Most of us are working class – and we know it

Intellectuals say there's no working class, but this hasn't yet got through to the working class
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The Independent Online

According to the results of a survey, 68 per cent of the population regards itself as "working class", which surprised many academics, as they've been telling us for years the working class doesn't exist. They must be as confused as they would be if 68 per cent of the population announced they were unicorns.

According to the results of a survey, 68 per cent of the population regards itself as "working class", which surprised many academics, as they've been telling us for years the working class doesn't exist. They must be as confused as they would be if 68 per cent of the population announced they were unicorns.

So some of them have decided not to accept the result. For example, one Cambridge economics professor said: "The results could be based on a misunderstanding over what 'working class' meant." In other words, intellectuals have worked out there's no working class any more, but this fact hasn't yet got through to the working class.

The professor went on: "I am very surprised at these results" because "most people have delusions of grandeur". And if you want someone whose finger's on the pulse of what most people want, ask a Cambridge professor of economics. Salt of the earth, they are. Where I was brought up, no day was complete without the local prof knocking on the door to offer a cheery "Good morning. The continued decline in interest rates appears to have caused the yen to rise against the dollar, Mrs Steel. Anyway, I'm popping up the shop, do you need any bread?"

The problem is, apparently that "young people like to think of themselves as egalitarian; they may consider that it is enough to call themselves 'working class'". Well that's scientific. Even though the survey was across all ages, and there's no evidence to back his theory whatsoever, that must be the answer because the only other possibility is that 68 per cent of the population consider themselves working class.

This is a novel approach, to insist the people who answered the questions got confused. Tony Blair might adopt this method with the war against Iraq, and say the only reason it appears a majority are against it is because people get Iraq mixed up with Lyme Regis. One columnist suggested yesterday that class is determined by whether you prefer wine or beer. So an Italian sewage worker must be awash with delusions of grandeur. He might spend his days surrounded by rats and turds but in his mind is Verdi and Chianti, the stuck-up middle-class ponce.

More plausible is the claim that class is a matter of background, which is how you get these people who claim they're working class because they watched dog-racing as a kid, which makes it irrelevant that they're now the owner of an arms company selling cattle prods to the Burmese police.

Nor does the existence of the working class depend on factories. Part of the surprise for our professor was due to his assertion that "only 3.6 million people now work in the manufacturing industry". This would mean the working class was in decline, if all those who'd left manufacturing had got a job reading the news on Radio 4 or being fifth in line to the throne. But if the professor took a moment to notice, as he was getting his Land Rover cleaned, or signing for his delivery from Waitrose, or answering the Geordie girl who rings from a call centre every morning at ten past eight, all around him are human beings working, not necessarily in manufacturing but obviously working class.

For class to have any meaning it has to be, as Marx wrote, a term that refers to the relationship we have to the way in which society produces things. If, for example, you are on the board of an insurance company, you can decide whether a new office will be opened or if an old one should be closed down. If you are a clerk in the office, or you clean the office or sell sandwiches to people in the office, you have no say and when the office shuts down you're stuffed. And it's no good saying "but you can't put me out of a job, I'm middle class because I eat kiwi fruits and watch the Late Review".

In that sense, the working class continues to exist regardless of whether people judge themselves to be part of it or not. There was definitely slavery in ancient Rome, even though some of them probably said: "I'm no slave, I'm middle class. That symbol branded on my arm, designer logo that is."

But currently, as the survey suggests, more people are perceiving themselves as working class. Which may be because more people are working in irritating poxy jobs for more hours and less control and less security and having to get there in dirty squalid unreliable transport, or maybe, as one professor suggested, it's "because people like Jamie Oliver have made the working-class chic".

Which shows how old-fashioned snobbery still rules. We're assumed to be under a tidal wave of chic Cockney because it's practised by one TV chef. Whereas it goes unnoticed that almost every High Court judge has the same accent. And not one, as far as I know goes "Bish-bosh, guilty me ol' mate, pukka bit of prosecution, five years, banged-up, sorted."

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