So, does the Mail accuse Thatcher, Major and Howard of class war too?

April 7, 2010 8:34 am

Mail

By Sunder Katwala / @NextLeft

The Daily Mail has a screaming “NOW THE CLASS WAR BEGINS” front-page splash headline on Wednesday, with James Chapman’s story of an election “descending into class war” based on nothing more than Gordon Brown’s reference to his ordinary middle-class background. What total nonsense. After all, each of David Cameron’s predecessors as Conservative leader for the last forty years has made their personal class background central to their political personality, and to their argument and narrative about Britain’s future. Why didn’t the Mail accuse Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Michael Howard of declaring class war when they did that? As the Staggers blog reported at the time, this came up at January’s Fabian new year conference in our “Will the real David Cameron please stand up” panel debate at which Tory MP Nadine Dorries argued that class “matters more than anything else in British society”:

“Katwala asked why talk of class was verboten in 2010. After all, Conservative leaders have long played the class card, from the grammar school boy Ted Heath, to Margaret Thatcher “the grocer’s daughter”, to John Major, whose famous trip down memory lane — or rather down Electric Avenue in Brixton — formed the basis of a party election broadcast — and again, most recently, to Michael Howard, who chided Tony Blair across the despatch box, declaring: “This grammar school boy isn’t going to take any lessons from a public school boy.”

By contrast, David Cameron rightly says that where he went to school will not be the decisive factor in his claim to the premiership. Or at least he does so except when he is arguing the opposite, as when he told the Tory party conference in 2007 that having gone to Eton made him better placed to know how to know what state schools needed so that everybody could have the quality of education he had:

“I went to a fantastic school. I’m not embarrassed about that because I had a great education and I know what a great education means. And knowing what a great education means, means there’s a better chance of getting it for all of our children, which is absolutely what I want, in this country”.

If that seems a little unworldly, Cameron went on to make a similar point again in his 2009 conference speech. As John Rentoul noted at the time:

“I thought it was unwise to say: “I want every child to have the chances I had.” As someone was bound to comment, that is going to cost a fortune in tailcoats.”

This would seem to imply that the rules are that Cameron can appeal to his background to make a political point, but that this is verboten for anybody else.

***

If, however, Mr Dacre did want to identify a class warrior as premier in the last century, there would surely be one clear winner. Wasn’t it his heroine Margaret Thatcher who took on Denis Healey by arguing against tax changes on the grounds that they would affect “people born like I was with no privilege at all. It will affect us as well as the Socialist millionaires”?

And take this exchange:

“Do you know, Tony, I am so glad that I don’t belong to your class?”

“Which class would that be, Prime Minister?”

“The upper middle class who can see everybody’s point of view but have no view of their own.”

That conversation with Margaret Thatcher was reported by her foreign affairs advisor Sir Anthony Parsons in the BBC Thatcher years series in 1993.

In recounting that in his book The Prime Minister, Peter Hennessey suggests that, along with her 1996 Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture extolling the virtues of the middle-classes, Thatcher had a good claim to be the closest thing Britain has had to a class warrior in number 10 Downing Street during the post-war period.

But perhaps that would be the kind of class war that Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail approves of.

This post was also published at Next Left.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Comment Labour could lose out by not making it’s stance on Trident clear

    Labour could lose out by not making it’s stance on Trident clear

    Cutting Trident will be the price of support in a hung parliament. That’s the news reported from a meeting of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green leaders this week. With Labour’s slim lead and the SNP and Green vote threatening to impact on its share, this is a serious issue. Labour’s policy clearly states, ‘Labour has said that we are committed to a minimum, credible independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent. It would require a clear body […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Is Cameron “frit” of TV debates? Let’s try the empty chair threat

    Is Cameron “frit” of TV debates? Let’s try the empty chair threat

    Lord Ashcroft has told him he shouldn’t have done it in 2010. Lynton Crosby has told him not to do it in 2015. It’s no surprise that David Cameron is trying to wriggle out of televised leader debates during the General Election – even though he has said he is willing to take part “in principle”. Time perhaps to dust off one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite barbs “He’s frit.” Neil Kinnock tried it in 1992 to try to goad John Major into […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Flexibility makes for good work, strong families and thriving communities

    Flexibility makes for good work, strong families and thriving communities

    By Stephen Timms MP and Ian Murray MP The Christmas period reminds us that modern life can be busy, hurried and demanding. The pressures of work, demands of family life and hectic Christmas schedules can prove stretching as we juggle competing demands. Increasingly the need for flexible work is driven by the complex shape of people’s lives; as parents go to work, struggle to make ends meet, perform career roles, take their children to school and activities and try and carve […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour MP questions campaigning roles of publicly funded advisers

    Labour MP questions campaigning roles of publicly funded advisers

    As the start of the long campaign begins today, curbing the amount of money parties can spend between now and May 7th, Labour MP Jon Ashworth has sought to clarify what precautions are being taken to ensure publicly-funded government advisers are not using their time campaigning. Ashworth has sent a letter to senior civil servant Jeremy Heywood, asking him to answer a number of questions about what kind of campaigning activity was permitted and undertaken by special advisers (SpAds) in […]

    Read more →
  • News Berger asks Twitter to do more to stop use of racist words

    Berger asks Twitter to do more to stop use of racist words

    Luciana Berger, Shadow Minister for Public Health, has called on Twitter to do more the stop racist terms being used on the site. Berger has herself faced a large amount of anti-semitic abuse on the site, and in October Garron Helm  was jailed for sending her a torrent of anti-semitic messages. Berger told the Telegraph (£): “At the height of the abuse, the police said I was the subject of 2,500 hate messages in the space of three days using […]

    Read more →