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Leading article: Class distinction

ACCORDING to a poll carried out by ICM for that hotbed of middle- class values, Radio 4's Today programme, 55 per cent of us still think we are working-class. Can it really be? Or are we all just confused? Brian Sewell, who must have spent years placing that plum so strategically in his mouth, says he is himself working-class. So does Tony Benn, the former Viscount Stansgate. On the other hand John Prescott, as obvious a pie- and-chips man as you are ever likely to meet, insists he is middle-class. Since the poll was conducted by telephone, one of the most alarming findings is that one per cent of us claim to be upper-class. As Alan Clark might have said, a man who answers his own telephone can scarcely claim to be one of the upper crust.

It won't do. We need a class system fit for the new millennium. Peter Mandelson (grammar-school): get to it. We should bring in new labels, such as the "big-house-with-radio- operated-iron-gates-but-it's-all-on-tick" classes, the "public-school- but-enjoy-dropping-my-aitches" classes, the "proud-to-be-working-class- except-I-haven't-got-any-work" classes, the "made-a-mint-but-still-eat chips-for-the-camera" classes. And, of course, that great wedge of middle England: the "nice-house-nice-car-can't-stand-socialists-but-doesn't-that- nice-Mr-Blair-look-like-one-of-us" classes.