The poor are being robbed in Labour’s class war
I suppose as a politician you must get used to humbug, hypocrisy and sickening opportunism, but when Gordon Brown stood up and announced to the Labour Party conference that the chief defect of David Cameron, as Tory leader, was that he was “an old Etonian”, I am afraid I almost blew a gasket.
It’s not just that I, too, had the joy of attending the Fettes of England. It is not the sheer chippiness I resent. It is not his pathetic attempt to curry favour with his rank-and-file followers by making snide remarks about an opponent’s background, when he is himself the son of the manse and the beneficiary of one of the finest educations this country can provide, at one of its very poshest universities.
It is the rank dishonesty of the Chancellor I dislike. He is attempting to re-open a class divide that long ago disappeared, and he and his party are refusing to admit the existence of the real divide in our society.
That divide is not between the two front benches – both now bristling with Oxbridge degrees and public school educations. The real divide is between the entire class of people now reposing their fat behinds on the green and red benches in the Palace of Westminster, and the bottom 20 per cent of society – the group that supplies us with the chavs, the losers, the burglars, the drug addicts and the 70,000 people who are lost in our prisons and learning nothing except how to become more effective criminals.
Look at those Labour benches these days. Once they were full of swarf-scarred shop stewards, miners, dockers, people with a real claim to represent the old working class. Now they have hardly anyone left except John Prescott, who was, as he never tires of telling us, a waiter with Cunard. They are university lecturers, and lobbyists, former heads of the Child Poverty Action Group, and ex-Guardian hacks, and think-tank wallahs, and lawyers, lawyers, lawyers.
In other words they are almost all of them, Gordon included, as much members of the smug middle classes as the people on the Tory benches opposite. Which is not demographically surprising, when you consider what has happened to the old working class, and how it has shrunk in the past 30 years.
If you took the socio-economic profile of Britain and plotted it on a graph, it would look like a bowler hat, or a python that has swallowed an elephant. The right-hand brim would represent the super-rich. The super-rich will always be with us. They are mainly harmless. They may very occasionally raid the pension funds of companies they own, but they share that nasty habit with the Chancellor, and unlike the Chancellor they normally end up in jail for their misdemeanours.
In the middle we have the huge mass of the middle classes, in which category we find about 80 per cent of society, including, for what it is worth, large numbers of former aristocrats who must work like crazy to keep the punters coming to see their mazes and dungeons. Of course it is tough being middle class, and we all have to struggle against the depredations of the Chancellor.
But it is the left-hand brim that should concern us most, and that should worry the Chancellor most. What is Labour doing for these people? Very little, except to keep them exactly where they are, on their run-down estates, voting Labour in the deluded hope of bigger hand-outs.
It is one of the most depressing statistical features of modern Britain that social mobility has declined in the past 10 years, and is getting worse. Most social and economic historians would agree that the Thatcherian revolution of the 1980s was a liberating event for millions of people in the old working classes, who not only bought their own houses but also shares, and a stake in Britain’s economic growth. They moved on up. Now the canals of opportunity are freezing up again; the ladders are being kicked away.
A recent LSE study found that Britain was the most socially immobile of eight similar advanced western countries, the others being Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and the US. The overwhelming explanation cited was disparity in educational opportunity, and the increasing link between family income and educational achievement. As we all know, there has been a huge expansion in higher education in this country, and Gordon and Tony will not rest until 50 per cent of the population receive it. But this expansion has overwhelmingly benefited the middle classes, and especially the rich.
Graduation rates for the richest fifth of society have risen from 20 per cent to 47 per cent. Among the poorest fifth of society, the number of university graduates has barely moved, from six per cent to nine per cent. In fact, the sheer profusion of degrees of one kind or another is now acting as a new barrier to those who don’t have one.
You used to be able to work your way up from the post-room to the boardroom. But we no longer have a culture of in-work training. We no longer have apprenticeships. We have a myriad of degrees in every subject from media studies to windsurfing, and for those who do not have them that can now be a disadvantage.
Then there is Labour’s continuing ideological hatred of grammar schools, and selection, and the opportunities these provided for brilliant children from the very poorest backgrounds. I find it physically sick-making that Labour members and supporters, such as Polly Toynbee, can campaign stridently against selection in the maintained sector, yet send their children to fee-paying schools.
More and more of these middle-class Labour Left-wing bossyboots send their children to the most privileged and expensive schools in the country. If you doubt my testimony, read Andy McSmith’s article in this week’s superselling Spectator. What else are the Labour lot doing for the bottom 20 per cent, apart from hauling up the ladders of opportunity?
They are using every opportunity to boss them and make them conform to their middle-class mores. They tell them not to smoke. They tell them not to be so fat. They tell them not to drink so much. They tell them they may no longer go out with the hunt. They are so full of revulsion when they see a chav belting her kids in the supermarket that they seriously contemplate banning smacking.
They keep them snared in a super-complicated system of means-tested benefits, with its infinite disincentives to saving or work. Above all, they tax them an exorbitant proportion of their incomes. It is there that a reforming and compassionate Conservative government should begin. The real class war is not between Labour and Tory; it is in the treatment by the middle classes of the bottom 20 per cent, and it is a war being waged by Labour.
*To follow – Boris’s participation in a debate yesterday evening on the motion “Apart from Chavs – the British Have no Class”. Boris was For the argument*