Sunday, 14 October 2007

Does social class still matter?

Successive generations of A level and University students of politics often had to deal with a question based on Peter Pulzer's famous quote: 'Class is the basis of British politics: all else is embellishment and detail.'

Conventional wisdom for some time has been that class is no longer a good predictor of voting or other forms of behaviour. Market researchers, particularly those working on consumer goods, have abandoned social class categorisations for lifestyle groups, reflecting a more fragmented society. To find out which 'Acorn' group you are in, go to: Up My Street

Nevertheless, the issue of social class has reared its head again with Dave Cameron, an old Etonian, as the Conservative leader. Of course, Tony Blair also went to a fee paying school and to Oxford, but he wasn't a member of the elitist Bullingdon Club which, it has been claimed, is 'characterised by debauched behaviour by rich young men in morning dress.' Whether it would be any better if they were wearing sports jackets and cords is a matter for you to decide.

Of course, wealth and income is no longer related to social origins in the way that it was. Britain has become a more metriocratic society, particularly if you have been to one of the better universities (no longer just the 'golden triangle' of Oxford, Cambridge and London).

Social class divisions still persist, although often expressed in postal code terms, e.g., CV31 versus CV32: the former area being less prosperous South Leamington, the latter being the more up market north of the Royal Spa.

They clearly still have some resonance, even if the social class divides are less clearly defined than they once were. Possibly David Cameron's origins can be exploited by Labour, although probably more effectively outside London and Southern England.

Of course, at the moment Labour seems to be falling out with Blairites getting their revenge on Brownites in the Sunday press. However, just as I thought the Labour lead the polls were showing was shallow and fragile, the same is true of Conservative leads now being shown.

The electorate remains volatile and probably the two main parties are level pegging which is certainly an improvement for the Conservatives. However, much of their gains have come from the Lib Dems who have been in free fall. Knives are already sharpening for the decent but electorally ineffective Ming Campbell. As Liberal spokesperson on foreign affairs, his age was an asset, but now it is handicap, particularly as he seems to be older than he actually is.

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