Thursday, 11 November 2010
England used to be famous for its class system. Then around 1970 people had the idea our society was now classless. A couple of decades later, John Major claimed "We are all middle class now." But the idea of class never went away, and research organisations like Acorn and Mosaic file us all in the right drawer.
Nobody can write about the English class system without acknowledging Jilly Cooper's Class, written in the early 70s. It's observant and funny and still relevant today.
Lynda Lee-Potter's Class Act: How to Beat the British Class System is not bad either (though it borrows a lot from Cooper).
So, has class gone away? Here are some opinions.
Some of [Prince] William's circle would even whisper "doors to manual" when Miss [Kate] Middleton arrived, in a jibe at her mother being a former airline stewardess. There were even worse social sins, such as using the word "toilet" not "lavatory", saying "pleased to meet you" rather than "how do you do?", and "pardon" rather than "what?". The Daily Telegraph, 2007 Mrs Middleton allegedly said "Pleased to meet you" when she met the Queen. But all these shibboleths are from Nancy Mitford's Noblesse Oblige, written just after World War II (now out of print), and it's highly unlikely that Mrs Middleton ever said any such thing.
“If Betjeman were writing today he would find plenty of class indicators. Where you go on holiday, for instance, or whether you use a camcorder at weddings.” Philip Howard, timesonline.co.uk
But, gosh, how powerfully the English upper middle classes, concentrated in one place, impinge. Like lemon barley, I prefer them diluted with a big jugful of the rest of England. So much calculated informality; so much just-less-than-overbearing command; so much slightly self-conscious good taste; so much discreet jockeying for social edge. Matthew Paris on the Scilly Isles, Times August 13, 2009
Sir, It is sad to see class being fingered, yet again, as the culprit for scholastic achievement or lack of it. It is the parental valuing of education, and the norms of self-discipline, hard work and deferred gratification in their offspring, which lead to achievement. These values are to be found in supportive families regardless of income, status or class. As one not born in Britain, I find it saddening to see our national obsession with class becoming, if anything, more virulent than when I arrived here 40 years ago. Mary Ring, Abergavenny Times May 27 2008
Increasingly, customs are climbing up the social ladder: ear-piercing and tattooing, obviously, but also barbecuing (and eating burgers generally, but only expensive ones), thrift shopping, holidaying in Britain, swearing, racking up unsustainable personal debt, having an allotment, cycling, going to football and voting labour. ... The emerging middle-class consensus on ear-piercing, incidentally, is the summer before secondary school – late enough to signal disapproval of working-class girls who have theirs done as toddlers, not so late as to be thought dangerously illiberal. ...the chief reason for the resurgence and resilience of headlice ... is the modern habit of hugging. That is, parents hugging their children, children hugging each other. ... Once again, we have the working class, notoriously sentimental with their kids, to thank for this development which, insect propagation aside, is surely a wonderful thing. Robert Crampton Times July 2, 2008
Just when we thought that all those pesky notions of class had been eradicated from British society... Pete Clark Evening Standard August 3, 2007
We in the middle-middle class are not going to set the world on fire. But we will be the ones running the inquiries into why there weren’t enough fire engines in the area after the conflagration occurs. We are conservatives with a small “c” who prize education above all ... We are big on respect: for people and institutions. We can roll our eyes at the royals but respect the institution of monarchy because the Queen has “done a good job” and we love the history. On Sundays you’ll find us at the Natural History Museum. It is a law if you are in the middle-middle class that you join the National Trust when you have children. We are very tolerant but advocate the death penalty for litter louts. We wince if we hear someone we know raising his voice in public. We are keen on debate (occasionally about subjects other than schools) but we like it to be round the dinner table. Anyone eating a TV dinner is immediately demoted one class. We buy quality newspapers, strip our floors and are quietly rather pleased with our lot. It is for others to use the word smug. Where’s the shame in any of that? I urge all the faux working classes to learn to embrace the middle way. Times Online March 27, 2007 Damian Whitworth
New Russians want to be old English toffs. Sam Wollaston Guardian Aug 8 09
Class is dead? People looking for a £400,000 house won’t want to live on a £250,000 street, no matter how big the house is. Property expert Phil Spencer
In the Leibenstein refinement of Veblen and the Steiner-Weiss corollary, “snobbery” and then “counter-snobbery” result; that is, those fearing democratization of consumption engage in display of exotic artifacts and esoteric knowledge that can only be appreciated by those who are literate in the cultural legacy of Western civilization, ie its art, literature, music and sculpture. Then, when democratization of cultural literacy encroaches on the practice of “snobbery,” the “snob” turns to “counter-snobbery” to demarcate and elongate the social distance between themselves and the encroachers. This “counter-snobbery” consists of reversion to a simpler and more austere life style which, of course, is visibly displayed for others to admire and emulate, although the display is no longer ostentatious but pretends to be self-effacing. Rick Tilman, ed Warren J. Samuels, The Founding of Institutional Economics: The Leisure Class and Sovereignty, Routledge 1998
The narcissism of minor differences. Sigmund Freud
My friends, the class war is over! Tony Blair
More here, and links to the rest.