Magazine article The Spectator

Shared Values

Magazine article The Spectator

Shared Values

Article excerpt

Ian Hislop has been searching for Middle England in Looking for Middle England (Saturdays), a three-part series on Radio Four, and he certainly found it easily enough, despite wondering if the phrase was an overused cliché. Last week he chose Guildford in Surrey, where he couldn't really go wrong. It's an affluent place which, we heard, has the longest life expectancy in the country.

He concentrated on the clubs which he thought signified what Middle England likes doing. Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail, Middle England's house journal, thought clubbable conformity -- whether it be the golf club, Masons, rotary, rugby or school clubs -- was very important.

Hislop put it to him that the word club can be used pejoratively, suggesting like-minded people sticking together, which Letts conceded; but he pointed out that other words for club were community or society, which were considered good words because they implied shared values.

One great thing about Middle England, in my view, is that it has long kept England from revolution, which is why the middle, lower-middle classes and the skilled artisans are so hated by the extreme Left.

England couldn't have a revolution when so many had a stake in the country, and the extension of the franchise in 1832 gave them a bigger say.

Hislop began his exploration at the local golf club by wondering if a club was, in the words of an unnamed historian, an example of 'bourgeois collectivism'. Here you need a tie. The golf club, as Matthew Alexander, a local historian, suggested, came with the rise of the middle classes in Victorian times when the railway arrived, greatly expanding the population of this ancient market town, which is in fact not named after the historic clubs, the guilds, as I had suspected, but is, according to Hislop, a corruption of the term 'golden ford'. Some people are in denial about whether or not they're part of Middle England, notably the woman at the local Women's Institute who insisted that the institute represented a spread of people.

Middle England is not just a recent phenomenon, as Dr Jonathan Barry, author of a book called The Middling Sort, pointed out. He found Middle Englanders in the Middle Ages as tenant farmers and craftsmen in the countryside and as artisans, craftsmen and the merchant classes in the towns. Their collective activities were about reinforcing virtue and good behaviour. …

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