Theodore Dalrymple: begone, white working-class scum?

I’ve been a fan of Theodore Dalrymple/Anthony Daniels for years, so posting this bugs me. He seems to be shifting from general “Britain, what a toilet it’s turned into” pieces to just downright despising the English. If I were to be ungenerous, I would summarize this article as “My wife and I want the poorly-paid people who do the stuff we can’t be bothered with to be incredibly enthusiastic. English (and French) people demand to be paid for all the work they perform, and they don’t even seem to enjoy being menials. They should be replaced by people from the third world.”

I was particularly struck by the fact that one of the servants who takes care of his mother-in-law is Haitian. I’m sure she is, as Dalrymple insists, a lovely woman. But I don’t see why Britain (or France, in this case) should be importing lots of Haitians because the well-off, childless Daniels’ (they’re both doctors) don’t feel like spending much time looking after a sick mother.

‘Nor does this affect only work such as looking after my mother-in-law. Some years ago, the Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting wrote the following:

“So when a girl at 17 decides to go ahead and have a baby, there is no tragedy of lost opportunity other than the local checkout till waiting for her low-paid labour.”

This sentence breathes snobbery and disdain for those who actually do such work; it assumes, moreover, that once a supermarket checkout cashier, always a supermarket checkout cashier, a fate worse than death. That there might actually be people for whom such work is suitable and potentially not odious does not occur to the writer. What makes the work odious is not the work itself, but those who communicate their disdain of it.’

So Gemma from the council estate should embrace the suck because it’s the right thing to do, but there’s no reason from Mme Daniels to interrupt her vacation* or in any way “greatly disrupt her life”. If that means turning Paris into Port-au-Prince, well, have you seen the French lately? It’s probably for the best.

‘With the exception of family hotels, for example, all good hotels in Britain employ exclusively foreign labour. If you want to go to a really bad large hotel in Britain, find one in which the staff are British. It is then guaranteed to be ill-kept, with slovenly service, quite possibly not very clean, with atrocious food, grubby staff, inattention to detail and so forth. Even a foreign telephonist is likely to be better, and to speak better English, than an English telephonist. If you want a good or even only a decent hotel, you must find one in which all the staff are foreign. And this is so whatever the unemployment rate, high or low: it has nothing to do with the unemployment rate.’

*To be fair, I’ve no idea whether she goes on vacation.

As always, read the comments.

  • Frau Katze

    I’ve found his last few columns have a tone I can’t identify with. He’s almost on my don’t read list.

    • I agree, he’s been phoning it in lately. But this one really put me off.

      • Frau Katze

        After this one, he’s definitely anathema.

  • Brenda

    In my opinion his best work was when he was still working as a prison doctor and writing for the Spectator. He had some stunning insights then; now he’s putting out quite a lot of misanthropic blather.

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    • El Martyachi

      If there’s a time and place for everything, here and now is as good as any for misanthropic blather.

  • Sid Falco

    He’s been an absolutely boring, pretentious wanker for years.

    • Frau Katze

      Bit of a snob, I think.

      • Sid Falco

        A snob and a knob.

        You can always tell that it’s going to be one of his articles by the incredibly pretentious opening sentence. A few years ago it was a sign that the article would be good. Now, it’s a sign that it’ll be utter cock.

      • I don’t mind a snob at all if he’s interesting. I’m a snob. Almost all people are in one way or another.

        Look, if I’d spent years dealing day-in-day-out with the refuse of the violent Birmingham slums I’d be cynical too, and not half as eloquent. It’s the oblivious, self-righteous and selfishly socially destructive snobbery I hate.

  • Ramspace

    Eh, well. You might want to give it a second look before piling on. You see, I live in the Canadian Maritimes. We have a youth unemployment problem, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, farmers and fish plant owners have difficulty finding local workers willing to pick produce and process fish. We actually import labour for these jobs. I think old Dally is issuing a call for people to undertake even menial work with pride and diligence. I do not think he is deliberately parading his snobbishness, but simply acknowledging that some jobs are neither glamorous or rewarding, and yet need to be done well. These jobs exist–I’ve done enough of ’em in my time. Unfortunately, this is far from his best work, and folks are rubbed the wrong way before he makes his point.

    • I’m in Halifax, and you’re certainly not wrong about the situation here. It’s just that I bet the Daniels’ could scour Paris and actually find a French nurse or three to look after her mother if they really wanted too. He might have to pay them a bit more, that’s all. Daniels and his wife are helping to flood Europe with immigrants, and then they’re blaming the victim.

      Daniels is definitely smart enough to get this. You’re definitely smart enough to get this. Sloths living in the canopy are probably smart enough to get this. (There’s a metaphor there somewhere, with the sloths, I think. They used to be labourers, you know…) MPs apparently are not smart enough to get this, or (more likely) just too selfish to care. Cheap labour from parts of the world where workers have never had a chance to develop the notion that they might have rights undercuts wages. Combine that with a welfare system where people are paid to do nothing and you’re basically castigating the natives for not being either heroes or enthusiastic slaves. (I don’t mean you, obviously. I mean “one”.)

      Notice that the Daniels’ don’t want to nurse the old lady for nothing. They’re willing to pay to be relieved of the duty. But he’s bitching like an upper-class 18th century woman complaining about the servants because Solange and Marie don’t want to do it either.

      I don’t see this as a left or a right thing. Those are pretty outdated categories and this doesn’t fit into that dichotomy at all. I just see this as a “stop helping to wreck Europe” thing.

      • Ramspace

        This is all well known; Engels wrote about the effect of the influx of Irish workers on wages and working conditions in Manchester and Liverpool. You are perfectly correct: such movements from a poorer area support a race to the bottom. When combined with ineffective welfare systems, the result is a demoralized domestic workforce that degenerates into an underclass. I agree that being chided from above (HIGH above, in the Dally case) for being dirty and shiftless does not help. But however awkward his tone, Dally dealt with a serious matter: the degradation of labour. His tone was one flaw; his inability to point to a solution was another. It is, as you say, easy to bitch “like an upper-class 18th century woman,” but much more challenging to actually revive the dignity of labour. To my utter revulsion, our own Glorious Leader came through here promising MORE POGIE, ’cause that’s all we lazy scum could possibly care about. Labour is not slavery. We need a proper labour exchange that connects people to jobs quickly and fluidly, a progressive unemployment system that does not punish people for making a few dollars, and better apprenticeship and trade opportunities. Ah, this has inspired me to complete an essay on the character of this province that I had set aside. Just as soon as I finish cutting up the fallen trees in the back lot.
        All the best, Mamba,