So said Ronnie Corbett, in a sketch that has been broadcast so often, most will know it by heart. It was all about class: Corbett, the humble working class man, was looked down on by his middle (Ronnie Barker) and upper class (John Cleese) peers. This was, of course, first shown in the mid 60s, so does it still have relevance? Given the responses to a post on Liberal Conspiracy by Dave Osler today, the answer must be that it does.
Osler’s target is Young Dave, who likes to portray himself, despite the informally royal bloodline, as middle class. Cameron famously said during the Crewe and Nantwich by-election campaign, when the Labour “toff” figure first appeared, that his background “didn’t matter”. Just the one word wrong there: had he said that it “shouldn’t matter”, I would have been in total agreement. Let me offer one example.
We should all be equal before the law. It is clear that we are not. Young Dave, in his Oxford days, was a Buller Man, a member of the Bullingdon Club, a part of his past about which many in his party are remarkably sensitive. Buller Men were given, on occasion, to trashing restaurants and other acts of gratuitous criminal damage, as well as straightforward exhibitions of drunken and disorderly conduct.
This behaviour was held to be nothing more than “youthful high spirits” and, in any case, an immediate relative would readily open their wallet and pay compensation. Buller Men did not, generally, find themselves in receipt of criminal records. Contrast this with the fate awaiting any similarly inclined group of young men from Crewe’s West End, who might of a Friday evening get lagered up and lay waste to a neighbourhood curry house.
For the latter, there would be no avoiding the full force of the law: local talking heads, radio phone-ins, and the press would be uniformly in favour of custodial sentences. This behaviour would be cited as yet another example of what was wrong with today’s young people. Should any of the group consider running for elective office in the following years, their conduct would be brought up again and again to reinforce their lack of suitability.
Even offering to pay compensation would be of no use, and here we have a recent example: the case of Thomas Dolan and Thomas Whitaker. These two were caught spraying graffiti on railway property, sometimes bridges and other structures, and at other times the trains themselves. The cost of their damage was put at between thirteen and fifteen thousand pounds (comparable to the kind of amount one might have to pay after trashing a decent Oxford eatery). Dolan’s mother offered to pay this amount to keep her son out of jail. It didn’t work. Dolan and Whitaker went to jail.
No, Mr Cameron, it shouldn’t matter where you come from. It shouldn’t. But it does. For you, class has given you an advantage denied to most others.
It was ever thus.