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Please, don’t call me middle class!4 July 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
‘I use middle class as an insult’, wrote Cath Elliott on The Guardian website last week. I do employ this insult myself from time to time, but for totally different reasons than Cath Elliott’s use of the term. She positions herself as a feminist and trade union activist.
People who have doors to power opened for them all their life, use this privilege to protect their own interests: that is the gist of Elliott’s article. Despite the fact that ‘based on material wealth, she is nowadays decidedly middle class’, she knows full well on which side of the class divide her loyalties lie: the working class in which she has her roots.
The target of her insult was a bunch of white middle-class, Oxbridge-educated men who are standing for leadership of the Labour Party. Well, there will always be people who choke on the mere mention of Oxford or Cambridge.
A good friend of mine F., who grew up in a communist working class family, once said to me: ‘How ever well educated you are the feeling remains that people look down on you.’ And also: ‘It is easy enough for you who come from a well heeled background to adopt an independent stance.’
Before we had this conversation I always assumed that F. represented ‘old money’. In any case, she is definitely not middle class, but she is very much an intellectual and, even at sixty-five, has not lost her girlish appeal.
On one point I agree with Elliott: it seems that increasingly money determines which class you belong to. Notwithstanding this, I wouldn’t consider footballers and their wives to be part of the upper class. Posh Spice remains just that little bit common.
I must admit, however, that the little son of Posh and Becks, who watched tennis with David at Wimbledon, looked the picture of a public school boy. In any case, he is most adorable.
Elliott uses middle class as an insult because she believes that her loyalties belong to the underclass. I employ the term middle class for people who were once adventurous and promising but have now happily settled into a safe, predictable lifestyle. Maybe that is why I became a writer: you no longer have to fit in. I am forty-seven and still live a student’s life.
I have a soft spot for the former British Deputy Minister John Prescott. He has a marvellous wife as well: ‘Do I use “toilet” or “lavatory”?’ Prescott, just like my old friend F., is still a bit bothered by his background. Even though I hardly ever agree with him – and he asked taxpayers to fund the repair of his toilet seat to the tune of £112.52 – he appears to be the genuine article and that makes him likeable.
Once during a TV programme he got into a discussion with a chav girl called Josie. Prescott: ‘It seems you are truly working class.’ Josie: ‘But I don’t work!’
Actually using the word class is a touch old fashioned. The problem is no longer war between the classes. Nowadays, the big difficulty is satisfying the lowest common denominator.
The man in the street has probably some knowledge about football but this average person is likely to be out of his depth regarding quantum mechanics as well as politics. Especially on television, the man in the street is too often asked to give his opinion. Sometimes you are desperate for an expert.
My father was born into an upper middle class family. His maxim was that there are good and bad people. This firm opinion was formed by the Second World War. According to my father, each social class had its good and bad people, he knew from bitter personal experience.
So every time a statement is made about social classes or groups in general, I remember my father’s motto. He looked like the CEO of a major company – actually he was not – and his best friend was a shoemaker. My father didn’t feel he had to prove his roots to society in general. He was his own person. I would like to be the individual that he was and I still miss him every day.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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