‘At this rate, soon everyone will be at it…Prince Harry will go around telling everyone that his father is a farmer who used to sell biscuits on the side’
| writes Michael P. Deacon
People used to inflate their social standing like Hyacinth Bucket – now a study says they try to shun any suggestion of privilege
Instead, however, the opposite has happened. Millions of middle class people have become working class. Or so we seem to think, anyway. These days, extraordinary numbers of us are convinced that we’re working class – even when we demonstrably aren’t.It may sound bizarre. But the phenomenon was confirmed this week by a study from the London School of Economics. It found that a startling 47 per cent of people in middle class professions consider themselves to be working class. Even more remarkably, half of those 47 per cent consider themselves to be working class even though their own parents were middle class.
A curious conviction. And it becomes even more curious when you read some of the comments by people who took part. One woman – an actress named Ella – claimed to be working class, even though she’d been privately educated. She dismissed this by explaining that her private school was only “one of the small ones, quite cheap”. Which is a bit like saying your pony was only second hand.
Other participants attempted to downplay the social status of their parents. One man described his father, an architect, as no more than “a technician-made-good”. Which is a bit like the son of a City trader saying: “What does my dad do? Oh, he’s just a gambler.” headtopics.com
Then there were those who argued that, while they and their parents had middle class jobs, their grandparents had had working class jobs – and this, in their view, made the entire family working class. They seemed to view social class as genetic – like blue eyes or male pattern baldness.
It’s certainly one way of looking at it. But if we agree that social class is inherited and can even skip generations, how many are we allowed to go back? What if your great-grandfather was a mill owner, but your great-great-grandfather was a navvy – would that make you working class? What’s the cut-off point? There surely has to be one. Otherwise even Jacob Rees-Mogg could claim to be working class.
“Oh, yes. My ancestors worked with their hands, you know.”“Really, Jacob? What were they?”“Cavemen.”Of course, this kind of attitude isn’t entirely new. On the Left in particular, there have always been middle class people who long to be working class – either because they imagine working class life to be in some way romantic and exciting, or because they imagine working class people to be inherently noble and virtuous.
Twenty-five years ago, Jarvis Cocker – who is genuinely working class – wrote the song Common People about these moneyed poseurs. “Laugh along with the common people/ Laugh along even though they’re laughing at you/ And the stupid things that you do/ Because you think that poor is cool…”
The new study from the LSE, however, suggests an alternative motivation Essentially, it’s insecurity. These people want to believe – and want others to believe – they’ve earned their success in life rather than had it handed to them on a plate. So they exaggerate any difficulties they’ve had, downplay any advantages and convince themselves that they’ve had to haul themselves up the bootstraps – and therefore deserve their nice salary, nice home and nice life.
So basically, it’s middle class guilt. Or, to put it another way: if they think they aren’t middle class, it’s only because they’re so middle class.Still, whatever the motivation, there’s no doubt about it: the trend is growing. At this rate, soon everyone will be at it. Helena Bonham Carter will start speaking like Ray Winstone. Victoria Beckham will claim her nickname “Posh Spice” was meant to be ironic, because before entering the music business she was actually a bricklayer. Prince Harry will go around telling everyone that his father is a farmer who used to sell biscuits on the side. And people who went to Oxbridge will finally summon the willpower to resist mentioning it within 30 seconds of meeting anyone.
In fact, maybe the obsession with becoming working class will become pathological. Sharp-elbowed parents will deliberately buy houses in the roughest parts of town, to ensure that their children get into the very worst schools. Then at dinner parties – where everyone will be served buckets of KFC – they’ll all try to outdo each other, by boasting about how little their respective offspring are earning.
“Did I tell you, darling? My David has just started work in a blacking factory.”“A blacking factory? I didn’t know there still were such things.”“There weren’t. So we bought him one.”I find it all quite puzzling. I’m middle class, and that’s that. And anyway, I don’t see how I could convincingly pretend to be anything else, even if I wanted to. Good luck to my son, if he ever tries to pass off his own origins as working class. headtopics.com
“Yeah, I remember my dad coming from work every night after a hard day’s toil. His hands were always filthy. Pitch black, they were.”“What was he? A coal miner?” Read more: The Telegraph »