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

7th April, 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

  • News Corbyn campaign unhappy over Diane Abbott text row

    Corbyn campaign unhappy over Diane Abbott text row

    Yesterday, Labour members and registered supporters in London received a text from “Jeremy”, endorsing Diane Abbott in the race to become the candidate for London Mayor. For smartphone users, the name at the top appeared as “J Corbyn”: Always assumed @jeremycorbyn supported @HackneyAbbott for Mayor but this text to party members has made if formal pic.twitter.com/6i2yRshzEi — Andy Goss (@andygoss) July 29, 2015 However, LabourList now understands that not only was the text not agreed with the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, […]

    Read more →
  • News Yvette Cooper calls for Government to put “maximum diplomatic pressure” on France over Calais crisis

    Yvette Cooper calls for Government to put “maximum diplomatic pressure” on France over Calais crisis

    Yvette Cooper has called for the Government to put “maximum diplomatic pressure” on France over the refugee crisis in Calais. The shadow Home Secretary has argued that as the crisis worsens “the diplomacy with the French government isn’t working to get a sustainable solution.” She has called for “sufficient border staff” in Calais to ” to maintain order with the French Government and prevent people losing their lives.” Over 3,000 people – many of whom are thought to be refugees – are living […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Post-referendum slump drove Labour’s defeat in Scotland

    Post-referendum slump drove Labour’s defeat in Scotland

    Labour’s appalling election showing in Scotland was driven by those who had supported independence leaving the party to vote for the SNP – and the Nationalists’ economic message helped strengthen their landslide in the final months. However, the new research carried out by the British Election Study (BES), found that Yes to Independence voters were likely to move from Labour to SNP regardless of their views on austerity. Labour were reduced from 41 seats in Scotland to just one on […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News CWU and TSSA announce they’re backing Jeremy Corbyn to be Labour’s next leader

    CWU and TSSA announce they’re backing Jeremy Corbyn to be Labour’s next leader

    Update: TSSA, the transport union, have also announced that they’re endorsing Corbyn to be leader, with Burnham as second preference, and Eagle as deputy leader, with Watson as second preference. Their full statement is below. CWU has announced that they are backing Jeremy Corbyn to be Labour’s next leader. The union represents workers in the postal and telecoms sector. Dave Ward, CWU’s general secretary, released a video (which you can see below) explaining their decision. CWU will be also recommend members […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour’s ground campaign is better than the Tories’, and here’s why

    Labour’s ground campaign is better than the Tories’, and here’s why

    Much has been said about why Labour lost the General Election – again – but in the current post-mortem, we are at risk of undermining the one thing we do better than any other political movement; our ground game. Labour should be immensely proud of what we can achieve together on the ground, entirely outclassing other political operations both in terms of our tactics and our reach. In Ealing Central and Acton, our two and a half year campaign resulted […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit