Sunday 31 October, 9.45am until 10.30am, Lecture Theatre 1 Breakfast Banter
The last election may have been fought in terms of the ‘national interest’ rather than in the language of class, but since the coalition took power there has been no shortage of comment about the number of public school and Oxbridge alumni in the Cabinet. David Cameron, the son of a stockbroker, a multimillionaire in his own right, educated at Eton and Oxford, seems a far cry from the John Major, son of a bus conductor, who announced that Britain was becoming a classless society. It may appear we are witnessing the return to power of a traditional privileged elite. Can we expect a revival of class tensions that were merely repressed rather than exorcised by the egalitarian rhetoric of recent decades?
As austerity measures bite there perhaps seems cause for a resurgence of traditional class politics. Unemployment in early 2010 reached its highest level since 1994. Inequality has increased in real terms and social mobility is lower than a decade ago. Yet there has been little evidence of working class militancy. Strikes do happen, but there are few signs of any working class solidarity, any sense that workers have a shared interest in standing up to the bosses. During the British Airways dispute earlier in the year, the strikers were widely criticised as selfish. In place of solidarity is a consensus that we should all share the pain, as evidenced by widespread acceptance of pay freezes and reduced working hours. Despite the fingering of the bankers as being to blame for the crisis, it appears we all accept the need for pragmatic austerity measures, since apparently we have all been living beyond our means. Does this mean being working class is now about having the humility to live prudently? Not to demand the earth?
Is the language of class any help in trying to understand, let alone overcome, today’s problems? Or is it more a form of identity politics - with class determined by birth and upbringing rather than political interests - about taking pride in football and pies and disparaging foie gras and polo? Certainly the so-called ‘white working class’ is defined less by a political outlook than a sense of cultural disenfranchisement. It is surely significant that one of the defining moments of the general election came when Gordon Brown dismissed a working class voter as ‘a bigoted woman’, revealing that tensions between the elite and the public don’t conform to the class stereotypes of left versus right. So is the label ‘working class’ any more than a convenient repository for atavistic prejudice and patronising nostalgia? Just what does class mean today?
Listen to session audio:
sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist
associate editor, Daily Mirror; columnist, New Statesman and Tribune
professorial research fellow, Civitas; professor emeritus, University of Sussex; distinguished fellow, Centre for Independent Studies, Australia
|Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal|
freelance journalist; former sex-advice columnist, Evening Standard; author, Tourism
freelance writer; blogger, Free Society
If you live and work in Big London, the smart centre, it's easy to think that everyone you know - everyone 'middle class' - earns £100,000 and deserves itPeter York, Independent, 12 August 2010
The reaction to John Prescott's peerage shows that the old divides are everywhere. Labour can't carry on acting as if it's in denialPolly Toynbee, Guardian, 11 July 2010
If the Prime Minister wants to ensure his lasting legacy, he must act now to fill our ideological vacuumMaurice Saatchi, The Times, 24 May 2010
With the new government comes a new elite. But just who will be pulling the strings in Britain? We reveal the young, patrician circle around Cameron and Clegg, whose ties stretch from the City and PR to Google and the high streetJohn Arlidge, The Times, 23 May 2010
One million under-24s look bleakly at the future. They need films and novels to give life to their dreamsJanice Turner, The Times, 22 May 2010
If you ever doubted that class was still thought to be important in politics, just look at the number of times the words 'Tory toff' appear before the name 'David Cameron' in a certain left-leaning tabloid.Mary Ann Sieghart, BBC , 11 February 2010
If the Prime Minister wants to be on the side of the ‘mainstream majority’ he must shake off his old Labour mindset on schoolsRachel Sylvester, The Times, 20 January 2010
Sandel makes the case for a moral and civic renewal in democratic politics. Recorded at George Washington University in Washington DC, he calls for a new politics of the common good and says that we need to think of ourselves as citizens, not just consumers.Michael Sandel, BBC Radio 4, 4 July 2009
Life chances for today’s children are overwhelmingly linked to parental income, occupations and educational qualifications – in other words, class. The poor white working class share many more problems with the poor from minority ethnic communities than some of them recognize.Runnymede Trust, Runnymede, January 2009
The Credit Crunch Demystified
"The arts and humanities need to be defended and we must fight for the freedom to extend barriers, not merely to work within them. What better arena than The Battle of Ideas?"
Professor Colin Lawson, Director, Royal College of Music