According to the The Guardian, Britain is regressing rapidly to a gestalt neo-Victorian snobbery, no matter that they’re leading the field in this cultural drift, and we should all be jolly ashamed of ourselves. It started (of course it didn’t) with an article in The Sun about Prince William, or Harry, or possibly both dressing up as chavs for some Sandhurst-related high jinks. This so incensed one hapless columnist that he couldn’t help spaffing bile all over the page, calling on all right-thinking peoples to renounce the ‘Nu Snobbery’ that makes it okay to impersonate poor people, laugh at the less PC jibes of Jimmy Carr et al and sneer-along-a-Little Britain. How shoddy of us.
‘Snobbery has to be one of the most misunderstood accusations levelled at anyone who dares diverge from the bien pensant hegemony.’
Replies? James Delingpole in The Times led the backlash, pointing out that if chavs weren’t so repellent, we wouldn’t have to joke about them, would we, and that the alternative was breaking down in tears. He damned the mismanagement of central government that had outraged the middle-classes to the nadir of having no other recourse but hatred. All wrong of course, though doubtless well-intentioned. Hmm.
At the same time, a debate has been quietly simmering about gated communities. They’re bad. Because they encourage social apartheid, see? No of course you don’t, and neither do I, because if you can explain why it’s bad to live in a gated community but okay to live in a nice bit of London (where property prices provide an invisible – though no less effective – barrier to the proles) then you either have access to realms of political philosophy that I don’t or you’re a canting hypocrite.
Snobbery has to be one of the most misunderstood accusations levelled at anyone who dares diverge from the bien pensant hegemony. Not long after the Boat Race I was reading a political researcher’s blog, in which the author railed with clumsy sarcasm at the ‘posh horsey people’ who had dared to come to London and watch it. Immediately after one of his friends had concurred: ‘yeah, posh horsey people make me sick!’ That, for those of you who haven’t spotted it, is snobbery in naked form; the pigeonholing and disparaging of people based on nothing more than who their parents were, what accent they have and how much money they’ve got in the bank. And if you don’t believe me, turn it round, and substitute ‘lower-class, plebby people’ and see where it gets you. But this is Old Snobbery, a simple dislike, no different from racism, homophobia or any other kind of prejudice. Nu snobbery seems different somehow, backed up by more than ignorance, and composed of more than dislike, there is emotion there.
‘It’s the left-of-centre ethics-for-breakfast chatterati that need watching.’
The argument that it’s due to the aspirant bourgeoisie, appalled at government sponsorship of teenage mothers and benefit cheats, doesn’t work. This is more complex. It’s not the Daily Mail send-em-back and will it affect house prices lot that are instrumental here – they all hate the working classes anyway. It’s the left-of-centre ethics-for-breakfast chatterati that need watching. You see, they all dutifully trotted down to the polling station to vote Labour, sent their progeny to the crumbling wire-fenced comp and manned the barricades for equality. And now little Quilla is being knifed for his lunch money and doesn’t have a GCSE to show for it, and their oh-so-joyfully given taxes have been spent on Kronie and crack. They feel betrayed. All that sacrifice in the name of progress, and their pet polloi have thrown it back in their faces. No wonder they feel like a bit of a sneer.
The Mailites and the Toynbees are all of a piece, their attitude to class strife rests ultimately on the patronising belief that we can’t expect members of an underclass to take any responsibility and must therefore treat them like toddlers. On the one side this means penning them up and giving them a good smack, on the other guidance, sympathy and taking responsibility for them like a social Dr Spock. It’s all very well to argue that satire and segregation promote disenfranchisement and alienation, but that’s to overwhelmingly ignore your own point; because it was feelings of alienation that prompted those acts in the first place. And the difference is that disaffected people with money can do something about it. Like build big fuck-off walls.
It’s not just unrealistic to expect people to make sacrifices for causes that won’t directly benefit them, it’s also unwise. If they have no other vested interest in the scheme than altruism then not only will they be less willing to continue donating, they’ll also get far more irate if it doesn’t work. Witness the outrage whenever it’s ‘revealed’ how much of charity proceeds are creamed off by managers this side of the world and corrupt officials at point of use. If Nu Snobbery is to disappear, it won’t be through pious hectoring and humourless nu moralism. Nor will – or can – it be eradicated through dividing sympathies by strata. Oh, and before shouting at public schoolboys for wearing Burberry, you might want to look up its origins.