The 27th edition of Social Trends is published at the end of January. Paul Barker, a compulsive browser since the first edition in 1970, celebrates the big trends and the small printby Paul Barker / February 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Everything is, we always read, in an accelerating swirl of change. So it is reassuring to discover, from the annual editions of Social Trends, that the Cubs and Brownies, at least, are unmoved. Membership has grown, year on year, through the never-had-it-so-good 1950s, the swinging 1960s, the catastrophic 1970s, the boom-and-bust 1980s. They entered the uncertain 1990s with their chins held high and their uniforms as pressed and shiny as ever. On Social Trends’ 1996 reckoning, Britain has about 350,000 Cubs and more than 400,000 Brownies, compared with 187,887 Cubs and 170,539 Brownies in 1950.
Channel Four recently ran a smart-arsed documentary, mocking Baden-Powell for all the tired old reasons (it is true that, for adolescents, the appeal of neckerchiefs and woggles is definitely on the wane). But somebody out there feels warm about a movement which was, undeniably, launched to combat public anxieties about national degeneracy in the neurotic years between the Boer war and the Kaiser’s war.
Perhaps the motives which prompt parents to send their daughters to sit at the feet of Brown Owl are the same as those which make them, in the teeth of educational fashion, so keen on schools having uniforms. A dress code is one line of social defence in an era when, with so uncertain a job market, the chances of sliding down into the abyss of the underclass seem as great as (or greater than) the chances of moving up a rung or two.
Relevantly, the last edition of Social Trends (1996) quotes surveys of what people want from their trade union. Between 1989 and 1994, the proportion who thought better pay was the top priority sank from 28 to 15 per cent. Those who thought the priority was to protect existing jobs rose from 28 to 37 per cent.
Ten or 15 years ago, such a view might have been strongest among steel workers or dock labourers. But their jobs, and their union cards, have already gone. Trade unions are increasingly a white collar and public sector phenomenon. The country’s largest, Social Trends reminds us, is the public services union, Unison, which is led by a polytechnic sociology graduate, Rodney Bickerstaffe; it is no longer the once almighty Transport & General Workers’ Union, created by Ernest Bevin, who left school at 11. The rate of union membership in general is now highest among professionals. Today’s Tolpuddle martyrs would be…