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Class War and Power Play

February 8th, 2010 Posted in UK Politics by

Here’s the reasoned piece on class war that I originally promised HoT:

The longer I am involved in politics the more I grow to dislike class war. The world in which class war exists is a world where no one holds political viewpoints beyond their own vested interests.

That’s a bleak view of humanity isn’t it?

Allowing class war to be successful is a consequence of an apologist society. If you are an administration that has been in power for 12/13 years you should not be able to absolve yourself from failure by simply saying “we’re not toffs”. The prospect of Labour doing this from now until the election is a wretched one, indeed.

But is there any truth to the claims that “Tories help the rich, Labour help the rest”? Well, yes. But what’s true of the Tories is also true of Labour. The Tories like wealthy individuals and Labour like wealthy organisations i.e. the Unions. Either way both parties facilitate power being transferred from the people to a small wealthy elite. They both protect the vested interests of the rich and use the apparatus of the state to do it. As for the LibDems, well, we are not powerful and/or important enough to have any vested interests at all. But if you can tell me the liberal equivalent of Lord Ashcroft or the Trade Unions, please, do let me know…

As far as I’m concerned class belongs in the same dustbin as the gender card and the race card.

Some of you may scoff at the suggestion that classism is as bad as racism or sexism but ‘class war’ does share similar characteristics with the former in that it is a reductionist proposition. It simplifies every issue and mode of human interaction to a single factor. If you are a feminist you see suppression and exploitation in every conscious decision and unconscious consequence. This, I hope you’ll agree, is an unattractive lifestyle and puts off many who sympathise with it’s proponents legitimate claims. The same can be said of classism.

Making the odd joke using a gender, race or class stereotype is funny. But using gender or race stereotypes consistently for political gain is now recognised as meaningless. The same should be true of class stereotypes. It is one of the most off putting aspects of UK politics and I look forward to a day when we can shake off this last residual hangover from our political past.

5 Responses to “Class War and Power Play”

  1. Philip Walker Says:

    I think one’s view of class warfare is coloured by one’s perceptions of class. If one views class as being synonymous with wealth and/or power, and especially if one views the rich and or powerful as being exploitative by the simple fact of their existence, then it become important to wage a war against ‘the upper classes’.

    To me, class is subculture: you can be poor as church mice, social weaklings, and still be upper class. Sure, there are trappings which are associated with wealth: going to the right school, employing the right butler, that kind of thing. But mostly, it’s about things like speaking the right way and using the right cutlery.

    Equally, as you suggest, the trade unions wield great power, and non-unionised workers lose out to unionised ones. So opposition to power structures is not going to align at all neatly with opposition to a subculture.

  2. Julian Harris Says:

    Interestingly (for me at least), I’ve never met a class warrior who can genuinely claim to be working class. They all work in stuff like media or politics, and have state-subsidised degrees spilling from every orifice. Strange, angry people.

  3. Richard Gadsden Says:

    There are plenty of “right-wing” class warriors too. Every time someone attacks chavs, that’s class war too.

    Philip Walker’s point about class as a subculture I think misses a point; class is an economically-linked subculture; people whose grandparents were rich are usually upper class; people whose grandparents were poor are usually working class or underclass. That’s why Wayne Rooney isn’t upper class, even though he could probably buy any three dukes (OK, not the Duke of Westminster) from the money that fell down the back of the sofa last night.

  4. Sara Scarlett Says:

    “There are plenty of “right-wing” class warriors too. Every time someone attacks chavs, that’s class war too.”

    Oh Richard, thank you for coming over and pointing out the obvious. I think ‘attacking chavs’ is an awful habit our society has got into too as well, as a matter of fact.

  5. Philip Walker Says:

    Richard, if you’re wanting to argue that one’s class is most determined by the wealth of people who are in many cases now dead, then it follows that ‘soak the rich’ is not class war. (I’m not ascribing that view to you, merely pointing out that there is an immediate logical dead-end lurking.) I think you’re probably right about its being history, including economic history, which makes the class system: but I would argue that that is precisely what viewing class as culture leads us to conclude.

    As for poor grandparents leading to working class people, I’d be interested in the other way round. How many currently middle class people had grandparents who were working (or, for the sake of measuring downward mobility, upper) class?