and (to keep him busy on Sunday mornings) a long standing membership of West Kent Golf Club.

For the male Mawok (and for some of their women) the Golf Club was and is the centre of their social world. My father took up the game in the early post war years when golf was a traditional and rather elitist game. He joined “West Kent” a members’ club which used pricing and prejudice to keep out players who were “undesirable”! I remember driving with Dad to the club one day and as we approached the road which led to the clubhouse I noticed a prefabricated, metal roofed building on the course. I asked my father what it was and he said (somewhat shamefacedly) that it was the “Artisans” hut. He explained that the Club committee some years earlier had decided that there was a potential source of revenue available from “Artisan” (working class!) players. These players paid a small subscription for which they were allowed to play on the course on weekdays (when it was not so busy) - but they were not allowed to use any of the club’s member’s facilities or to play at weekends. The Mawoks were not, of course, Artisans. All of them had (like my father) solid, well-paid white collar jobs and they were the ones who colonised the 19th hole and ran the committee. In some ways the sport was incidental to the social component – the Mawoks joined the club not just to play golf, but to be able to socialise in a milieu, carefully protected by the application of strict membership rules, in which they would be comfortable.

The next Mawok fixation was, and is, private education. Here we begin to move away from the social part of the Mawok lifestyle to an area which borders on the political. The Mawok does not believe in the governance of the State in areas which directly affect his health, wealth or prospects (and those of his children). He is against progressive taxation (he doesn’t see why he should pay more income tax just because he has an above average income – he has earned it after all!). And he certainly doesn’t see why he should use (and pay for through taxation) what he sees as sub-standard public services. My father not only sent me to fee-paying schools from the age of five onwards, but he was also sure that he should be rewarded with a tax rebate for doing so. Curiously, although my father had convinced himself that it was essential that I received a Public School education, the same did not apply to my younger sister. She went to a State primary and Grammar school, was very well educated at them and became a successful teacher in state schools as an adult. But for me private education was essential and my father made many “sacrifices” to pay my school fees. Looking back I’m not sure what those sacrifices were (the upward mobility didn’t seem to suffer much) but I was very conscious at the time that I was seen as a financial burden. Today’s Mawoks will also do their damndest to fund private education for their children, but if their means don’t quite run to this they will move (if necessary) to those Mawok areas where the state schools are better (distorting even further the property market as they go). The perceived quality of local schools is one of the key influencing factors on property prices.

Private education has always been part of the Mawok dream (I was the second generation of my family at my school) and paying for private health care is also accepted by the Mawoks as a necessary burden. My parents opposed the setting up of the NHS in the 1940s and took out private health insurance as soon as it became available. In the pubs of Tunbridge Wells, where the Mawoks gather, you will hear them running down the Health Service and the State education system and bemoaning the fact that they have “no alternative” but to pay privately for medicine and for schooling. In this they are being disingenuous – Mawoks, in my experience, have always taken the option of paying for these things themselves. It is a bit like the Golf Club membership – the Mawok can afford to pay for such privileges.

Sometimes the Mawok has to rely on the State and there is no opting out. For the commuting Mawok, like my Father, the principal reliance was on British Rail, Southern Region. Occasionally Dad would drive his Rover to his office in Eastcheap, but even in the fifties and sixties the traffic and the lack of decent roads, did not make this a real option. So at 8:08 every morning (and at 5:36 every evening) he would be on the Orpington /Cannon Street train. But at weekends, for holidays and for other trips my father would never think of using public transport. When once, much later, he had to go with me on a bus it was clearly the first time for many years – he described it as being like a “Sunday school outing”. Today’s Mawok reserves his strongest vitriol for the condemnation of public transport. The commuter trains are dirty, unreliable and too expensive but he is trapped in that he has to use them. Like my father years ago he never uses a train where he can use his car and he is most unlikely ever to be seen on a bus. The Mawok was a fervent supporter of the sale of public assets first instigated by the Thatcher government of the 1980s. He argues that there is now more choice and better value than when there were monopoly state owned suppliers of electricity, gas, water and other services. When challenged about the decline in standards on the railways since they were handed over to Virgin and Stagecoach and their like the Mawok will blame Mr Blair and Mr. Prescott conveniently forgetting that it was the Mawok in chief John Major who created the railway mess that New Labour has struggled to clean up.

The Mawok is not really a political animal, any more than he is committed to any other sort of voluntary service. He is not a generous supporter of charities and once the key things in life are paid for (see above) he is a bit of a cheapskate. I know many Mawoks who refuse to subscribe to satellite or cable television (despite the fact that the sports they want to watch are increasingly on these channels) claiming that they cannot afford the thirty or forty pounds a month subscription. Whilst they are only too happy to benefit from corporate hospitality that is often on offer to Mawoks at work (the box at Lord’s or Twickenham) they rarely pay for sports tickets out of their own money. Holidays are important to Mawoks and they will book the crossing for the BMW months in advance so that they can get to the favourite hotel in France or Spain on schedule. And today’s Mawoks buy second homes in Southern Europe – increasingly a key element of the Mawok lifestyle.

Although most Mawoks are not politically active this does not stop them from having robust political opinions, but there is usually an inverse relationship between the strength of the opinion and the real relevance to them. So Mawoks will sound off in the saloon bar about the “appalling” standards of public education or healthcare, despite the fact that they have protected themselves and their families from these services by going “private”. But nothing riles a Mawok more than something that affects their most valued “right” – their personal mobility. So if you ask a Mawok what they think about the price of petrol (or some of the other high costs of private motoring) be prepared for a tirade against the Government which (in their view) takes far too much from them in motoring taxes and builds too few roads.

The Mawok is a privileged species, but this does not stop them from seeking ever new ways to protect and enhance their privileges. They see Conservative politics as being more likely to do this and this is the sole basis of the Mawoks’ unwavering commitment to vote Conservative. If you look at the blue swath across the constituencies of Southern England you can be sure that not only has it always been so, but that it always will be. The Mawok is not a floating voter; he tribally supports the Tories through thick and thin. This does not mean that there are not outposts of Mawok land in the Celtic fringes (the West Country) or the more enlightened suburbs (Richmond, Kingston, Surbiton, even Guildford…) where a progressive anti-Mawok movement has ousted the Conservative and elected a Liberal Democrat. But in the hard core Mawok dominated country of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Hampshire hell will freeze over before they elect anyone but a Conservative.

I hate the Mawoks because of their ignorance and their prejudice. I hate them because notwithstanding their advantages they spend so much time complaining. I hate them because they close their minds to any argument which challenges their view of the world. I hate them because of their narrow-mindedness and their meanness. And above all I despise them because they have no idea how awful they are and because they assume that since I was raised in Mawok country, the progeny of Mawok parents, then I must embrace their values. I will never vote Conservative lest somebody mistakenly thinks that I do.

Patrick S Briggs

December 2002


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