Sunday, 15 August 2010

Sharp II

Peter Hitchens writes:

I once worked out that I was lower-upper-middle-class. I was of course using an old-fashioned pre-metric scale, a fine old mechanism of brass and polished wood which could spot a dropped ‘aitch’ at a thousand yards, and which vibrated angrily whenever anyone put the milk in the teacup first.

These days I suspect all you need to do is check the colour of your credit card and the size of your car. Probably there’s an application on one of those flashy toy telephones that everyone seems so keen on which can judge your class status to within a thousandth of an inch. Maybe this is why David Cameron thinks that being middle-class is about having sharp elbows and using them.

He is plainly a bit (but not very) guilty about doing this himself. It was back in January 2008 that he first defended parents who used sharp elbows to get their children into church-run state schools, something he could be said to have done himself. Now, while readily accepting that he and his wife are in this group, he seems to be saying that such parents are getting more than their fair share of public services – which is a bit much given the enormous, penal taxes they have to pay.

Well, I’m not at all sorry to harp on about this, as most of the supine, power-worshipping media of this country never mention it. But Mr Cameron is personally extremely wealthy and yet was for years one of the greediest claimants of the special MPs’ housing benefit, under which the poor were robbed to give to the rich. And by ­wangling his offspring into a rare high-quality state school, Mr Cameron has elbowed a poor family out of a good education for their children, when he could easily have afforded to pay fees and leave the places free for someone less fortunate.

I do not know why Mr Cameron behaves like this. Maybe it is because he thinks he can get away with it. Maybe he’s just mean. Maybe he thinks it will gain him political advantage.

But I don’t think there’s anything middle-class about elbowing other people out of the way. On the contrary, a proper middle class is based on virtues – including patience, thrift and self-denial – that are pretty sharply contrary to that. Go to modern Russia to see what it is like to live in a country where such a class does not exist – just a grossly rich, tasteless, uncultured top layer and the struggling millions beneath.

And that is what is coming here. Anybody who follows the outmoded rules of self-restraint will be elbowed out of the way by flashy Cameron types whose tailoring is as smooth as their morals are crude.

The middle classes were once a body of people who attained a good life and a modest place – but not riches – through conscientious hard work and honest dealing. Now the expression is abused to mean those who take what they can get, and pay later – if at all. I know a lot of people rather prefer this, thinking the old arrangement was ‘repressed’ and so forth. But whether you like the new way or not – and it is plain Mr Cameron does – it certainly isn’t conservative.

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