Tony Blair once declared that ‘the class war is over.’ For all the man’s faults (and there are too many to list here) Blair was correct to turn Labour away from senseless class-bashing and instead focus on the deregulation that would financially benefit everyone.
The British class system is still going strong. In fact, social stratification is becoming increasingly entrenched with the income gap between the wealthiest and poorest widening each year. Indeed, inequality in the UK is at its highest since before the Second World War. The richest one per cent of people in the UK take home fifteen per cent of all income. Social mobility is little more than a pipe dream for millions.
It is sometimes forgotten that class and wealth are not the same thing. Talk of social class in political discourse is simply not helpful. One cannot help which class one is born into. The crucial factor is what a person does with his life, not where he came from.
As Margaret Thatcher once remarked, whilst the Left do seek to reduce the income gap, their method is to make the rich poorer, not to make the poor richer. In fact, this remedy will make everyone worse off. But as long as the rich lose their fancy homes and cars, the Left seem contented.
Class is frequently brought into the equation because it is convenient to blame those at the top of society, and easy to argue that wealth was stolen rather than earned. The media is keen to point out the value of ministers’ homes, or how many millionaires there are in cabinet. Yet what benefit can this yield to those living in poverty?
Labour, perhaps predictably, is exploiting this. Ed Miliband has frequently highlighted his education at a north London comprehensive, knowing that comparisons will be drawn with the cabinet’s many Old-Etonians.
But this new wave of class-warfare is not confined to the Left. Nadine Dorries famously criticised Cameron and Osborne for being ‘two arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk’.
It is true that the current government has not always helped itself in this regard. Taxing hot baked products such as pies and pasties, when caviar remains zero-rated for VAT, was a gift to the class-war mongers. George Osborne’s fabled first-class train journey on a standard ticket, and Andrew Mitchell’s swearing at police officers did little to help matters.
The Andrew Mitchell incident is worthy of further examination, however. It now seems unlikely that Mitchell actually used the word ‘Pleb’, but the way that Labour and much of the press jumped on the ‘Plebgate’ bandwagon provides a fine example of how entrenched classism has become.
The cost of Classism
But class-warfare, whether waged by politicians or the media, merely diverts attention from those living in deprivation. Instead of focusing on ‘toffs at the top’, political discourse should be based on how best to deal with Britain’s growing underclass.
The August 2011 riots across England brought the frustrations of social deprivation – and the fact that it is ignored by politicians of all colours – to the surface. Tottenham, which saw some of the worst rioting, has the highest unemployment rate in London and the eighth highest in the UK.
Boris Johnson was correct to say that the vast majority of looting was down to mere opportunism. After all, iPods and Playstations are hardly essential items. But some Conservatives were disingenuous in trying to deflect from the fact that the root cause lay in social deprivation.
According to the Child Poverty Action Group, there are 3.6 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That amounts to 27 per cent of children, or more than one in four.
The key to social mobility is not tied up with class, as the Left would have us believe. Rather, the key is that ugly word: ‘networking.’ The middle-classes flourish, not because of their class, but because they frequently have a plethora of useful contacts to utilise.
Social deprivation and poverty are age-old problems which can never be fully eradicated. However, the current fashion of sweeping such issues ‘under the carpet’ must come to an end. Classism, like ‘banker-bashing’ before it, merely allows this to happen.
It is time for a positive political discourse which seeks to help those at the bottom, rather than a negative one which attacks those at the top.