Michael Brown: Tory toffs and the return of class warfare

My supposed asset of working-class authenticity did little to help me win

Share
Related Topics

This week David Cameron celebrates his fourth anniversary as Tory leader and is now probably just 22 weeks from becoming Prime Minister. True, the polls last week showed a Tory wobble, although the latest YouGov poll in marginal seats suggests that the Tories are at last scoring where it matters – in the marginal seats in the Midlands and the North.

Yet as Mr Cameron stands on the threshold of power it looks as though the issues of Tory toffery and class will, once again, raise their ugly head as the pre-election campaign threatens to turn nasty. My first instinct, as a secondary modern school 11-plus failure, should be – according to well established Labour theology – to reach for the ruler to measure the size of the chip on my shoulder when such stories surface. But when I stood in Scunthorpe as the successful Tory candidate in 1979 I found little evidence that my supposed "asset" of working class authenticity played any significant part in my victory. A smear campaign claiming I was "thick" was still played against me by my opponents. More likely they were actually playing the anti-gay card which was their normal method of smearing me – the Lib Dems were usually the worst offenders.

So their call for the multi-millionaire Zac Goldsmith – challenging them in Richmond Park – to give up his non-dom tax status suggests that many Tory candidates may face smear campaigns from their opponents – whatever their backgrounds. I suspect, however, that if elected, Mr Goldsmith's wealth is likely to bolster his independence of thought on environmental issues and will endear him to those of us who look forward to him being a free spirit impervious to the petty demands of his whips' office. I recall Sir Peter Tapsell congratulating me on becoming a government whip, reminding me rather menacingly that he was a very wealthy man, did not want a government job and nothing in the way of foreign junkets. "There is nothing I want and nothing you can threaten me with," he boomed. When it came to the Maastricht debates he was utterly beyond the patronage of the whips' office and all the better an MP as a consequence.

In the heat of the election battle, I suspect the dominant feature will still be the economy. But the noises off, regarding the character and education of the next Tory Parliamentary party, may cause Labour to play the old school tie card. When the Tories were last led by Old Etonians Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home, in 1963, 20 per cent of their MPs (80) were also from Eton. For the record, the number of Old Etonians, including Mr Cameron, on the Tory benches is likely to rise from 15 to 18 – less than 6 per cent of the 300-plus Tory MPs likely to be elected. But, according to the Tory blogger Iain Dale, 15.75 per cent of daily and Sunday newspaper political editors are Old Etonians.

If anything, it is the prominence of double-barrelled names among new candidates that seems most to trouble Mr Cameron. According to recent newspaper reports, the Tory leader suggested, jokingly, that it would be better if the Tory candidate for Somerton and Frome (a Lib Dem marginal) changed her name from Annunziata Rees-Mogg to Nancy Mogg. Rightly she told Mr Cameron she rather liked her name. I met her last week and her posh name could not hide the fact that she is one of the most approachable of women candidates and has a reputation for being a brilliant local candidate. Her brother, Jacob, (Old Etonian) who is likely to gain the neighbouring seat of North-East Somerset from Labour, is certainly no "Jake Mogg" but his original mind will make him a whips' nightmare and an outstanding MP. The Tory candidate for Brighton Kemptown, once known as Simon Radford-Kirby, has apparently succumbed and now calls himself plain Simon Kirby. Yet Mr Kirby is not posh: he was brought up in a council house. On the other hand, what are we to make of the Tory black farmer, Wilfred Jones, likely to win the newly created Chippenham seat, who has changed his name to Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones?

Labour and the Lib Dems should think carefully before playing the Tory toff card. Last year's Crewe and Nantwich by-election ended in disaster for Labour when their campaign targeted the alleged wealth and educational background of Edward Timpson. Top hatted and tailed Labour activists trailing after Mr Timpson merely allowed Eric Pickles, the Tory chairman, to make the point that Labour were the party who canvassed in fancy dress.

The Tory leadership is (unduly) sensitive to such criticisms. That is why Mr Cameron has invested so much personally in supervising candidate selection procedures. But Labour and Lib Dems play the politics of envy at their peril.

mrbrown@talktalk.net

React Now

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

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bob Geldof  

Ebola is a political AND a medical disease

Paul Vallely
 

I've tried reason, but my cat is pig-ignorant

Dom Joly
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin