Class Does Matter – And Should 148

The media and political classes like to tell us that we are now a classless society. Class should no longer be a factor in politics. Measures aimed at fairness are a sign of “the politics of envy”. Everybody should realise that fatcat bankers stashing away their £100 million pa incomes in tax havens magically benefit everybody.

Yet of course class does exist and really does matter. For a lesson in class in Britain I only have to walk out of leaf lined Whitehall Gardens, down the hill and into the South Acton estate. Four hundred yards but an entirely different world. With entirely different voting patterns, too. Class remains an important factor in the election. The working class – much of which has no prospect of work – still clings to New Labour.

Not only does class matter, it is more rigid than ever. The UK has the lowest social mobility of any developed country.

It also has the biggest gap between rich and poor of any developed country except the United States. The gap between wealth and poor grew larger under New Labour at an accelerating rate. In fact we are catching the US up, and the wealth gap under New Labour grew much faster than under Thatcher, indeed at the fastest rate since it has been possible to measure it. When Mandelson said he was “Extremely relaxed about the filthy rich” he really meant it. The government’s enslavement to the city, deregulation and worship of Mammon has had spectacular ill results.

This lack of social mobility is a product of social attitude as much as structure. Anybody who has moved around the higher echelons of the City and of government will know that there is a nexus of family, school, and Oxbridge college relationships that greases the path of commercial and political transaction. Similar systems work in every country, but it is stronger here. To get the finance for my African project, I used the services of a man whose entire value was that he was at Oxford, a minor aristocrat, dines at the Wolseley and knows everybody. He could get me in the door of the merchant banks and seen at decision making level. He had no other qualification and had never done any succesful business himself. He lives off introduction fees. Others are able to make better use of their opportunities but I tell the story to illustrate a simple truth about this country. It is who you know that counts.

With such a huge wealth gap and with almost no social mobility, class resentment in the UK is not just natural, it is needed. The irony is that it is the Conservatives who are set to suffer and New Labour to benefit. The only desire of the New Labour leadership was to insert themselves into the gilded circle – into which Blair was anyway born – and get troughing. But New Labour voters still do not see that, not least because they are kept in such a pit of poorly schooled, reality TV-fed ignorance.

Cameron has made the crucial mistake of surrounding himself with fellow toffs. Thatcher was not one and had Tebbit as her self evidently non upper class attack dog. Major was not one either and was backed up by blokey Ken Clarke. I can only imagine that Cameron surrounded himself by an entire front bench of public school yaahs because that is the company in which he feels comfortable. But most people like their subservience to a ruling class they cannot join not to be rubbed in their faces quite so obviously.

Huge puzzlement is being expressed all over the media and blogosphere about how the Tory lead can have narrowed so much. There is your answer.

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148 thoughts on “Class Does Matter – And Should

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  • MJ

    technicolor: there’s only one prog-rock band worth bothering with these days. King Crimson.

  • MJ

    “They also gate-crashed the Savoy in protest at the elite’s extravagance there in the war years”.

    Yes, and as a result it was made illegal during the war years for posh restaurants to charge more than 5 shillings for a meal, ending conspicuous extravagence in this regard virtually overnight.

  • technicolour

    Ok, MJ, thanks, will try (icon with sunglasses) Meantime, could you answer my question about knee-jerk left-wing support for Israel (full text above). I’m interested, not defensive!

  • MJ

    technicolor: I’ll be happy to – a bit later. It’s quite complicated and I’ve just had a couple of glasses of wine with my dinner…

  • Freeborn

    Quadrophenia? The Who-too much like bloody oiks,man.Though Townsend sounds well-spoken;Daltrey was or claimed to be from a more McVicar(w.c.)-at least he said he did when he played him in the movie-background.The only other one I remember the name of is John Entwhistle-could be w.c.?

    Their sound was a bit primitive and they were “commercial” which was a fatal flaw for a lot of us back in those days.

    Do a commercial single and you alienated your whole fan base.Zep were above that.In fact they were so arrogant they put out an album that didn’t even have their name on it:the “Runes” LP or Led Zep IV.

    Atlantic were mortified naturally but with a fan base as huge as Zep’s they needn’t have worried! It sold and went platinum,silver then gold troppo rapido like the rest of them containing as it did classic tracks like Stairway To Heaven.

    Led Zep had a mystique and aura about them that came from their deliberately eschewing patently commercial ventures.Ironically the Top of the Pops show always started with an instrumental version of their signature tune Whole Lotta Love.It was a show which they made a virtue of never deigning to appear on.

    Paradoxically the non-commercial strategy studiously followed by all these bands was a modus operandi that ensured that they became very rich indeed!

    When Bonham died on a mammoth binge in 1982 it was found he’d bought up huge swathes of arable land across Wiltshire though typically for the time he died intestate.

    Earls Court,1975-I was there.Zep came out of the folk-blues scene.They could be acoustic or killingly powerful,especially with Bonham on drums.

    I don’t think any of them were working class.John Paul Jones was public school and I suspect the other three were grammar school.They were all quite posh,really.Certainly not Mods!

    Nodder Holder,a Wolverhampton lad who went on to find fame with Slade was like the rest of the “suede-heads”/two-toners-working class.They were all former roadies for Zep!

    Anyway back to the working class.What happened to all the strikes they won,the yoof cultures that made British life so vibrant,the radical heroes?

    All gone….wait while I write an Obit for the working class!

    My Obit would certainly NOT include words like “beautiful”.Their women are not worth looking at after they’ve hit 25.Remember Christine Keeler or Anita Pallenberg-they deteriorated big time, dude.

    And the blokes? Fuckin’ hideous-all tattoos,pig ignorant with big chips on their shoulders!

    Beautiful they are not.Techni-you sound like some aging hippie stoned on pot,man! In fact you’d have to be on something to find them beautiful.Why do you think Lowry painted them from a distance as matchsticks for God’s sake?

    Beautiful my arse!

    juniper saw you off,mate.I wouldn’t be surprised if that guy is a sort of Henry Louis Gates professor type pretending to be…..working class!

    One things for sure-juniper’s a dark horse-forgive the pun P.C. police.LOL!

  • Suhayl Saadi

    The Small Faces, The Artwoods (Keef Hartley, John Lord), The Birds (Ron Wood), The Creation, The Action, The Steampacket (with ‘Rod the Mod’ Stewart, Julie Driscoll-now-Tippets and Long John Baldry), The Syndicats (Steve Howe), David Jones (Bowie) and the Mannish Boys were all Mod groups. There were many more. Some of them were a mixture of working class and middle class, but they were basically working class guys who might’ve been to Art School, that was the ’60s route. Marc Bolan was a London Jewish lad and was also a Mod; a lot of Jewish guys who were into the scene at all were Mods in London. In other words, it was very mixed. The Mods listened to Jamaican and US ‘black’ music.

    Zep were fantastic. I never saw them live though. The occult stuff was a bit freaky – they toned that down after Plant’s young son died, I think.

    ‘Whole Lotta Love’ for TOTP was Alexis Korner’s (instrumental) version of their song.

    Terry Reid ought to have been the lead singer; famously, he also turned-down the offer of being lead singer in Deep Purple, Mark II; it went to Ian Gillan instead. But Plant made it his own. ‘Kashmir’ is paradise. The song, that is. Did you get the Page-Plant-Moroccan musicians album from 1994?

  • Steelback


    Piratin was Jewish and you’re an ANTI-SEMITE,right?

    Reckon these guys have got egg on their faces! That Franfurt conditioning screwed up their powers of perception big time!

    Interestingly there were of course Jews on Moseley’s side too.Gershon Mendelof more popularly known as Kid Lewis the boxer as well fighting professionally at Olympia may also have been one of Moseley’s notorious bouncers on the night of the infamous fascist rally there in 1936.

    It was Piratin’s experience of seeing leftists brutally ejected from the arena on that night that led him to join the CPB.

    Kid Lewis’s fascist involvement is not mentioned in his wiki entry but he was one of Moseley’s “Biff-Boy” bodyguards.

    When Lewis finally wised up to Moseley’s anti-semitism he paid him a visit and all Hell broke loose:

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Pallenburg was Italian-German and was not working-class. The drugs and demonia did for her. James Fox (actor) has an interesting tale to tell about her. ‘Performance’ was a great film, I thought. I was had the privilege of meeting the producer, Sandy Lieberson; the co-director, a Scot named Donald Cammell, much later shot himself in the head.

    You really can’t generalise about the majority of British people in that way, well you can, but it’s not accurate.

    People know what’s going on. Yeah, sure there are idiots and systemic social decay, etc., as well a reduction in effective literacy and Lennon’s Working Class Hero-dynamic was alive even then and now it’s the norm, we all know this, and the ‘organised’ Left is not a mass movement any more, but really it’s the educated, chattering middle classes in Britain who’ve been brainwashed most completely. Anyone who’s had contact with actual people will come to realise this.

    Cynicism is a natural, but defeatist, position to take. You have to adopt the long view. Read the last paragraph of ‘Middlemarch’.

    Yes, humanity, and human history, is full of paradox. So, there are Bedouin Arabs (Muslims) who fight in the Israeli Army and there is (one) Sikh who has joined the BNP. There’s also of course the ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ (Franz Fanon) phenomenon in Africa. The collusion b/w Zionists and Nazis has been alluded to elsewhere on this blog. Some American Indian tribes had black slaves; divide-and-rule meant that some tribes fought with the Confederate Army during the US Civil War. But then, Indians fought with the British Army in Africa, etc. The Romans did it too – Syrian troops on Hadrian’s Wall and British troops in Syria.

    The miners’ strike was emblematic. The Notts miners and the dockers did not display solidarity. MI5 had infiltrated the highest levels of the NUM; in retrospect, the miners didn’t have a chance. One thinks of names like Kim Howells (allegedly) and Roger Windsor (allegedly). Mick McGahey, an honourable man, was a victim of MI5; his hotel room in London was bugged. Scargill, too, dirty tricks were played against him constantly. The govt were ready to call in The Army, though. I remember our car being stopped by the police somewhere in eastern England and the cops asking whether we were miners. Did we look like miners…? I remember being shocked at the time. The cops were preventing people from traveling from A to B to C. That was the beginning of the in-yer-face security state we have now. ‘The enemy within’, as Thatcher called it.

  • MJ

    “Did you get the Page-Plant-Moroccan musicians album from 1994?”

    I did. Still play it. The version of Kashmir is sublime. Ditto the radically rejigged version of Nobody’s Fault But Mine off Presence.

  • MJ

    “The govt were ready to call in The Army”

    The army was called in, according to quite strong anecdotal evidence. Several miners reported seeing brothers, cousins etc who were in the armed forces, dressed in police uniforms alongside the regular police.

  • Ruth

    ‘…it’s the educated, chattering middle classes in Britain who’ve been brainwashed most completely.’

    This is exactly what I’ve found though there are exceptions, some who know exactly what’s going and getting prepared. But the majority live in a world that has no place in reality. Their trust is almost absolute in the ultimate benevolence of their government. And this is how the government gets away with individual and mass murder, torture, theft of their taxes through setting up VAT carousel frauds, etc, etc

  • technicolour

    Oh I see, now it’s the ‘educated chattering classes’ who’ve been brainwashed & are to blame. Not the ‘toffs’. Or as Steelback would have it, the working class heffer lumps.

    I guess all you people must be pretty pleased with yourselves. I wish I belonged in a ‘not them’ group too.


  • Ruth

    technicolour: Why on earth should I be pleased with myself? My particular well being is of little significance compared to those murdered, imprisoned and brutalised by our government.

    I must say that in my experience if you challenge someone from the middle classes with the proposition that the government was involved say in the July bombings they get very tetchy and feel personally attacked whereras if you discuss the matter with someone from Europe you get a reasonable response.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    I don’t think one can ‘blame’ a whole demographic, that wasn’t my point, technicolour. In some ways, perhaps we’re all to ‘blame’. I’ve just had so many tiring and dispiriting conversations with highly educated people (people like me!) who seem to find all kinds of convoluted reasons for assigning benificence to the state on a particular issue when an outside observer – even sometimes one with a lot less education, etc. – might have had no hesitation in cutting through the fog and seing reality for what it is. They used to call it ‘false consciousness’. It’s not the preserve of any single demographic group, of course, and it manifests in different ways across the social spectrum. Btw, this specific dynamic doesn’t just apply to the UK, though it’s rather well-developed here. I guess it’s always easier to spot the faults of ‘others’. I certainly don’t have a monopoly on truth (!) and am learning (or at least am trying to) all the time.

  • Tony S

    This is what people are being asked to post on their Facebook page:

    “If you work for British Airways and have been on strike this week, next time you see a soldier who’s returned from Afghanistan make sure you tell him/her about your awful working conditions, poor uniform and low pay!!! Let me know how you get on!!! Copy and paste this for all our troops!!”

  • technicolour

    Ruth, on the contrary, I think your well-being is rather important. I’m not sure what the July bombings have to do with anything, but when you say ‘middle classes’ I think of the two women who started Greenham Common. Perhaps people just don’t want to hear about the July bombings on top of everything?

    Suhayl: I understand. I do find generalisations about classes reductive and frustrating. And once one disposes of the toffs, the bourgeoisie and the hoi polloi, as this thread was starting to, there’s no one left to talk to.

    I think you’re right, and people in the UK tend to assume the government’s benificence; possibly because people are fairly decent on the whole, so they tend to assume it in others. On the other hand, of course, people who benefit most from the state of affairs are those most likely to try and support it.

    Strange, because the state of affairs is clearly insupportable, and we are all going down together. I suppose the ‘false consciousness’ could be protective colouration. I increasingly feel quite sorry for everyone in this awful mess, including the people who are trying to tell themselves that 2 plus 2 equals 5.

    Have a very good day, everyone. Can recommend Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine for refreshment.

  • Tony S

    In today’s world, the ruling class has become pretty much invisible. The most powerful way they stop the stop us from turning against them is by using immigrants and ethnic minorities as scapegoats for the social and economic problems they have created. That’s why Malcolm X was spot on when he said you can’t have capitalism without racism.

    Well,it might be possible to have genuine capitalism without racism but – as Noam Chomsky points out – the rich and powerful would never allow genuine capitalism to evolve and thrive.

    Vis-a-vis, they will continue to use the divide and rule tactic that Malcolm X alluded to, as the gap between the rich and the poor gets even wider.

    Do you agree?

  • Jon

    @Tony_S, regarding your Facebook phrase, it is designed to generate a culture that is anti-union and pro-Afghanistan-war, even for posters who are not specifically either of these things.

    Accordingly, I won’t be posting it. It may be a meme started by the right-wing tabloids anyway.

  • Roderick Russell

    Tony S ?” I agree that Racism and free market capitalism are incompatible, since free market capitalism (by free market capitalism I don’t mean Crony Capitalism as practiced in The City, or Gangster Capitalism, or Corporatist forms of Monopoly Capitalism) by definition requires an economic meritocracy and is colour blind. May I refer you to my comments, above, at March 26, 2010 4:08 PM, about meritocracy. Responding to your quote “the rich and powerful would never allow genuine capitalism to evolve and thrive.” All I can say is that they would have no choice if the people had the courage to demand real democracy. Indeed in a real democracy I would expect Trade Unionism to thrive, and I doubt there would be many wars.

  • Roderick Russell

    Jimmy Giro – If you want decentralized control, then free market capitalism is about as good as it gets ?” though I have no problem with cooperative ownership either. I grew up on Clydeside proud of the great shipbuilding and (engineering) high tech centre that Glasgow was in these days (I’m 63). I was aware that these great industries had been built up by free market capitalism (with strong trade unionism also) and that by 1912 the Glasgow worker had the highest standard of living of any worker in the world. By 1980 his standard of living was the second lowest in the EU, after Naples. So, what went wrong? Centralized London control by people who knew damn all; excessive regulation; high taxes that stopped investment in new plant and machinery so that the industry became severally decapitalized and quickly became old fashioned. So what did the workers and management do ?” get together to push for low taxes so that one could reinvest, an end to London control? No. They fought each other like cats and dogs, and killed the industry. And where did the investment money go ?” it fled into tax havens with the help of the City and got reinvested overseas. Talk about cooking the goose.

  • JimmyGiro

    I sympathise Rod, but the brutal truth is that the customer is always right; hence highly paid workers, and unions to protect their wages, lead to expensive products, which leads to lower market value.

  • Roderick Russell

    JimmyGiro – When I first came to North America in the mid 1970’s I bough a North American Car (a Pontiac Grand Priz). It was bigger and better and faster than a Jaguar, and yet it cost less that the Mini I had had in the UK. Despite its cheap price, the workers in Detroit (who built it) were making far more than the British car workers who had build my Mini. Why – higher productivity, lower taxes (which is a cost), lower cost of capital leading to much higher capital investment. It seemed to me that the moral of the story was that free market capitalism had led not only to better wages for workers, but also to better and cheaper products for the consumer. Then look at Clydside’s decline. The main beneficiaries were the Japanese who were actually paying their workers better wages than the Glasgow shipyard worker at the time. Of course I am only referring to industries that can operate in a free market environment: I favour public ownership for monopolies ?” water, rail, etc.

  • JimmyGiro

    Britain paid for ww2; USA had to build Fort Knox, just to house Britain’s gold.

    Guess who could afford to pay their workers, and who couldn’t?

  • Roderick Russell

    Not just ww2, Britain paid for ww1 as well and bankrupted itself in the process. But putting sky high taxes on British industry and the British worker didn’t make things better, it made them worse. With the help of the City of London, the capital simply disappeared offshore (it didn’t hang around to pay punitive taxes). The formula worked this way. Sky high taxes from Whitehall & Westminster (highest marginal rate up to 97.5% at one point) which killed industry by stopping investment, and caused friction between workers and management. Did the money that was not invested in the UK then go to pay the US debt – not bloody likely. The City funneled a good portion of it offshore through tax havens. Exchange controls – No problem at all for those with the right connections !

    It is less that a decade since Britain finally settled its massive war debt overhang; but with the recent banking crisis the City has done it again burdening Britain for generations to come.

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