Simon Carr: If you want snobbery, look to the Commons

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First: A radio clip of a schoolboy talking in the early 1960s. He wanted to go into politics and went to practise at Speakers' Corner; you may have heard him. His voice brought back a whole era. He had one of those "good chep" accents. Why did people speak like that? Even the disc jockeys in those days spoke like Henry "Blowers" Blofeld. All through the 1950s, the Queen sounded Chinese, so high and fine was her celestial voice. You had to compress what you could, as every detail of your vowel structure was scanned for clues to your pedigree, income, and education.

It was an awful atmosphere to grow up in. I'm amazed the British economy survived; the first third of every business meeting was spent working out who'd gone to the better school.

That's changed entirely. If you heard Prince Harry filmed on his Afghanistan tour – from his voice you'd be hard put to say what class he belonged to. The way he speaks isn't estuarial; it's neutral.

That's attractive. When I came back to England in 1998 after a decade away, it was the first thing to strike me, how relaxed people's vowels had become. The English middle class was able to meet and talk without aggressive vocal displays. Harry's voice is an example of that increased public space.

Two: The opposite. Statistics show social mobility continues to worsen.

Someone growing up on one of those estates we read about, has less chance of getting off it now than at any time since the war. So although the visible or audible effects of class have slunk out of sight, class itself retains its grip on the British.

It's surely made very much worse by an education system that still can't teach poor people to read, write and count. It is an amazing failure, with so much money and attention pouring into schools, so much rhetoric applied to it, so many statisticians hired to prove that social mobility is improving.

And three, perhaps in a spasm of shame at "two": Class war has broken out again in politics, even in the Commons. Attacks on the Speaker are made by "snobs". David Cameron is denounced as a member of the predatory class, possibly even a cannibal.

In my experience, there is no social snobbery in the Commons. By God, though, professional snobbery is the essence of the place. The hierarchy is so finely graded that you are weighed to a gram of your significance.

You can feel it in the way people look at you, don't look at you, look through you or beyond you. There are no exceptions to this. Background is nothing; access to power or influence is everything.

Nowhere in Britain is the pyramid of prestige so rigidly specified. It may be why modern government has absolutely no grasp of how to "place power directly in the hands of people". Tony Blair said that's what he wanted to do, that's what Gordon is now saying he wants. But it's against the nature of their class. They will only give us the power to do what they want us to do.

We can't complain, in the middle class. We get looked after pretty well for our sullen acquiescence. Our children get into the better schools, universities, and then the jobs to go with them. It's probably best to stay with Gordon. The class war has worked pretty well since 1997, with the usual winners. There's no reason to see any immediate change in that.

A peerless approach to the truth

Lord Mancroft's speech about nurses was a fine example of the House of Lords in action. The speech is worth reading in Hansard (col. 830, 28 February). It's only six minutes long. What shocked everyone was the lack of the diplomatic evasions and ingratiating caveats that public discourse demands these days. The idea of filthy wards staffed with grubby and promiscuous nurses isn't entirely new.

But how did Lord Mancroft, left, know they were? "If you are a patient, lying in a bed and being nursed from either side, the nurses talk across you as if you are not there."

Of course he should say it, if it happened to him. It is the privilege of the unelected to tell the truth, however rude.

* The Foundation for Information Policy Research ( www.fipr.org) has released a study of children's databases in the "transformational government" programme.

The National Pupil Database tags all children with 40 separate pieces of information (ethnicity, free school meals, behaviour, attendance etc). Data are held in perpetuity, with no consent sought. Database No 2 (Connexions) logs all teenagers. Personal Advisers may profile their teenagers with assessments of their friends, and capability of parents. It's for careers advice. Consent is required, for now, to upload the data. Every Child Matters also logs everyone until the age of 18. "At risk" children are tagged. So are children "at risk of poor outcomes". Contactpoint registers all children with details of all practitioners associated with them. Its implementation has been held up by the HMRC data disc loss. The Common Assessment Framework registers all children needing any extra state service (50 per cent of all children). In-depth profiling for all. It is amazing.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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