ARE THE MIDDLE CLASS TO BLAME FOR YOB BRITAIN? Ashamed of the Values That Once Made Britain Such a Civilised Nation, It's the Social Cowardice of the Middle Classes That's to Blame for Many of Our Problems, Says a Provocative New Book

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Byline: ALEXANDER DEANE

AS A society ever changed so much, so quickly?

In 1955, the American anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer wrote: 'The English are certainly among the most peaceful, gentle, courteous and orderly populations-that the civilised world has ever seen. The control of aggression has gone to such remarkable lengths that you hardly ever see a fight in a bar and football crowds are as orderly as church meetings.' Those words could hardly sound more hollow in the England of 50 years later, where antisocial behaviour prevails, where chief constables admit they have lost control of their cities, where feral children wander without restraint, where drug-taking and gun crime is rife, where family structures have broken down and authority has collapsed.

Tony Blair is quite right to speak of his anxiety about social decline, although his attitude smacks of hypocrisy, given that his government has wilfully dissolved so many of the bonds that used to hold our society together.

From its vast expansion of the Welfare State to its enthusiasm for uncontrolled immigration, New Labour has been an engine of social destruction. It is a grim reflection of eight years of Labour rule that we now have among the highest rates of lone parenthood, pensioner poverty, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy in Europe, while standards of education and healthcare are falling.

But apart from the Government, there has been another guilty party in this sorry saga: the British middle class.

In my view, the very people who should have been challenging the lack of respect and morality in modern Britain have been colluding with it.

The middle class used to form the conscience of the nation. Their values of respectability and decency were the guiding principles for society. At the turn of the century, for instance, many coalminers consciously modelled themselves on the best of the middle class, seeking to better themselves by establishing their own libraries, evening classes and debating societies.

The essentially middleclass virtues of selfreliance, honesty, thrift and fidelity were widely promulgated, turning Britain into one of the most orderly societies the world has ever known, with crime rates and family breakdown just a fraction of the levels that exist today.

Aristotle once said that the best state was one dominated by the middle class. That was certainly the attitude that prevailed in Britain until the late 1960s. But since then, that spirit has all but disappeared.

Middleclass values - once seen as something to aspire to - are now widely regarded as outdated, snobbish, irrelevant or shallow.

For many, the desire to keep up appearances, and to show restraint and dignity, are faintly disreputable or downright laughable.

As I explain in my new book, The Great Abdication, the tragedy is that the middle classes themselves, supposedly the bedrock of our civilisation, have so willingly gone along with this change. Instead of standing up for their moral code, they have presided over its demise.

Unwilling to impose judgments on anyone, they have retreated into a private world of self-gratification and self-advancement. Or - even worse - they have sought to pretend that they are not middleclass at all.

Disguising their own affluent backgrounds, they glory in downward mobility, adopting the manners, outlook and the voice of the working class: the well-heeled university student from public school with the fake Estuary accent has become one of the more regrettable symbols of modern Britain.

One recent survey demonstrated that twothirds of the population now consider themselves to be working class. Given the fact that Britain is now wealthier than ever, with home ownership, car use and holidays abroad all at record levels, this is a patently absurd figure.

But it shows how terrified people are of being labelled as middle class. …