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Radio review: Breaking the Class Ceiling, How to Disagree, and Between the Ears

08 March 2019


IN ANTI-DISCRIMINATION legislation, there are currently nine characteristics that are afforded protected status: you are not allowed to discriminate on grounds of age, gender, gender reassignment, mater­nity, sexuality, race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Should class discrimination be added to this list? In Breaking the Class Ceiling (Radio 4, Monday), Sathnam Sanghera discovered that there was no straightforward answer.

He encountered nobody prepared to defend discrimination against the rabble, whether it were because they did not fit in, did not talk proper, or couldn’t effectively employ a fish-knife. Nor did anybody dispute the stats pro­vided by Sam Friedman of the London School of Economics: employees from a working-class background are earning, on average, 16 per cent less than those from the middle class; and there is still a gap among cohorts who have been to Oxford and Cambridge. The class effect endures.

Yet at the same time there was nobody prepared to explain what constituted an individual’s socio-economic status. The editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson, put it succinctly: how far do you go into a person’s back story to pinpoint that status, and to what extent does that status affect what we think of as class?

Any legislative approach would no doubt involve the obligatory collection and publication of much data. We should also guard against unintended consequences; for instance, the student who had struggled against the low expectations of her school to gain a place at Trinity College, Cambridge, was horrified by the idea of a job interview that was “class blind”: future potential employers might not have the chance to appreciate what she had done just to get this far.

The issue of class discrimination feels as if it is an issue of morality. And, because of that, we feel entitled to regard those who disagree with us as being morally deficient. It is precisely this misdirection of moral sen­timent that Timandra Harkness is attempting to intercept in her series How to Disagree: A beginner’s guide to having better arguments (Radio 4, Wednesday, repeat). Last week, she took on one of the most inflammatory moral conflicts of all — abortion — and tried to identify the conflict at the heart of it all. It is not her job to resolve the disagreement, but to disentangle emotional instinct from rational argument.

Between the Ears (Radio 3, Satu­day) consistently makes a case for radio as an art-form deserving of the high­est respect. In Nathaniel Mann’s piece Container-ship Karaoke, we entered one of those floating cities by way of the karaoke songs that are sung on board. As always, the soundscape — ranging from the five-storey engine room to the karaoke room — was beautifully captured; and even Rod Stewart’s “I am sailing” took on an emotional resonance that I could never have thought possible.

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