The rise of Britain’s new class system

1 July 2020

7:57 PM

1 July 2020

7:57 PM

Television chef Prue Leith believes that snobbery is still rife in Britain, and that it’s keeping working-class people in their place. Speaking to the Radio Timesthis week, Leith described Britain as ‘the most unbelievably class-ridden country’.

She is right, but not for old-fashioned reasons we associate with that Frost Reportsketch with John Cleese and the Two Ronnies. Snobbery no longer emanates from the landed gentry or the social-climbing bourgeoise. The most overt snobbery today can be found coming from some on the liberal-left and that minority of Remainers who like to deride ‘gammons’. These are the people who for over three years – in the Guardian, on Radio 4’s Any Questions, BBC comedies and on Twitter – have castigated and mocked the stupid and ignorant working-class in northern England and the midlands for voting Brexit.

It’s acceptable to be openly prejudiced against the working-class in the way it isn’t along racial or gender lines because our society is no longer class-aware. While from an early age we are relentlessly told that our country is rife with racism and sexism, we are seldom taught about snobbery and class-prejudice.

Class-ignorance and outspoken class-prejudice among the affluent has hastened the demise of working-class support for the Labour party in recent years. As Labour and the left in general has become obsessed with race and gender and other woke issues, the economically left-leaning but morally conservative working-class sees the Conservative party as a better – or less worse – prospect. The perceived anti-patriotism of Jeremy Corbyn was another key factor. During his tenure left-wing commentators ceaselessly belittled and mocked Brexiteers as brainwashed ‘low information’ voters who didn’t understand what they had voted for.

By far the most insulting phrase employed today is ‘white privilege’. Many have become so consumed by racial and gender politics, they think that genitals and skin pigmentation are the only determinants of social status. This is not only contrary to the spirit of progressive politics, but astonishingly ignorant. A duchess living in a country estate probably does enjoy ‘white privilege’. An unemployed white man in Margate or Doncaster certainly does not. They are separated by vast degrees of class.

That so many on the left, which exhorted class consciousness for over a hundred years, can’t even perceive it now is one of the perverse transformations of recent decades. Even when they talk of gender inequality, it’s usually framed in terms of how much women in the boardroom earn. It’s never about women in factories. This is the ultimate legacy of the culture of identity politics that is socially aware but economically illiterate. And it has some lamentable and even devastating consequences.

In March last year, former news presenter Michael Buerk remarked that the BBC had become so preoccupied with gender balance and racial diversity that it had become less representative of the country it serves. The corporation, now dominated by the metropolitan middle-class, had become ignorant to matters that concern the working-class, because there are so few of its numbers left in its ranks. In anticipation of John Humphrys’s departure from the Today programme, Buerk remarked:

When John goes, all four of the Today programme’s regular presenters will have been privately educated, like a quite remarkable proportion of other people working for the BBC… These are more uniformly middle-class, well-educated, young, urban and bright, with little experience of – and sometimes little sympathy for – business, industry, the countryside, localness, traditions and politicians.

It’s no coincidence that the BBC has been manifestly – or as they say, ‘systemically’ – anti-Brexit in the past four years. It’s also why Mock The Week, the Now Show and other BBC comedies have spent four years contrasting industrious Polish plumbers with lazy, native Brits lounging at home watching daytime television.

Class ignorance is also why working-class boys are behind almost every other group at GCSE lvel, and why white working-class pupils in the 2010s performed worse than their BAME working-class counterparts.

Class is a problem in Britain – but our problem is that we don’t speak about it enough, or understand that it’s just as important as gender and race.

Patrick West is a columnist for Spiked and author of Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times (Societas, 2017)

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