Sir Alan Sugar frequently uses the mantra that if you work hard, anything is possible BBC

They say that you should never meet your heroes. But in an age of technology so advanced that J.K Rowling is apparently able to add gratuitous details to her beloved Harry Potter series at will, we might extend the proverb: never follow your heroes on Twitter.

Sir Alan Sugar, while far from being the first person I would label as a ‘hero’, is someone I liked as a kid: a funny old guy who humiliated posh idiots on national television. More recently, his habitual mocking of Piers Morgan (or “Piersy” as he so gleefully refers to him) on Twitter has been a source of great entertainment during my extensive exam-term procrastination breaks. But in the run-up to last week’s general election Lord Sugar was at his keyboard again, this time with Corbyn voters in his sightline. Calling upon his working class roots, he asked voters to entrust in him as an “east end boy done good by honest graft”, advising them to avoid voting Corbyn for the “good of the country”.

While a whole other article might be dedicated to this tweet’s breed of patronising rhetoric that has been ceaselessly levelled at young Corbyn supporters over the election period, (Sugar went on this week to claim that they were “inexperienced” in life) what irritated me perhaps even more was Sugar tapping into the unhelpful mantra so frequently espoused by successful people of his generation: work hard enough, and anything is possible.

“It is unfair to suggest that the only thing standing in the way of success for working class, ethnic minority and LGBTQ+ people is their work ethic.”

It rears its head every time another ‘thinkpiece’ complains about the laziness of millennials, in spite of us being the first generation to experience unpaid work as the norm. It is cited to young black Americans in reference to Barack Obama’s political success, and by the fictional CEO in the BBC’s recent drama Clique, who calls for “alpha female” recruits “done with whining” and placing blame for gender inequality at the feet of women themselves. What Lord Sugar said was not untrue, but what he failed to acknowledge was both the relative uniqueness of his position, and the dwindling likelihood of the upward mobility he achieved in the context of today’s climate.

Under the Conservative government whom Sugar has advocated, child poverty has soared and inequality worsened, as the gap between rich and poor becomes ever-wider. Social mobility is simply harder today than it used to be, with students from disadvantaged backgrounds less likely to do well in school than their wealthier peers. It is unfair and disingenuous to suggest that the only thing standing in the way of success for working class, ethnic minority and LGBTQ+ people is their work ethic. By doing so, one effaces structural problems and issues entirely, acting as though a working class woman of colour is presented with exactly the same opportunities in life as those presented to a white privately educated man. While this level of equality is something many aspire to, it’d be absurd to pretend that it already exists.


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Yet this is precisely what comments like Lord Sugar’s imply to young people especially, to whom much of his anti-Corbyn sentiment is directed. Yes, hard work and determination is almost always integral to success, but it is baffling to me that those like Sugar can so readily ignore or dispel the various, complex roadblocks that crop up on the way to it. The recent dramatization of the Rotherham abuse scandal, for instance, showed nothing if not the contempt and disdain with which the working class teenagers involved were treated by local authority figures; dismissed as delinquent child prostitutes unworthy of help.

While discrimination like this still thrives, it is not enough to ask why they, the victims, are not doing enough; encouraging ‘hard graft’ must be paired with an understanding and will to rectify the structural issues that make that ‘graft’ much harder for some than others

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