Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: We're still the most class-ridden country under the sun

There is something about the chutzpah and aplomb of theTory boys
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The Independent Online

A new You-Gov poll finds that a majority of voters (52 per cent against 31 per cent) still believe that David Cameron and his pride of glam and louche Tories favour the rich and are too distant from the commoners beneath them. Gordon Brown's attack on the toffs clearly chimed with many. He savaged eco supremo Zac Goldsmith, a Tory candidate who turns out to be a part-time British citizen – his other self is a non-dom somewhere where piles are kept safely away from grasping tax regimes. Goldsmith does pay taxes on his UK earnings; now he is ordered by his leader to relocate his inherited loot back here.

In modern Britain, class still matters and Cameron – who is keen on being seen as déclassé – knows how much and yet doesn't. When he talks, for example, about "broken Britain" and comes up with marriage enforcement plans, he clearly doesn't mean all those in his own party who run through more marriages than cars. His Big Idea in education, allowing parents to set up and run their own schools, will disproportionately advantage those of us who are middle class.

Two supercilious Tories have said to me that Speaker John Bercow "lacks class". The son of a taxi driver made good is, to one of them, "a nobody who social climbs like a monkey". He does seem to try too hard to impress his party – at one point, so severe were his declared views that even Norman Tebbit thought him too right wing. Like his predecessor as Speaker, Michael Martin, he is seen as a class interloper, who, unlike Betty Boothroyd, has not acquired imperious authority.

Class plays out all over the place. Stacey Solomon, the contestant on X Factor, "is too estate for me" said a female bank worker, Debbie, to her friend in Southwark as they munched their sandwiches and coffee near me. Debbie ate sloppily with her mouth open. The anger against RBS bankers is bringing up insurgent nausea once again. It is as if the skeletons of the Peasants' Revolt have risen from burial pits as overpaid, reckless men still blackmailing our nation. Sack them. Let them eat cake somewhere else. If, with RBS on their CV, they can get millions, go then, say I and millions of others on the Left. Class enmity is suddenly cool. Or hot maybe, boiling.

The rising bile is also a protest against New Labour dogmatists who neglected swelling income inequality, a boil, a plague in some parts. That shakes up old lines of the class war. Margaret Thatcher disenfranchised manual workers, and left a nation bitterly divided. Her Toryism dismissed class analysis as a "communist concept". Then New Labour jettisoned its ideological identity, embraced individualistic capitalism whilst promising community and inclusivity. It didn't happen. Instead all the key architects attached themselves to those who were privileged and hideously rich. Mr Brown scorns the toffs but is he himself, or Mandleson, or Blair, any better?

Britain today is more unequal than most developed countries. A study by the University of Essex showed hardly any social mobility and 90 per cent of 18- to 24-year- olds feeling fixed in their place. BNP voters who blame immigrants for their trapped lives should instead focus on the politicians and money-makers who cynically wasted "estate" citizens. As the historian David Cannadine wrote: "Class is one of the most important aspects of modern British history [and] of modern British life". Andrew Marr brilliantly revealed this enduring national characteristic in his TV series, animating in an image here, a thought there, enormous social changes and deep conservatism.

Today we see the same. The more Britain changes the more it stays the same. Take lottery millionaires, super-rich pop and football stars, City gamblers, seedy prospectors, all loaded – but which class would they belong to? Then there is the appeal of the upper classes – many are delightful, gracious and some my good friends. I can't stand their lifestyles but can't resist their company.

My feelings towards top cultural operators are similarly ambiguous. I resent the places they occupy and pass on down to their own, but envy and want their self belief, yearning to be AA Gill. I sent my kids to private schools to get that polish and certainty. Now I wonder if that was the right thing to do. Alan Bennett said in 1988: "The real solvent of class distinction is a proper measure of self-esteem – a kind of unselfconsciousness. Some people are at ease with themselves, so the world is at ease with them". He could never acquire that effortless confidence.

David Cameron has it; Gordon Brown does not. Gordon's class rallying cry roused me but there is something about the chutzpah and aplomb of the Tory boys. That is the problem and why Cameron will most likely win the election. We know he, like Boris, cannot relate to ordinary Britons, but gosh look, he's an instinctive leader, stylish and so authoritative. Old class order will return again because so many will not be able to resist it. I find the thought unbearable. Don't you?