The Social Distance Between Us: How Remote Politics Wrecked Britain by Darren McGarvey - review by Ian Fraser

Ian Fraser

Poverty in Plain Sight

The Social Distance Between Us: How Remote Politics Wrecked Britain

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Darren McGarvey’s The Social Distance Between Us is a wake-up call for Britain. It isn’t always an easy or comfortable read and there are some flaws, but overall it is an eloquent, forceful and much-needed exposé of what McGarvey calls ‘the fundamental scandal of British society’ – the fact that we have become such an unequal society and that too few people seem to know or care about it.

The book may shock anyone who believes that class no longer exists in Britain or that the country has become a meritocracy. Based on first-hand encounters and personal experiences, some of them originating in Darren McGarvey’s Class Wars, the BBC Scotland programme that the author presented last year, McGarvey’s book painstakingly details how the social chasms and structural barriers that prevent working-class people from climbing into a more comfortable middle-class existence are perhaps more insurmountable than ever.

The problem, in McGarvey’s view, is that Britain’s political class is out of touch with the everyday lives of working-class and deprived people. Hardly any MPs have direct experience of grinding poverty and most lack any ‘proximity’ to the problems Britain’s underclass faces. As a result, their chances of empathising or introducing policies which might address the problems are slim. Even when they try, the policies can be counterproductive. Basic errors are made, such as transferring the country’s welfare system online, even though many welfare recipients don’t have internet access or mobile phones. Where education is concerned, McGarvey says, ‘inequality is written into the … system’s DNA’, adding that private schools are a catastrophe for social equality.

Key journalists seem out of touch too. McGarvey has a go at Robert Peston over a 2019 Spectator article in which the ITV political editor argued that, in offering free broadband and some redistribution of wealth, Jeremy Corbyn was declaring ‘class war’. For McGarvey, this was an absurd

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