I recently wrote about the continuing relevance of social class. At the start of the 2019 General Election campaign, I was gifted two comments from Tory MPs. Both indicated their disdain for the working class and nicely illustrated the vocal and attitude based class war they engage in.
Owen Jones wrote about the comments and provided other historical examples.
This post is an addendum to my previous blog, but I’ve used some comments from Owen’s piece.
Jones quotes Maya Angelou:
“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time”
Jacob Rees-Mogg showed us who he was when interviewed on LBC radio and was asked whether he thought that the “tragedy was in part caused by racism or policies of class”
“I don’t think so, the tragedy came about because of the cladding leading to the fire racing up the building and then was compounded by the stay-put policy…and..it seems to me…that is the tragedy of it…the more one’s read over the weekend about the report and the chances of people surviving …if you just ignore what you are told and leave you are so much safer…if either of us was in the fire, whatever the fire brigade said, we would leave the burning building, it just seems the common sense thing to do and it is such a tragedy that did not happen but I don’t think it is anything to do with race or class…”
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen then supported Rees-Mogg. In an interview on Radio 4, he said Rees-Mogg was “extremely intelligent and compassionate” his comments ‘were clumsy”. Evan Davies asked “do you think what he meant to say that he thought he would not have stayed put”… “in effect he’s saying I wouldn’t have died because I would have been cleverer than the people who took the fire brigade’s advice”. Bridgen paused and then said “But we want very clever people running the country, don’t we Evan? That’s a by-product of what Jacob is and that’s why he is in a position of authority, what he’s actually saying is that he would have made a better decision than the authority figures who gave that advice…”
Owen Jones wrote:
“Leave aside that the Grenfell disaster itself was an indictment of a rotten social order that values money over people’s lives. Here, in the minds of Rees-Mogg and Bridgen, is a world in which the masses are feeble, ignorant, simple-minded, requiring leadership by their supposed social betters who are, quite literally, born to rule. If Rees-Mogg is indeed “very clever”, it needs more proof than pretentious smatterings of Latin phrases recalled from Eton, and there it is lacking”.
The Tory sense of entitlement, their self-belief as those cleverer and thus born to rule, has a long history. It fits with the ‘Alpha -Male‘ narrative many intrinsically believe in and extrinsically espouse, for example in Boris Johnson’ s 2013 ‘top cornflake‘ quip. Johnson said that economic equality will never be possible because some people are too stupid to get ahead.
Arrogant, eugenicist Tory attitudes towards the working class, and their organisations set up to defend their interests go back to before the birth of the Labour Party.
“The Taff Vale legal judgment of 1901 made trade unions liable for profits lost in strikes, effectively rendering industrial action impossible and underlining the need for unions to have parliamentary representation. The future Tory prime minister Stanley Baldwin later admitted: “The Conservatives can’t talk of class war. They started it.” When Britain’s last general strike, in 1926, ended in defeat for the trade union movement, the former Tory prime minister Arthur Balfour sneered: “The general strike has taught the working class more in four days than years of talking could have done.”
“Back in the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher’s right-hand man Keith Joseph – ruined his Tory leadership chances by making the mistake of saying what he truly thought. He argued that more and more children “are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and bring them up. They are born to mothers who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5 … Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment.” His final line – “The balance of our population, our human stock is threatened” – outed his eugenicist bigotry in its all its ugliness: that the ill-educated poor would out-breed their social superiors.”
“One shadow cabinet minister told the Guardian’s Hugo Young on the eve of her (Thatcher’s) 1979 electoral triumph: “She is still basically a Finchley lady. Her view of the world is distressingly narrow. She regards the working class as idle, deceitful, inferior and bloody-minded.”
In 2012, a group of Tory MPs wrote that British workers are “among the worst idlers in the world“. The book was ‘Britannia Unchained‘ written by Truss, Raab, Patel, Kwarteng and Skidmore, names familiar now as part of Johnson’s cabinet.
There is no question that people have very different aptitudes and skills and perhaps a degree of that is innate. Inequality for some is a motivator, no doubt. But by focusing on personal attributes alone ignores the very real differences in privilege, ignores class relations, ignores ‘opportunity hoarding’, ignores domination and exploitation, and ignores that any ‘assets’ people have are not just biological. They are also psychological, social, cultural, spatial, symbolic and of paramount importance is the material (cash).
It is class war. And they, the Tory MPs, know it.
Why do they fight class war? One reason is that they know that a united working class, organised, with a clear aim would pose a very real threat to current structures of wealth and privilege that benefits the Tory class warriors the most.