Mark Steel: The proof that class still rules

Labour can't blame thieving aristos when they deny class still exists
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The Independent Online

If Kim Jong-Il has an imaginative public relations office, he'll issue a statement that setting off another nuclear weapon was due to a simple mistake as he was confused about which missile he'd registered as his second one, and it was all within the rules but he's sorry if anyone's upset and it goes to show this ghastly system needs to be jolly well reformed.

This would be more plausible than the now famous interview by the MP who protested that complaints about his expenses were driven by "Jealousy" because his house "Looks like Balmoral" and "Does me nicely," ending with a flourish by snarling "What right has the public to interfere in my private life? NONE."

He was so absurdly beyond his own stereotype, if it had carried on he'd have said "I REQUIRE substantial grounds in order to carry out the annual event of hunting a farm-hand and roasting him on a spit, and no do-gooder of common stock will tell me otherwise."

But the most annoying thing when listening to these types is not their own arrogance, but that the mainstream view of modern Britain, including the idea on which New Labour was founded, is that class division belongs only in the past. So when you go past a housing office on a council estate that's full of disgruntled tenants, they must all be yelling "When are you bastards gonna come and repair my duck island? It's THREE WEEKS since I reported it was leaking, where are my bleeding ducks supposed to rest when they're half way across my pond, they're getting KNACKERED, now SORT IT."

And Job Centres will be packed with claimants crying "I can't survive on £68 invalidity benefit. Out of that I've got to pay for council tax, heating, food, moat cleaning, I've already got the portcullis going rusty I'm DESPERATE."

And if a single parent on housing benefit was questioned about why they hadn't declared a morning's work, they could say to the fraud officer "Do you know what this is about? JEALOUSY. I now own some cat food and a packet of biscuits which does me nicely and no member of the darned public has the right to interfere," and be allowed to carry on as normal.

The chances of someone moving a long way up or down the social scale from the one they were born into, are now less than they were in the 1950s. But somehow the Labour Party has come out worst from all this, partly because some of their lot has been on the fiddle as well, but mostly because they're driven by the idea that class is no longer an issue. They can hardly shout about thieving aristocrats when they've spent fifteen years insisting class no longer exists. So trends taking place now, that would once have made Labour popular, such as hostility towards bankers and contempt for the duck-island owning gentry, instead help make Labour less popular than ever.

But they could still rescue the situation. The bumbling landowning set are usually dismissed by people who insist class has disappeared, as a quaint and quirky hangover from British history, a bit of fun with no real power. So to prove this, they should be made to open up their houses so the public and groups of children can splash in the clean moats and frolic in the grounds, taking pictures of each other merrily throwing stones at Douglas Hogg as he stomps round the lawn muttering "Confounded bloody commoners," reminding us of the times when class still mattered.

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