James Blunt, Chris Bryant & the politics of envy
Twitter has been something of a flutter over the last couple of days about an open letter written by the singer James Blunt to the new Shadow Culture Secretary, Chris Bryant.
Bryant made some comments during a magazine interview. He was attempting to make a point about equality of access to the arts and more specifically to careers in the arts.
The specific comment that elicited the characteristically direct response from Blunt to Bryant was this:
Blunt's response is direct and to the point. Brilliantly crafted it makes very clear that his 'privileged' background, his education at boarding school, his career in the army, none proved to be of assistance to his career in the music business.
Indeed, Blunt makes the point eloquently that his background was if anything a hindrance to success.
Blunt has been accused of taking the comments too personally. I don't agree. If you're name checked in comments of that sort I think you absolutely have the right to call their author on them.
It made me consider my own life too. So forgive some introspection from me as well.
I don't come from a particularly privileged background. My parents, grandparents, great grandparents, all owned their own businesses in some form or another. We were comfortably off. The family's finances fluctuated with the fortunes of the business.
I went to a private school for a while, but then transferred to a state school and stayed there throughout my education.
If there was a point at which my family connections could have worked in my favour it was at the point I left education and looked for work. My family's business connections, whilst not particularly high powered, were considerable within our small community.
At a time when connections were so much more important. When who you knew rather that what you knew opened doors. In a small community. Insular. Where those who were in business socialised almost exclusively with their peers.
Those connections were available to me. A word in the right place would have ensured a job. A safe. Secure. Local, Job.
I, however, didn't want that. I was determined not to rely upon familial connections to progress. So I made my own way, sent off my own applications. Relied upon my parents not at all.
And things went quite well. So well, over the years, that I find myself in the position of being able to effectively retire in my 40's.
I was lucky. But I also made my own luck.
There were times when my background helped me. But I also came across situations where, like James Blunt, my background was a hindrance. In my case, either being too 'posh' and also sometimes not well connected or spoken enough.
The point is though that none of that mattered. Background, class, accent should never matter.
Talent. Determination. Drive. Positivity. Commitment. Hard blooming work. They are the attributes that should matter. They were central to my success. They are what helped me recover from the failures along the way. Pick myself up and move on.
And at no point, ever, did I look at those around me who were more successful and bemoan my comparatively less successful status. Nor did I ever come across anyone else who did the same. Envy of background. A sense of unfairness of opportunity. Blaming the deck of cards birth dealt. These played no part in my thinking or indeed of anyone I ever met.
It might be reasonable to comment that this may well be the case given my relatively privileged upbringing. My contemporaries however came from an enormous variety of backgrounds. Many of those more successful than me were from homes where deprivation, even poverty, was the norm.
They succeeded despite, possibly because of, their upbringing. And I am proud to think that ours was one of the first generations where that was the case. Thriving on the sense of meritocracy created by the Thatcher Governments of the 1980s. Using the reforms of earlier Governments as the stepping stones to that success.
That's why I find Chris Bryant pointing the finger at those in the arts who come from privileged backgrounds so abhorrent. I've worked in the entertainment industry. My experience tells me James Blunt is absolutely right to point out that, if anything, his background worked against him. There are few industries where connections matter less and talent is all.
That's why Blunt is spot on when he says this about Bryant's comments.
I might not have used those words exactly. But I think he's right.