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Tuesday 14 April 2009

Class Warriors?

It’s good to know where the target is, and that it’s clearly marked. Then it can be more easily and accurately reached. So it is with the concept of class war. This is an area on which the Tories are extremely sensitive, and so they and their cheerleaders have addressed it robustly. Such attacks, they reckon, are the politics of envy. They are, sad to say, totally wrong.

Unfortunately, the Tories have been reading from the wrong book. Their assumption is that their leader, David Cameron, and his chums Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, and the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne (heir to the seventeenth Baronet) are envied by the lumpen proletariat merely because they have had a good education and obtained good degrees from a good university. It’s just jealousy.

The truth is not only rather different, but will make uncomfortable reading for young Dave and his pals. Because the book to which they should have paid attention is not Das Kapital, but The Theory of the Leisure Class. And therefore the tendency against which they need to guard is not jealousy, but ridicule. It’s not about envy of that good education, but ridicule of the tendency of (for instance) Buller Men to indulge in acts of conspicuous consumption.

The idea that they might be thought of in Veblenian terms, as a kind of anthropological curiosity, will not be easy or comfortable to accept. Moreover, the focus on conspicuous consumption leads directly to their being thought of in the same way as Premiership footballers, Reality TV “stars”, minor slebs and other nouveaux riches. Average folk don’t envy them: the gossip columns and glossy mags may provide a few minutes’ interest around the water cooler, but nothing more.

Still need convincing? Harold Macmillan didn’t need any reminder after seeing Peter Cook personally and very directly ridicule him. Monty Python gave us the Upper Class Twit Of The Year. And Boris’ reception on Have I Got News For You wasn’t exactly reverential. The spirit of Thorstein Veblen is out there, ready to bring another generation of conspicuous consumers down to earth.

[I’ll consider the so-called Class War in taxation terms later]

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