Wednesday, 7 April 2010

In which Mr Paul Dacre's "class war" nonsense is debunked ...

The Daily Mail has a screaming "NOW THE CLASS WAR BEGINS" front-page splash headline on Wednesday, with James Chapman's story of an election "descending into class war" based on nothing more than Gordon Brown's reference to his ordinary middle-class background in kicking off his campaign.

What total nonsense.

After all, each of David Cameron's predecessors as Conservative leader for the last forty years has made their personal class background central to their political personality, and to their argument and narrative about Britain's future.

So, Mr Dacre, did the Mail accuse Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Michael Howard of declaring class war when they did that?

As the Staggers blog reported at the time, this came up at January's Fabian new year conference in our "Will the real David Cameron please stand up" panel debate at which Tory MP Nadine Dorries argued that class "matters more than anything else in British society"

Katwala asked why talk of class was verboten in 2010. After all, Conservative leaders have long played the class card, from the grammar school boy Ted Heath, to Margaret Thatcher "the grocer's daughter", to John Major, whose famous trip down memory lane -- or rather down Electric Avenue in Brixton -- formed the basis of a party election broadcast -- and again, most recently, to Michael Howard, who chided Tony Blair across the despatch box, declaring: "This grammar school boy isn't going to take any lessons from a public school boy."

By contrast, David Cameron rightly says that where he went to school will not be the decisive factor in his claim to the premiership.

Or at least he does so except when he is arguing the opposite, as when he told the Tory party conference in 2007 that having gone to Eton made him better placed to know how to know what state schools needed so that everybody could have the quality of education he had:

"I went to a fantastic school. I’m not embarrassed about that because I had a great education and I know what a great education means. And knowing what a great education means, means there’s a better chance of getting it for all of our children, which is absolutely what I want, in this country".

If that seems a little unworldly, Cameron went on to make a similar point again in his 2009 conference speech. As John Rentoul noted at the time.

I thought it was unwise to say: "I want every child to have the chances I had." As someone was bound to comment, that is going to cost a fortune in tailcoats.

This would seem to imply that the rules are that Cameron can appeal to his background to make a political point, but that this is verboten for anybody else.

The more important issue is that, when asked whether class matters in British society (which is what he is talking about when he worries about social mobility), it is David Cameron who plays the personal card, tending to answer "I don't think people care about where I went to school".


If, however, Mr Dacre did want to identify a class warrior as premier in the last century, there would surely be one clear winner.

Wasn't it his heroine Margaret Thatcher who took on Denis Healey by arguing against tax changes on the grounds that they would affect "people born like I was with no privilege at all. It will affect us as well as the Socialist millionaires"?

And take this exchange:

'Do you know, Tony, I am so glad that I don't belong to your class?'

'Which class would that be, Prime Minister?'

'The upper middle class who can see everybody's point of view but have no view of their own'

That conversation with Margaret Thatcher was reported by her foreign affairs advisor Sir Anthony Parsons in the BBC Thatcher years series in 1993.

In recounting that in his book The Prime Minister, Peter Hennessey suggests that, along with her 1996 Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture extolling the virtues of the middle-classes, Thatcher had a good claim to be the closest thing Britain has had to a class warrior in number 10 Downing Street during the post-war period.

But perhaps that would be the kind of class war that Paul Dacre's Daily Mail approves of.


john b said...

It's also quite breathtaking that the Daily Mail has managed to take Gordon Brown coming out as in favour of the middle class (ie "its readers") as Evil Class War. The Daily Mirror has a hell of a lot more grounds for outrage on that one...

Guido Fawkes said...

Evil Fabians have waged war on the tax paying, property owning middle classes for a century.

Ironic really since you are over-whelmingly middle class. It is some kind of self-loathing.

Mazza1230 said...

It would appear that the only people too blind to see that they are waging a class war are the Left, who are waging it.........

james said...

"Evil Fabians have waged war on the tax paying, property owning middle classes for a century."

It always amazes me how Tories can't grasp that middle class people have very little wealth or property compared to those above them - the super-rich.

It's either an inability to understand another viewpoint - or, like the Daily Mail's ludicrous headlines - an attempt to convince those on middle incomes that their interests are aligned with plutocrats.

Perhaps the most effective class war has been that of the rich - their incomes have soared in comparison to those on middle or low incomes who actually generate wealth. That corporate placemen and financial speculators came to be known as "wealth creators" - rather than their employees - shows you who's winning the class war these days!