When John Prescott announced in 1997 "we're all middle class now", he was derided. Spookily, Prezza turned out to be right. A recent survey found that two-thirds of us now think we're middle class; just under a third rate themselves working class, and no one wanted to be considered a member of the upper class. Other research reinforces this notion of a "mainstream majority" of about half of the population, up from a third of 40 years ago. Is class important if we're in a big club? Politicians definitely think so, perhaps because middle-class voters tend to live in marginal areas and are more likely to vote. And they're worried about the effect the economic meltdown might have on their savings, their shares, their mortgages and their job prospects.
Gordon Brown is obsessed by class: he ignores his advisers and regularly makes out he's fighting some kind of class war, not a general election. He repeatedly taunts the Tories as "toffs" and announced this weekend that Labour plans to "stand up for the many". Brown thinks that voters are interested in his notion that the Tories are a bunch of upper-class, privately educated twits who cannot connect with ordinary members of the public. He could be wrong.
Although opinion polls show that David Cameron is seen as upper class and Brown as middle class, the public has a completely different take on class than politicians. We just don't think it is that important. Where MPs went to school or what their dad did for a living is no longer a key reason why we'll vote for someone. MPs also make a big mistake by constantly pretending they're middle class, like you and me. Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton whinged about the kind of people who travelled in standard class on trains, but at least he's being honest when he positions himself above hoi polloi. MPs with spouses who go out to work have combined earnings, on average, of £150,000 a year. That places them in the top 1 per cent of the population along with the toffs, and the bankers and first-class passengers.
Half of us think that class doesn't matter, and when we're asked what factors define middle class, the results are surprising. Most important is job (49 per cent); second, education; third, accent; fourth, home; and only 27 per cent of us think that income is relevant. Given that £40,000 to £60,000 a year is considered a middle-class wage, and £100,000 upper class, you can see how politicians have lost their grip on reality. With their expenses, second homes, their secretaries and research assistants, MPs are not experiencing the scrimping middle-class families are experiencing to pay for big mortgages and university fees. The biggest number of new claimants at job centres these days are the middle classes – professionals such as architects and designers, people who have studied for years and gained decent qualifications.
Just as Gordon keeps banging on about class in an old-fashioned and possibly redundant way, so Cameron tries too hard to submerge his posh roots and persuade us he's ordinary. He's trying to morph downwards from upper to lower middle class, not always very credibly. Last week he gave a ludicrous interview to a men's magazine, revealing he liked Guinness in cans, thought Sky+ was a wonderful invention and enjoyed watching darts. He then went on GMTV and expressed concern that his six-year-old daughter listened to Lily Allen. Finally, he told Woman's Hour he wouldn't appear on ITV being questioned by Piers Morgan because he'd rather do "something more substantial". What a joke. David is nothing if not fluffy. Scratch and you'll find the results of a focus group and another memo reminding him to mention pop music, sport and his favourite telly drama (Lark Rise to Candleford – bit of a worry, that). He tries too hard to tick too many boxes. Nevertheless, nice Dave Cameron is cleverly positioning himself as the champion of the self-sufficient, can-do middle classes without mentioning class.
There's another way to eliminate class. If you make services good, then the notion of two levels of comfort is redundant. Our new high-speed trains to Ashford and Dover have only one class, and they're fantastic. Clean, spacious, and quiet. Nicholas Winterton would feel very comfortable. Being middle class is ultimately about etiquette, not income, and if you treat commuters (and voters) like valued customers, then they behave accordingly.
Tiger tears: Playboys of the Western world unite
Tiger Woods's apology was nauseating – as revolting as last weekend's carefully posed pictures of fellow shagger John Terry canoodling with his long-suffering (some might say weirdly thick-skinned) wife by a hotel swimming pool in Dubai. Tiger managed to cry on cue at his invitation-only press conference (no questions allowed) in Florida, while wearing carefully chosen clothing emblazoned with the Nike logo – his main sponsor – underlining the reason why many cynics think he agreed to go through this bizarre act of self-flagellation: to salvage his business interests as well as his marriage.
There have been plenty of high-profile men who cheat on their wives, long before the age of reality telly and celebrity magazines. One of President Kennedy's former lovers, a beautiful Swedish woman 15 years his junior, is selling handwritten letters he sent her during their relationship, which started just a month before he married. Kennedy was so besotted he wanted to divorce his wife but, of course, things eventually fizzled out. I never thought I'd admit this, but Donald Trump (married three times) has been the only so-called pal of Tiger Woods who talks sense. He thinks the golfer should get divorced, return to golf and enjoy life as a playboy. Trump's verdict on sex addiction therapy? "I'm not a believer." Couldn't have put it better myself.
Common sense on the catwalk
The fashion merry-go-round continues this weekend in London, and then moves on to Milan and Paris. Marc Jacobs, one of the most influential (and successful) designers in the world, unveiled his collection in New York last week, and cleverly issued a statement beforehand decreeing that celebrities were redundant. Having eliminated the usual actresses and pop stars from his front row, the fashion press was astonished to find the clothes were – hold the front page – totally elegant and wearable.
One of the benefits of a recession is that it focuses the mind, and Mr Jacobs is nothing if not utterly commercial.
Give up silly ideas for Lent
I can't stand trendy church leaders urging us to give up stuff for Lent. Why doesn't the church do more with its property portfolio? Give up some of its assets to house the homeless, for instance? The Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev James Jones, has dreamt up something called Carbon Fast, and wants us to emit less carbon during Lent by cutting down our consumption of meat, and use less technology. I don't see how chucking away your mobile, ignoring the BlackBerry and not sending any emails for 24 hours helps the Third World. Will Self is delivering one of Radio 4's Lent talks, on the relationship between art and spirituality. That sounds a lot more thoughtful.Reuse content