What defines the working class is a
continuing lack of opportunity to maximise its drive and talent.
working class is no more. So says a property company that wants to build
million-pound homes on a site covered by a covenant that states it may only be
used to provide housing for the working classes.
Last week, Dano Ltd submitted a writ to the
high court, which stated, "The words ‘working classes’ are not now capable
of any meaningful definition." Well, as Mandy Rice Davies once said in a
different context, Dano Ltd would say that, wouldn’t it? The mainly middle
class media took it upon itself to wrestle with what constitutes membership of
this, the penultimate tier in society (since those among the working class who
become rowdy or give birth out of wedlock – all "crimes" not unknown
among the middle classes – are immediately demoted to the underclass).
Habits (dinner at lunchtime and a cup of tea
taken with all solids) were ruled by some as a guide, but discounted by others
on the grounds that balsamic vinegar and Earl Grey tea are now found even in
the pantries of prefabs (snobbery, of course, has always pervaded the fourth
estate). Columnists, fondly remembering the days before cloth caps were
considered a fashion item, argued that income is no definer: the plumber on
£70,000 remains working class.
Of course, income, or the lack of it, still
matters hugely. But what also defines the working class is the continuing lack
of opportunities to maximise drive and talent. Research on social exclusion
underlines how the middle classes bounce high on a trampoline of interwoven
connections (not least those obtained via private education and Oxbridge),
while the working class, in the main, stand excluded.
Last week, for instance, a debate was
triggered by the claim that a disproportionate number of places in better
comprehensives are going to the middle class who receive private tutoring.
What’s deeply depressing is that any attempt
to correct this inequality raises howls of misinformed protest. Last week, higher
education minister Margaret Hodge suggested that state school pupils should be
allowed into university with lower grades. Head teachers immediately claimed
this would lower standards, on the basis of no evidence at all.
Bristol University’s history department has
changed its selection policy and pushed the percentage of state school intake
up from 57 per cent to 70 per cent. Now, it is not grades that are the criteria
but potential as detected in a student’s motivation and achievement, against
the odds. A record number of firsts is predicted.
The working class can rise to the occasion
once the middle class stop fixing the rules.