If you are to have any hope of understanding English society then one of the fundamental truths that must be recognised is that the class structure that politicians have tried hard to tell us is a thing of the past is, in fact, still one of the defining parts of our society.
True, the lines have been blurred as to what actually defines membership to each class. Years ago it was a simple matter of owning property that would elevate you to the middle-classes, but when Margaret Thatcher enabled council tenants to buy their homes at reduced rates though the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, that put paid to that rule.
Profession was always another indicator, and still remains something of a yard-stick with with you can beat your fellow man, but with the change in working practices and situations, plus the business start-up culture of the last 20 years or so, it’s very easy to find people who would claim allegiance to a certain class actually owning businesses or gainfully employed in positions that starkly contradict their assertions.
You can’t even trust education now, as University attendance has been opened up to pretty much anyone who can make the grade (as it should be), regardless of their financial situation.
So, essentially, what we are left with now is an almost invisible divide that exists even if we pretend it doesn’t. Attitudes define our belonging, what we aspire towards, what principles we hold as immutable, even the language we use or choose not to use.
The thing is…. should we care?
If class is no longer a financial measure of society then what purpose does it serve (if it ever served one at all)?
The thing that struck me recently is that in some ways it would help our ability as a country to communicate effectively if we were more actively aware of the prejudices we hold when entering a conversation. For at it’s heart, to me, class equates to nothing more than that. Prejudice.
I come from an immigrant family (both parents were Irish and moved here in the 60s) and have never lived in anything other than a council flat my entire life. Never had a garden. Never went to college or university. Have never earned more than £15,000 a year in the 20 years that I’ve been working. So therefore I should hands down qualify as a working class bloke, no question.
But here’s my problem. You see I don’t fit in with my fellow neighbour. I love books, reading, words, language, the richness of it, the possibilities it offers. Yet I find that my kith and kin seem to regard this as a bit soft and posh. I struggle with the ladish culture that has become more prevalent in recent years, mainly because I don’t get it really. Sure I can appreciate the sultry curves of a glamour model plastered on the front of a magazine, but I need more than that. The mind needs to be fed too.
The thing is though I’m not a middle-class wannabe trying to shake off the less than illustrious past. I don’t find many of them make much sense either, generally lacking perspective of those with less money, and looking down on them because of it. The way some of them spend their own money seems frankly offensive when there are people in such desperate need not far from thier doorstep.
So this leaves me confused about something I honestly shouldn’t care one jot about. But in any culture don’t we secretly look to understand our place, role, or space in relation to others? Maybe I’m just a metaphor for modern Engand, we don’t know were we fit in, how we relate effectively to others, and whether we actually care.