Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, December 12, 2014

Not as simple as supposed

Comparative textbooks regularly point out that the UK has a titled aristocracy, class differences in education and language, and a social welfare system that acts to bridge the class cleavages. Be careful about those generalizations. Reality is usually more complex.

British Noses, Firmly in the Air
David Mellor, a former Conservative Party minister who resigned over a largely forgotten scandal in 1992, forced himself back into the headlines the other day.

A taxi driver recorded an extraordinarily vicious and elaborate outburst from Mr. Mellor, so full of snobbery and self-regard as to seem a comedy skit. “Shut up! You sweaty, stupid little git!” Mr. Mellor yelled, in a dispute over the route. “I’ve been in the cabinet, I’m an award-winning broadcaster, I’m a Queen’s Counsel! You think your experiences are anything compared to mine? You shut up for Christ’s sake.”…

Andrew Mitchell, a former Conservative Party whip, who last week was found by a judge to have insulted a policeman at the gates of 10 Downing Street, calling him “a pleb” in a harangue about what route to take to leave on his bicycle…

And all of this was combined with an ill-advised tweet late last month, by the Labour Party’s shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry… which was considered to be sufficiently mocking and snobby about the working class as to force the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, to ask her to resign…

Snootiness, William Langley in The Telegraph, concluded, has always been with us, “but these days there is either more of it going on, or it is a lot easier to get caught.”

This is a Britain ever more unequal but uneasy about snobbery and “poshness,” where to be middle class of a certain sort (actually upper class but graciously self-deprecating) seems the ideal…

The elite, of course, do their best not to appear so, even if they dominate the country. As Toby Young warned in The Spectator magazine, “being perceived as upper class in contemporary Britain is the kiss of death, and not just in politics.”

The more unequal Britain becomes, he said, “the less we want to talk about it.” Britain is a nation of “inverted snobs,” because to claim one cares about class “is, in itself, a low-class indicator.”…

“Only in Britain,” wrote Hadley Freeman in The Guardian, “is there this kind of paralyzing myopia where a person is defined eternally by where their parents sent them to school, where snobbery and inverse snobbery clash with equal force and explode into a fiery ball of angry arguments involving such seemingly random — but actually deeply significant — things like grammar schools… "

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At 9:58 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Champagne wars in the Lords as peers say no to a cheaper vintage

The British public has endured the expenses scandal, a cabinet minister describing police officers as plebs and a Labour MP sending an allegedly snobby tweet about “white van men”. But for sheer chutzpah, the peers of the realm have potentially topped the lot.

It has emerged that a proposal to save taxpayers some money by making peers and MPs share a catering department has been rejected “because the Lords feared that the quality of champagne would not be as good if they chose a joint service”...

The House of Lords – which has a £1.3m annual catering budget – has bought in more than 17,000 bottles of champagne since the coalition took office, enough to give each peer just over five bottles each year, at a cost of £265,770. As of 31 March this year, the House of Lords, which currently has 780 peers, had 380 bottles of champagne in stock, worth £5,713, held in its main cellar and at individual stores on site...


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