In the most recent edition of the Sunday Times1, there was an interesting article by Ferdinand Mount called Uppers and Downers which had the tagline:
Ferdinand Mount believes a ‘classless’ delusion grips Britain. Not only is the class divide wider than ever, but in a compelling new book he explores how the rich are treating the poor with an unprecedented contempt
I must confess that this intro led me to read this article with a predisposition for contempt for that premise myself. And indeed, I found much of what Mount had to say about class attitudes in Britain debatable to put it mildly. However the central thesis, something not hinted at in the introduction, was indeed compelling: that many social problems today in the UK are a direct consequence of the destruction of working class culture, and this was caused by, as Mount puts it:
Worse than all of this is the fact that in the past I have worked for a Conservative government, and not just any government but the administration led by Margaret Thatcher, which its passionate opponents still believe did more to deepen class divisions than any other government since the war. I was, for a time, the head of her policy unit. How can someone like me pretend to know what life was and is like for the worst-off of my fellow countrymen?
My answer is that it is People Like Us who are largely responsible for the present state of the lower classes in Britain. It is our misunderstandings, meddlings and manipulations that have transformed a British working class that was the envy and amazement of foreign observers in the 19th century into a so-called underclass that is often the subject of baffled despair today, both at home and abroad. We did the damage, or most of it. It is the least we can do to try to understand what we have done and help to undo it where we can.
For me this is truly the key but it is not a consequence of the ‘Conservative’ or ‘Labour’ varient of intrusive regulatory statism (for in 2004, who really thinks there is a huge material difference between them?) but of regulatory interventionist statism in all its progressive democratic forms. I shall certainly read Mount’s new book Mind the Gap, though if the pre-release blurb is true that the book asks…
[T]he author pursues an oft-times illusive answer to the fundamental question: How can oppressive inequality in Britain be wiped out once and for all?
…which begs the question does ‘oppressive inequality’ (a) actually exist in Britain, and (b) it is anyone’s business to ‘wipe it out’. If that is in fact what the book is about then I expect I shall be putting a pretty nasty book review up here on Samizdata.net in the not too distant future.
For me the core issue here however is that as Mount indicates, it was indeed the political class, people like him, who bear the responsibility for destroying a significant section of civil society and replacing it with a state-centred dependency and entitlement culture of de-socialised barbarians.
Thus the question that really needs answering it not how do ‘we’ solve this problem but rather how to dis-aggrandise the entire class of people from left to right who caused the problem in the first place. I cannot tell without first reading Ferdinand Mount’s book but perhaps he has realised that there is indeed what Sean Gabb calls an ‘enemy class’… and much to his chagrin, the term ‘People Like Us’ indicates Mount has realised that he is a member of it.
1 Due to the benighted archiving policy of The Times making articles unreadable to viewers overseas, we do not generally link to Times articles