I was at Latitude working, as I was last year. I overheard many talks and discussions. This one caught my attention so I grabbed my notebook and started making notes. It was: Class, Identity and Politics in the 21st Century with Andrew Marr and Kate Fox. Andrew Marr is described as a veteran political broadcaster, which is cruel because he’s only 55! Kate Fox is a social anthropologist and author of Watching the English. As someone who isn’t quite middle class and isn’t quite working class, I listened.
The class system used to be iconic to British Identity. When I think of class, I think of the Two Ronnies Sketch with John Cleese. Blower hat to cockney rhyming slang. Since WWII, the biggest change in the class system has been self-identification. Once upon a time, most of us would have labelled or considered ourselves working class. However, working class suggests manual labour and getting your hands dirty. As there are fewer manual jobs, fewer of us identify as working class. If someone has an office job, they probably see themselves as middle class regardless of pay.
I have disposable income. I don’t have to count the change from the bottom of the sofa to get a coffee from Starbucks. I get one without thinking too much about the cost. However, I would still lean towards calling myself working class as I don’t own my own home and live where I do. I’m on an embarrassingly small amount of money compared to my peers but I’m not reliant on the state. Marr notes that the Labour Party is becoming the Welfare Party. It’s no longer the manual labour workers who favour their policies but those who will benefit most from welfare.
Fox and Marr agree what we have instead of a class system is the illusion of social mobility. The gap been rich and poor is actually bigger but because you can have nice holidays and nice things you think of yourself as middle class. Rather than class we have status symbols. The new Land Rover on your drive says more about you than the actual figure in a bank account. As longer as you are perceived wealthier than you are, that’s all the really matters.