Dominic Lawson: Freud knew what motivated the privileged class warriors

Any attempts by Labour to paint Cameron as 'out of touch' because of Eton are doomed

Share

Imagine this scene. The FA Cup Final is at a critical moment: with the game at 0-0 a player is bearing down on goal with every chance of scoring... when a figure in top hat and tails comes charging on the pitch and knocks the striker off the ball. The match is ruined (or so claims the side shorn of its winning chance). Yet the man responsible says his protest was justified.

He points out that he had been a very promising football player at prep school and at Eton, but that his path to professional success had been blighted by class prejudice: people like him were ridiculed, made to feel unwelcome in the game. Look, he said – when interviewed after his release from police custody – at the raw statistics. There are 20 Premier League clubs with squads averaging 40 players each. Yet how many of those 800 players were privately educated? Yes, we all know about Frank Lampard (Brentwood School); but then who? If there were a proportionate amount of Premier League players from the private sector, then there should be over 50 of them: and look at the amount of money those players earn – their weekly pay-packets make bankers look under-remunerated, it's just so unfair ... and so he went moaning on.

Such a class warrior would rightly attract derision – almost as much as the privately-educated Australian, Trenton Oldfield, whose disruption of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race could possibly have stemmed from the fact that though a keen rower in his academic days, he never got the chance to row in the annual varsity race on the Thames. As he pointed out with infallible logic, taking part in the race is barred to anyone not studying at either Oxford or Cambridge. Poor, underestimated Trenton only made it to the London School of Economics. So unfair! Though to judge from the spelling mistakes and prose style of his manifesto – with its references to the "transnational-corpo-aristocratic ruling class (invisible)" – he cannot have been among the brightest of the LSE's intake, at that.

There is nothing extraordinary in the fact that this semi-submersible class warrior himself comes from an affluent background (his parents, now divorced, can each afford homes in Sydney's most desirable areas). The history of communist revolutions is the history of middle-class intellectuals motivated not so much by love of their fellow workers ("by hand or by brain"), but hatred of their own background – or those they conveniently perceive as just above them. This can be seen with comical clarity in Oldfield's call to London's taxi-drivers to steal from their axiomatically rich customers, by taking them on the longest possible detours, or "if you clean the bathroom of a right wing professor ... never put loo paper in their bathroom" (do you think, perhaps, the author's degree from LSE was not quite the one he had hoped for?).

Of course, it would be trite to dismiss all privately-educated student revolutionaries as merely jealous third-rate intellectuals who were never up to the sort of glittering prizes achieved by ...oh, I don't know, David Cameron and Boris Johnson. There is something more going on, which Sigmund Freud memorably described in Civilisation and Its Discontents as "the narcissism of minor differences". He invented this term to explain the feuding between closely-related peoples: "like the Spaniards and the Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and the South Germans, the English and the Scots, and so on." Freud's point was that the feuds were necessary for such people to feel superior to their immediate neighbour, although the outsider would scratch his head to discern any real difference at all.

Similarly, Trenton Oldfield's claims to be radically different from the students representing Oxford and Cambridge in the sport he once loved, would be seen as meaningless –if not preposterous – by the countless millions for whom the LSE is as remote from their own lives as those more ancient seats of learning. This, in part, is what dooms to irrelevance any attempt by the middle-class figures who now dominate the Labour party to paint Cameron as "out of touch" just because of his education at Eton: for the overwhelming majority of the British people, the Oxford-educated Eds Miliband and Balls will seem as remote from their lives. I suspect that the average voter – not that there is such a person, exactly – would see all Westminster politicians as a kind of political class apart, something George Galloway has recently exploited with characteristic brio.

This fact was made clear, in a different way, at an earlier by-election in Crewe and Nantwich four years ago. The Labour Party sent activists dressed up in Eton top hat and tails to stalk the Tory candidate, Edward Timpson, whose family are the wealthy founder-owners of the Timpson shoe-repair and key-cutting business. This attempt to foment old-style class war failed spectacularly, not least because the Labour candidate, Tamsin Dunwoody, was the third generation of Labour establishment politicians.

A similar misjudgement was evident in the campaign by a number of Guardian columnists against Boris Johnson in his first London mayoral campaign against Ken Livingstone. It was not Johnson's politics which most offended these august members of the left-wing commentariat but the fact that he had once been a member of the socially pretentious Bullingdon Club, and that he continues to talk like a character out of a PG Wodehouse novel ("Cripes!" etc).

Yet in ultra-metropolitan, socially diverse, multi-cultural London, this seemed hardly to matter to the voters at all: if anything they rather admired Johnson's willingness to use his knowledge of Ancient Rome as a source of metaphor and political argument. The point was that these columnists were themselves privately educated – and Boris Johnson is exactly the sort of person they would have most wanted to distinguish themselves from at university. This was Freud's narcissism of minor differences in full force-and as usual, the vast majority of people outside this narrow social loop couldn't see what all the fuss was about, and certainly wouldn't have thought it had any relevance to their own day-to-day concerns.

The same applies to Trenton Oldfield's solipsistic excursion on the Thames. On the other hand, it at least helped to expose the intellectual shoddiness of a certain brand of eternal student politics: so he's done something useful, despite himself.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Administrator - Swedish Speaking

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

What Lord Myners tells us about the Royal Mail sell-off shows just how good the City is at looking after itself

Chris Blackhurst
Police are called to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, a busy plaza in the heart of the city  

After the Sydney Siege, would Australia be safer with American-style gun laws? The answer is simple

Neil Brennan
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum