Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

I've just put £25 on Lady C to win I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here . At 25/1, I reckon it's quite a good bet. For those not watching the 15th series of the jungle reality show, Lady C is Lady Colin Campbell, a self-proclaimed 'socialite' and author of several royal biographies. Some of her fellow contestants, such as ex-Spandau Ballet frontman Tony Hadley, have accused her of not being a 'real lady', but they don't have a clue, obviously. They mean she swears a lot, which hardly disqualifies her from being a toff. As it happens, her aristocratic credentials are a bit dubious -- her title derives from her brief marriage to a relative of the Duke of Argyll - but she seems to delight in conforming to the upper-class stereo-type. When she did her first Bushtucker Trial, she apologised to Ant and Dec for not wearing her pearls, and she refers to Hadley as a 'chippy oik'. Like Boris, she's a pantomime toff, someone who exaggerates their poshness for theatrical effect, and the viewers seem to be lapping it up.

This confirms my theory that any antipathy the British public feels towards the upper class has dwindled away to almost nothing. Following Labour's triumph at the 1945 general election, the aristocracy became convinced that the nation had been seized by revolutionary fervour and embarked on a frantic public relations offensive. Stately homes were demolished, accents were played down and ostentatious displays of wealth became taboo. As Nancy Mitford put it in her famous essay on the subject in 1956: 'The English lord has been nurtured on the land and is conversant with the cunning ways of the animal kingdom. He has often seen the grouse settle into the heather to rise and be shot at no more.'

Whether as a result of this strategy or not, no serious attempt to redistribute wealth has taken place since the Attlee administration. One of the most striking facts about post-war politics is that if you discount the three victories won by Tony Blair -- who was about as left-wing as David Steel -- Labour hasn't won a general election since October 1974 and that barely counted. Without Blair, Labour hasn't won a convincing majority since 1966, almost 50 years ago. The politics of envy has failed. …

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