Magazine article The Spectator

Why Are We Still Obsessed with Class?

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Are We Still Obsessed with Class?

Article excerpt

LIFE too badly in the international league tables.

I f you measure inter-generational social mobility according to occupation (typically a seven-class model with 'higher managerial and professional' at the top and 'routine' at the bottom), Britain sits somewhere in the middle of the table of developed countries, level-pegging with Germany.

True, if you measure social mobility by income instead, Britain fares worse. But even according to that metric, we're still not the most classbound society in the developed world.

Not as class-bound as America, for instance.

So the leftie's explanation for why class is back at the forefront of our minds - and his crude analysis of what motivates senior Conservative politicians - is wrong. This government is as committed as the previous one to extending opportunities, with E xhibit A in the case for the defence being Michael Gove's education reforms. As a nation, we remain obsessed with class in spite of our track record on social mobility, not because of it.

I think it has more to do with psychology than sociology. When we think about ourselves as a people, we quickly fall back on class stereotypes, not least because they're so familiar to us from our literary classics, our great works of drama, our favourite films and television shows, etc.

I t's as if British public life is a shadow play, an echo of another, more vivid comedy drama in which the toffs and the plebs are constantly battling it out. When we look at figures like David Cameron and E d Miliband, the nuances of their particular backgrounds don't register, and, instead, we cast them as A t a lunch party last Sunday with a group of journalists, the conversation inevitably turned to class and how this ancient E nglish obsession has come to dominate the political news agenda.

I t's now such a hot topic that the moment a member of the government does anything that can be construed as remotely snobbish - such as sit in a first-class carriage with a standard-class ticket - he is guaranteed to appear on the front pages the following day.

F or a leftie, the answer is obvious. We live in the most class-bound society in the developed world and this government of millionaires, led by a toffee-nosed public schoolboy, is determined to make it even more so. That's the barely concealed agenda behind raising university tuition fees, cutting the E ducation Maintenance Allowance, reducing the top rate of income tax, protecting the City of London and slashing benefits. …

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