The middle-class in the UK is now the same size as the traditional working-class but the new middle-class is surely deceived. Owning a nice little house, mortgaged to the hilt, he and she must now work doubly hard to afford the dream lifestyle fed them by the media. Having to work two jobs the better to pay the nanny who looks after the obligatory 2.1 children, is no sign of class superiority, or of having done better in life. Superiority is a fallacy perpetuated to enable a system of drones, rather like worker bees, feeding the mechanism that fuels the harvesting of wealth. The re-defining of the class structure began with the advent of Margaret Thatcher, who was less of a Conservative than a Monetarist acolyte of Liberal thinker Frederic Hayek. Thatcher sold off large swathes of council housing to working-class tenants who then as new property owners ‘moved up the ladder,’ and became the new middle class. By polishing the tribal conceit of those naive enough to swallow such hogwash, Thatcher manipulated swathes of people away from their voting roots.
Enter Tony Blair. Disenchanted by eighteen years of Monetarism, which had replaced old-fashioned Conservative ideals of ‘one nation’ Toryism, the electorate now believed that Blair’s New Labour represented progressive politics. New Labour represented a gentler version of what had gone before and traditional Labour voters voted for perceived change. And change they got; short-change in fact. The war in Iraq and the lies accompanying that war meant that New Labour were merely pink Tories, Liberals in fact. Blair and Ashdown saw the possibilities of a merger but none arrived. All of this hinged on the way in which class was evolving; from a great divide to a shrinking gap. With the shrinkage in the so-called ‘class’ divide, real wealth, real ownership remained the same. The dismay about the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ thereby increased.
Blair inherited an electorate vastly different to what had gone before. Gone were the huge gaps between Left and Right, the fudge of Maggie’s class manipulations had produced a large mass of people who no longer saw themselves as working class. They then voted in a manner in which they thought they should and which suited their lifestyles. Centre Left, Centre Right, Centrist. The extreme right never go away. Enter Ian Duncan Smith, John Redmond and of course Nigel Farage. In fact right and left are nothing but a circle that spins ever further away from progressive democracy. In the end, the one becomes the other – dictatorial, authoritarian, inhumane.
Moral problems remain. Inequality, privilege, poverty, education but are not the remit of the idle rich or the downtrodden. The growing division between the rich and the poor is no longer just about class. Britain has adopted an American-style view that suggests no matter your background you can become rich, part of an elite. It is this striving for perceived increase that promotes avarice and perpetuates greed. The former working class can now, by dint of fortune, buy their way into a self-created neo-upper class.
Those who believe that the lower classes instinctively vote left are dreaming. Being poor does not equate to voting Labour any more than being rich means you are Tory. The distinction has become even more apparent as children from poor backgrounds, (their accents rightly accepted in a broadening definition of Britishness), may have come from traditional Labour voting homes. They may still share the same values as their parents but they may also have adopted new values of their own.
There have been a few positive social changes, which are demonstrable in younger voters’ attitudes to life, politics and class. The hike in tuition fees, though wrong, has not prevented many kids from seeking a better education. Racial discrimination, though still on the radar, is less of a concern among the young people of Britain than it was to their parents’ generation. The thorny problem of homosexuality and the rights of gays are less of an issue to this growing group of young voters who continually seek alternatives to the status quo.
The change in attitudes, born of a more liberal mindset, has altered the way young voters vote. The Conservative party of Disraeli or even MacMillan’s days is gone. Briefly, New Labour, seemed more pioneering, but that was just an illusion. Labour are Labour in name only. The Labour party of the 1960’s is nothing like the Labour Party of today, which is less radical, more Thatcherite and far less progressive.
Those clinging to the memory of the old Leftwing cannot see the Left has upped and gone. After all, you cannot have Communism without pure Capitalism to grant it the reason to exist. Centrism attempts to steer a middle course with populist politics that are febrile, at most. We continue the delusion of two-party politics where voters, like football fans, support their side not matter what their side does. It hardly matters at all, that their side is no longer trying to get the ball in the opponent’s net but is scoring a succession of own goals.
The class divide no longer means an obligatory X beside the Labour candidate. You will always have a minority of voters who romantically pursue the action of years past, tiny Che Guevara’s seeking violent revolution, those who limpet-like hanker after former glory days. If we are to arrive at some better destination, then it must be by seeking methods appropriate for the modern age, not some dewy-eyed myth of how things might have been.
Class is changing and with it political opinions. What was once a clear-cut choice, between voting red or blue, is now opaque, a different set of values exists. The same issues exist to be challenged by the young. The issues of inherited wealth, privilege and social inequality but class is now seen for what it is, we’re all fucking peasants after all.