Two arrogant posh boys? Time to stop the inverted snobbery
When Conservative MP Nadine Dorries described her own party’s leadership as “two arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk “ on BBC2’s Daily Politics Show earlier this week, she declared open class war in the media, prompting yet another run of editorials and comment pieces condemning the toffs at the top.
If there’s one thing everyone can seemingly agree on, it’s that David Cameron and George Osborne are posh. Osborne is the heir apparent to the Osborne Baronetcy of Ballentaylor and Ballylemon, and is the son of a man, Sir Peter Osborne, who has recently declared that he is about to spend £19,000 on a desk.
Cameron is probably one of the few people in Britain who wouldn’t be regurgitating a wishful family urban myth when he claims to be a direct descendant of William IV.
Their infamous Bullingdon Club photographs pop up regularly alongside news stories about everything from the riots to the budget, Osborne sporting an icy stare and Cameron a vacant one, much like they would come to look twenty years later in the Commons.
But odd as it is to find myself defending arguably the most socially divisive political leadership team in recent British history, I find this constant attack on their social origins both unpleasant and counterproductive. There are many reasons to criticise this pair, but in a genuine meritocracy, people should be judged by their actions and not by their background, whatever it may be. Inverted snobbery, with its incessant focus on social standing is not a million miles away from its more repellent cousin.
It is often said that the English are obsessed with class, but this isn’t the whole truth. In my opinion, a more accurate picture would be that a tiny sliver of the self-loathing middle class is unduly pre-occupied by the class system’s inbuilt intricacies and trip- wires. The vast majority of the rest of the country couldn’t care less.
With the virtual disappearance of a politicised working class in Britain, for most people, there are just two social classes: Posh and Not Posh. In the minds of most voters, Cameron and Osborne obviously fit into the first category, but then so does every Member of Parliament (including Nadine Dorries, despite her much vaunted council estate origins) not to mention every journalist, every reader of broadsheet newspapers and indeed every person who genuinely expends any real energy dwelling on the issue of class in the first place.
The average voter does not make a distinction between George Osborne, braying-son-of-a-£19,000-desk-buying- baronet-posh and say, Ed Milliband, nasal-son-of-a-Marxist-academic posh. And they probably don’t care.
The middle classes have long seen detailed social stratification as an endlessly fascinating hobby. The only major difference between the twenty first century political scene and an episode of Downton Abbey is that the aim of the game has been reversed. We’re still just as obsessed with class and social standing as we ever were. But until recently, people generally used their knowledge of class markers to appear posher than they actually were. Now they use them to appear less posh.
Nowadays, poshness is, frankly, an embarrassment. There are few things more silly than a couple of members of the ruling class engaged in a game of ‘class one-downmanship’: “oh you went to Eton did you? I only went to a minor private school, you know, a cheap one, so therefore my life is like an episode of the Wire and you are……POSH! Kerpow! I win!”
In this climate of inverted snobbery, politicians feel compelled to constantly assert how ‘un-posh’ they are, however far this drifts from any discernable reality. No matter how often Cameron insists that he regularly treats himself to railway station pasties or does the family shop at Sainsbury’s in Chipping Norton (it’s a measure of his inherent poshness that he thinks the latter could possibly be seen as a signifier of life in the ‘hood) we will never think of him or his sidekick as anything other than braying twin Lord Snooties. And frankly, this shouldn’t matter.
History shows, the poshness or otherwise of a politician isn’t necessarily any reliable indicator of their policies. William Beveridge and Clement Attlee, creators of the NHS, were public school boys. Margaret Thatcher (Milk Snatcher) was a grocer’s daughter and grammar school girl. Blair attended Fettes, Scotland’s answer to Eton, while William Hague went to Wath Upon Dearne Comprehensive. Slavery was both perpetuated and abolished by posh boys. Even Nadine Dorries, for all her complaining, has a weak voting record on actual practical measures to counteract the prevalence of ‘posh boys’ in positions of influence, having failed to ever vote on the removal of hereditary peers from the Lords, for example.
There is clearly a problem with the social mix of our elected representatives, which needs to be addressed. But this is a deeper problem, borne of inequality of opportunity, and one which needs to be tackled by well thought out policy rather than by name-calling.
Cameron and Osborne can’t help that they are posh, any more than anyone can help their social background. What they can help, is that they are creating a barrage of policies that poisonously favour the posh over everyone else. That, rather than where they went to school, is what we should be getting fired up about.Tagged in: Bullingdon Club, Classical music, conservative, david cameron, george osborne, Nadine Dorries, two arrogant posh boys
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