13 April 2016

Class War: the battle only David Cameron will win


So as the smoke clears from Taxgate David Cameron is revealed to be, well fine actually. Again. Despite some calamitous media tactics early on the PM has done what he usually does, which is emerge jauntily unscathed from yet another attempt to inflict terminal damage.

In fact the main fallout, in the minds of the general public rather than we political obsessives, is not that Cameron is posh and well off (which people already knew) but that Jeremy Corbyn is the kind of man who loses his tax return (which they didn’t).

The main reason Cameron wasn’t badly damaged, of course, is he hadn’t actually done anything wrong, beyond coming from a wealthy family. Had he been shown to be a wrong ‘un things would have been different, but once Tory Central Office removed its collective head from its collective bottom and got the facts out there it was clear to most people that the PM wasn’t a tax-evader.

Of course that didn’t stop social media being weighed down by a million hysterical posts to the contrary, but as political social media is about as representative of Britain as Disneyland Paris is of France, they had no effect whatsoever. Also again.

This sort of thing enrages the #CameronResign mob because they simply can’t understand it. Just like they couldn’t understand how millions of postings of that picture of a young Cameron with fellow Bullingdon Club members at Oxford didn’t hurt him, just like constant wails that he went to Eton didn’t hurt him, just like breathless Twitter posts of him shooting or hunting didn’t hurt him.

Last weekend saw a group of a few hundred activists protesting in Whitehall. Lots of SWP banners, rude signs about pigs’ heads, things hurled at police officers and general fury. The upshot of all this was, of course, nothing. Yet to the people there and their social media supporters (“Why isn’t the BBC covering the revolution!?”) this was the start of Britain’s Arab Spring. They really thought something fundamental was happening, rather than that 300 people were getting gradually wetter.

To everyone else, if they so much as noticed, it was the usual bunch of second-wind Trots of retirement age getting some exercise, rejuvenated Class War activists meeting up to discuss the state of their kids’ schools and the children of the wealthy having another noisy virtue signal and popping it on Instagram in the hope of getting laid.

Yet there is a serious, in fact vital, issue at the heart of all this nonsense. The obsession with class of those now running and supporting Labour is so all-pervading in their analysis of any situation, and yet so utterly irrelevant to the general public, it creates a vast chasm between the party and the voters (remember the voters?). Labour has enough to do to try to win in 2020 without making the centrepiece of its philosophy a worn out early 20th Century mantra everyone else recognises is way past its sell-by date.

Class was, of course, the big issue in leftist politics for decades; and rightly so because for almost a century in Britain issues of injustice, of fairness and of power were wrapped in issues of class.

What is less well understood outside Westminster is what this means when set against the rise of Corbyn, Seumas Milne and John McDonnell et al. The key thing is they do not see their ascension to the helm of Labour as an unlikely accident of events and thus an opportunity to inject some more left-wing oil in to the machine, they see it as the inevitable and long-predicted beginning of the revolution they have always prophesied. It is evidence that they were right to keep plugging away for all those years in tiny halls with 12 people in them and that their analysis of Britain’s ills, whilst unpopular for decades, was in fact right.

Class, in varying ways, has been at the heart of Marxist, Trotskyite and Stalinist thinking for more than a century. If those who have never left the revolutionary fold are now winning (and make no mistake, they think they are) then it must be right that class is at the heart of Britain’s concerns too.

The tragedy here is that cleverer, or at least more realistic, politicians than them on the left realised long ago that one of the most serious issues facing the country was no longer class but inequality, within which lay many unresolved issues which could once have been explained by class. Inequality does worry people, solutions to it do win votes and it is part of the pre-2020 debate.

But inequality and class are different things in 21st Century Britain. Are the Russian oligarchs and Uzbek gangsters buying up central London posh? Is it old public schoolboys parking their money in the tower blocks of luxury flats across the city and leaving them empty, pushing rent and house prices through the roof, or is it Chinese billionaires?

Even in corporate life, are the vastly over-paid executives coining in 500 times the income of their workers salmon-pink trouser wearing folk featured in Debrett’s? Some are, most aren’t. And when the overlords of Apple, Google and Uber swing in to view, how many of them grew up with a gamekeeper?

It remains true, of course, that being born to money, being privately educated and, perhaps, having the confidence and bearing (to use an old-fashioned word) that all that brings is a huge advantage. Ironically it’s one of the reasons Cameron’s oft-repeated ad-lib response to a heckle in the Commons (in which he suggested his mother would tell Jeremy Corbyn to tidy himself up) was so effective. I hate to break this to some of you, but there are plenty of people out there who rather like the fact that the PM looks what they consider to be the part on the international stage and won’t embarrass us. Sorry about that.

It’s also reasonable to say that all this is unfair, and that our kids should all have as much chance in life as Cameron had. That’s a genuine and solid analysis. But to conjure images of Bertie Wooster every time you talk about this, or about corporate tax evasion or military intervention or food banks, simply leaves most people cold and consequently they tune out.

Beyond the remnants of the hard Left, like those apocryphal Japanese soldiers in the jungle unaware the war was over, most people’s experiences of life are not that they are put upon by the aristocracy. But the Corbynista takeover of the Labour Party, combined with the echo chamber of social media, has helped convince some that out in the wider country it’s still 1912.

Class remains a factor in Britain, no doubt, but a small one set against inequality. Britain knows David Cameron is posh. It knows his wife is an aristocrat. It knows he has a lot of money compared to most people. And throughout this he has polled consistently as being more popular than his party, whilst being elected twice to run the country.

The reason for that is not because it doesn’t matter, but because it matters less than how capable people think he is as a PM, than whether his policies and solutions resonate, than whether people trust him.

There are plenty of things to criticise David Cameron for, but where his parents sent him to school at 13 or his familiarity with a fish knife are not among them.

I tell you this though Comrades, he’s desperately hoping you stick with the class war; it’s going very well for him.

James Clark is a communications consultant and journalist.