Saturday 20 March, 3.15pm until 4.15pm, The Great Hall
Only ten years ago, Conservative Prime Minister John Major, the son of a bus conductor, announced that Britain was becoming a classless society. Today we are faced with the prospect of a new Tory prime minister and cabinet who seem to conform to every stereotype of the old British elite, from their Eton and Oxbridge educations to their substantial private fortunes. Following Major, New Labour made a point of distancing itself from its own working class origins and tradition, leaving Gordon Brown and co looking hypocritical as well as hamfisted if they try to make political hay from the Tories’ now rather embarrassing pedigree. But does the old elite character of the Tory leadership signify the return to the surface of class tensions that were suppressed rather than superceded by the egalitarian rhetoric of recent decades?
Whether the papers are making fun of ‘Lord Snooty’ or bashing the ghastly ‘chavs’, the ‘class debate’ today seems to involve more name-calling than political depth, so what is at stake? When ‘Eton toffs’ are disparaged for their arrogance, and the middle classes for their materialistic aspirations, the implication seems to be that ‘working class values’ are about humility and making do. Has class then been divorced from political struggle to become just another form of identity politics? Or are concerns about class privilege legitimate, as the gap between rich and poor widens? Can we expect a new resolve to redistribute wealth and increase opportunities for all? Should we aspire to social mobility and meritocracy, or are such ideas just a smokescreen for selfish individualism? Is there any place for class interests and solidarity in the 21st century, and if so what do these things mean? Or is the real issue simply respect for those in different walks of life?
associate editor, Daily Mirror; columnist, New Statesman and Tribune
professor of sociology, University of Manchester; Director, ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change; author, Culture, Class, Distinction
professorial research fellow, Civitas; professor emeritus, University of Sussex; distinguished fellow, Centre for Independent Studies, Australia
Brussels correspondent, The Times; co-author, No Means No
director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
Defeating the BNP needs more than a press strategy. It needs politicians to address their abandonment of the working classJames Bethell, Guardian Comment is free, 26 February 2010
Gordon Brown’s 2010 speech to the Fabian society exhumed a ‘new and more subtle form of class war’Clare Spencer, BBC Politics, 18 January 2010
The only way to create a fairer society is to start talking about it. The discussion starts hereWill Hutton, The Observer, 10 January 2010
Increasingly, the public is identifying moral decline, violence, antisocial behaviour and civil disorder with young people.Harriet Seargeant, Centre for Policy Studies, November 2009
Politicians should have paid attention years ago to the growing alienation of the old white working classJames Forsyth, Telegraph, 24 October 2009
John Denham's initiative uses a loaded phrase and deflects attention from the real schism in Britain – between rich and poor.Symon Hill, Guardian Comment is free, 15 October 2009
Hundreds of 'white enclaves' across the UK have been chosen to receive special funding from the Government, in an effort to curb the spread of racist extremism among the working classes.Robert Verkaik, Independent, 15 October 2009
The BNP won its first seats in the European parliament not because its supporters are all racist, but because many voters feel insecure and let down by the main parties.Channel 4 News, 8 June 2009
We need to rebuild a community-focused party, embrace electoral reform and pursue - dare I say - a New SocialismJon Cruddas, Guardian, 18 March 2009
The Labour Party’s nasty campaign in Crewe and Nantwich exposes the petty, personalised and chauvinistic strain in contemporary politics.Frank Furedi, spiked, 21 May 2008
Scared of the Kids - Mark Easton - Fragmenting Society
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