Tag Archives: class

Sarkozettes II: more sloppy journalism

‘They don’t come from the usual elitist white male cookie-cutter mould of French politicians. They have grassroots political experience rather than coming from the old boys’ club of grandes écoles [the elite universities that educate the bulk of France’s high-flyers]’

Vivienne Walt, the Paris correspondent for Time magazine quoted in the Guardian

After my last post I re-read the Observer article and found this quote I’d missed. Well I knew that Rama Yade was at Sciences-Po, so I thought I’d check how realistic this assessment was. Of the six female ministers mentioned in the article, five had been to the grandes ecoles, and the other is a doctor of pharmacy and an ex-MEP. One of them, Michele Alliot-Marie, was a lecturer in politics and law at the Sorbonne, and it doesn’t get much more grandes ecoles than that.

Interestingly, two of Sarkozy’s seven female cabinet ministers didn’t go to one of the grandes ecoles (Rama Yade isn’t a cabinet minister), and these were the ones not mentioned in the Observer piece. Christine Boutin probably doesn’t fit their story because she’s of the religious right and involved in the pro-life movement, and the other Christine Albanel, was a senior civil servant and worked for Chirac when he was PM and President, hardly grass-roots.

The analysis presented in the quote above is quite simply nonsense. Hold the front page, ‘government still populated by the posh and privileged’; even if one or two had humble beginnings.


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Filed under Gender, News, Politicians

Anti-social behaviour, alcohol and public space

Although anti-social behaviour (ASB) is largely associated with ‘rough’, i.e. poor estates, there’s also a fear of similar problems in public spaces. Whereas the first venue tends to only affect those living there, and the government’s respect agenda supposedly targets this, the second venue is being talked up with reference to outdoor drinking. There’s a discourse of fear around parks and public squares, which CABE want to design out. However, there are differences of place that complicate this accepted story somewhat.

Where I live now there are few parks that are fully accessible public spaces. One park is really small, with the town museum at one end and a kids playground at the other. It’s pleasant enough, with a fairly average cafe, but you couldn’t have many people in it. At the other end of town there’s a bigger park, but this has no facilities except kids playgrounds, and is used by dog walkers and teenagers. Families do go to the playgrounds, but you wouldn’t picnic there. In order to stop ASB, the second park is subject to an alcohol ban, so if you did you couldn’t drink.

Where I used to live in Hackney, there was little fear of the two parks I lived between (Finsbury and Clissold). In both a real mix of classes and ethnicities use the space: lots of people picnic, play football, sunbathe, drink and sometimes smoke cannabis, take kids to the playground, and use the cafes. In Finsbury Park there seemed to be a small street population smoking dope and drinking special brew, but this didn’t seem to put off the middle-class parents, and this low-level disorder sits side-by-side with a playgroup and an art space. I don’t think there would be any support for alcohol bans, and at times this would kill the parks’ atmospheres.

This seems counter-intuitive: of these, the parks with the most alcohol/drug taking are far more popular. My feeling is that the London experience is caused by the sheer force of numbers. Given that the parks are extremely busy/popular, it’s hard to feel unsafe, even if there are differences in norms of behaviour. Furthermore, this force of numbers self-polices so that anti-social behaviour doesn’t happen.

Where I live now the middle-classes are conspicuous by their absence. There’s a private park in the area, that’s been developed on an estate (as in landed property, not housing estate) with formal gardens. People can get an affordable season ticket so they can have their picnics / playground time in a non-public space, and if you want to take a bottle of wine that’s fine.
There’s obviously something different between these places. I’d suggest that there is a difference in the history of how spaces are used (in Hackney some parks are like those described, and some aren’t), that may be caused by the population around them. However, there’s also a difference in how cultural divides work. I don’t think the white middle-classes in London, for example, have any more friends out of their ‘group’, than they do anywhere else. However, there is more ‘recognition’ of others, if that’s the right word. It’s harder for people to avoid the crowd if they’ve got to get the tube to work instead of driving to work. Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also reduces fear.

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Filed under Statistics and simplicity


This week has seen a load of noise about alcohol, and in particular ‘binge drinking’ and teenage drinking. As always, the complicated truth can’t be allowed to get in the way of soundbites and simplistic analysis.

First, there’s the “tipping point” that Jacqui Smith has been touting.  ‘Where more 13 year olds have drunk alcohol than have not’. But what does this mean? For the Daily Mail (but I’ve lost the link!) this meant most 13 year-olds were getting drunk, which is not what the minister said. Most papers stuck to her wording (see this) but this sounds like it means over 50% have had a drink some time in their life, not in the last week, month or year. In fact, saying we have now reached this point is absurd. In 2006, a drinkaware survey found the average age of first drink (not just a sip) was 11, a 2003 survey in Northern Ireland found the average age for the first drink was 11. There’s a big difference between 50% of 13-year-olds getting drunk once a month and 50% having had a couple of drinks with their parents at Christmas.

This, we’ve heard, is justification for a crackdown on a) children drinking in public places, and b) parents buying their kids alcohol. This again is complicated, both with regard to the law and what happens in the real world. It isn’t illegal for kids to drink in public places, but it is illegal for under-18s to buy a drink, or to buy a drink for a child. However, it’s not illegal for a parent to buy a drink for an under-18, and it’s expressly allowed in pubs if you are eating and the child is 16/17. The law seems a bit confused here, but if the parent buys alcohol to send the kids out on the street with, then this may be illegal (I think it is… it’s illegal ‘for anyone to buy alcohol for someone under 18 to consume in a pub or a public place’). If the parent buys alcohol for the child to drink at home, then that’s OK, and if the child then takes it outside then that’s not illegal either! The police can confiscate if they think it’s going to be drunk outside (to avoid public nuisance) but not if the kids are on the way to someone’s house. Either way, no ‘crime’ has been committed.

Furthermore, research suggests that ” ‘Fewer’ teenagers drink regularly” because the crackdown on rogue shops is working, and that parents should be encouraged to give their children alcohol at home because that means less drinking on the street. Children that buy their own booze are far more likely to be binge drinking or street drinking. We should be encouraging a continental approach.

But even this, for me, is problematic. There’s an oft used trope in youth work and youth studies, that tells why the kids on the street and at youth clubs are the poorer kids. Whereas the richer kids have the resources to go to events (e.g. being driven to a sports centre or theatre let’s say) the poorer one’s don’t. Richer kids in big houses have their own rooms so they can invite friends round, and the most priviliged might have a spare room or a converted garage. Poorer kids might be sharing with their little brother or sister, and the smaller space means it’s harder to get out of the way of parents. They don’t have a big dining table so can’t invite friends over for dinner: everyone prefers to drink with friends to their parents. Because of this, richer kids can have their earlier experiments with alcohol at home in safety. Poorer one’s have no opportunities, except in public spaces. To be just, a crackdown on teenage problem drinking should be helping these children into more comfortable homes where there’s opportunity to socially drink with friends (and maybe parents too).

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Filed under News, Politicians, Statistics and simplicity