Patrick Strudwick: There's a wild beast at large in Essex - snobbery

The notion is that the people of Essex have no taste. They only have money


I urge the people of Essex to stay indoors. A dangerous animal is on the loose: classism. In the past 48 hours, Britain has erupted in a paroxysm of sneering snobbishness. With the news that a lion might have been roaming the outermost fields of Clacton, a much wilder beast showed its face: the acceptable hatred of the (apparently) moneyed working class.

And so, Twitter has seen "lion" and "Essexlion" become its most discussed topics, as the incident is used to deride the people of this county. Essexism, it seems, is the last unchallenged prejudice.

First, countless supposedly hilarious pictures of the lion emerged: big cats with Photoshop-ed bouffant hairdos, because, of course, everyone in Essex has ridiculous hair. They have ridiculous hair, so the notion goes, because the men and women of Essex have no taste. They simply have money. And for the middle and upper classes, that will never be enough. Only "old" money ushers you into the upper echelons. However much a working-class person has "made good" – and that's a phrase that exposes the belief that the higher the strata, the greater the virtue – they will never be accepted.

And then there ensued a torrent of feline-themed Essex jokes. One of the more followed journalists on Twitter, who calls herself FleetStreetFox, and who has a column in the Daily Mirror Online – which, of course, has a substantial working-class readership – wrote: "#Essexlion will be several shades darker than most lions, French manicured claws and a taste for WKD." Thus, she niftily encapsulates three stereotypes in one: fake tan, fake nails and the "wrong" kind of dipsomania – one that is fuelled by cheap booze. The 18th-century outrage over proles binging on gin is alive and well.

Even The Observer columnist and broadcaster Lauren Laverne, who is from Sunderland, itself an oft-derided area for similar reasons, poked the escaped animal with a snob stick: "Hope they manage to find the Essex lion before somebody persuades it to get mane extensions and a vajazzle." Here she is making reference to The Only Way Is Essex, the television reality show which serves as a cornerstone for Essexism, by cherry-picking the most extreme embodiments of the county's female stereotypes.

How accurate are these representations? Does Helen Mirren fit the stereotype? Does Simon Amstell? Did Dudley Moore? Or, for that matter, my mother, who was born in Ilford yet somehow managed to become a lecturer and local councillor without ever having a manicure or spray tan? (Not that there's anything wrong with these things.)

There is no moral difference between laughing at people simply because of where they were born and mocking people because of the amount of melanin in their skin, their chromosomal makeup or their inability to walk.

And I should know. I'm from Guildford.

React Now

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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’  

Children's TV shows like Grange Hill used to connect us to the real world

Grace Dent
An Indian bookseller waits for customers at a roadside stall on World Book and Copyright Day in Mumbai  

Novel translation lets us know what is really happening in the world

Boyd Tonkin
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine