I see there’s much chortling over the fact that Rishi Sunak once said he had no working-class friends.
It was in 2001, for a BBC series called Middle Classes: Their Rise and Sprawl. In a resurfaced clip, Sunak, who would have been 21 at the time, says: ‘I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are working class… well, not working class.’
It’s the way he swiftly corrects himself when he says he has working-class mates that has got people going. It’s the speediest of self-corrections. It’s like he suddenly thinks to himself: ‘Oh God, no — I don’t associate with those people.’
‘Gotcha!’, the social-media set is saying. The clip has gone insanely viral. It’s even been covered in some of the papers. Tory-bashing online lefties are all saying the same thing: that this 21-year-old seven-second clip is hard proof that the Tories are out-of-touch poshos who’ve never met normal people.
Get a grip. Is it really surprising that Sunak wasn’t knocking back pints with working-class folk? His dad was a GP and his mother was a pharmacist. He went to Winchester College, for heaven’s sake. What was he meant to do — strike up a friendship with the blokes who mowed the lawns of his school?
We all grow up in fairly limited circles. I didn’t have a middle-class friend until I was in my very late teens. I didn’t know any Protestants when I was a kid. Were my family unforgivable sectarians? Nope, we just lived in a heavily Irish part of London. It was fine.
Our social circles sometimes broaden as we get older, thanks to work and travel and love. And sometimes they don’t. I have no idea if, after his 21st year, Sunak became buddies with a builder or a waiter or whatever, but I don’t really care either way.
I want politicians to come up with policies that will benefit the nation, not to larp as men or women of the people. Let’s not go back to the days of Blair doing glottal stops and Cameron claiming he supports West Ham (or is it Aston Villa?). We know you guys are middle and upper class — just get on with your jobs!
It is certainly true that there aren’t enough working-class voices in politics. But that problem won’t be solved by Sunak doing a photo shoot with his arm around some unfortunate roadsweeper. (I really won’t be surprised if we see something like that in the coming weeks.)
Anyway, there’s a bigger issue here, something the Rishi-bashers will never be able to face up to — which is that classism is now a more powerful force on the so-called left than it is on the right. This is the unspoken political truth of our times: a lot of what passes for leftism today isn’t class agitation, it’s class hatred.
Sure, you will occasionally hear a Tory type moan about chavs or single mums on benefits. But in my experience you are far more likely to hear a leftie rage against ‘gammon’ (non-middle-class blokes who back Brexit) and those apparently brainwashed northerners who vote Tory even though to do so goes against their own interests (allegedly).
I’ve witnessed supposed leftists and liberals having conversations about ordinary people that positively drip with contempt. They speak of ‘gammon’ (let’s just say it: pigs) being led astray by the tabloids and by Brexity demagogues as if these people are dumb, wide-eyed children.
I’ve talked to people who canvassed for the Labour Party in 2019 who have said the most awful things about the people whose doors they knocked on. They view these folk as fat, feckless borderline fascists who propelled the nation into mayhem with their vote for Leave. If only these plebs were better educated, am I right?
As for working-class communities that fly the UK flag or the flag of England — shudder. Emily Thornberry spoke for many a middle-class leftist with her tweet sneering at that house in Rochester that had three England flags in its windows and a white van in the driveway.
The dirty secret of the modern left is that they view the working classes as a grave disappointment at best — why wouldn’t you vote for Jeremy Corbyn?! — and as a racist, phobic throng at worst. They try to hide these prejudices, or doll them up in pseudo-academic language about the political suggestibility of under-educated communities, etc etc; but every now and then the prejudices burst forth.
So get off your very high horse over that Rishi clip. I have more time for politicians who have never met working-class people than I do for political activists who have and who thought they were trash.
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