If the newspaper comments are right, this column will find you, dear reader, in a bewildered state.
As a marketing person, you are a member of a learned profession whose wont it has been since 1955, the year that gave birth to the National Readership Survey, to look upon your fellow man and, since 1970, the year in which The Female Eunuch was published, your fellow woman, not as a sentient lump of flesh, blood and bone, but as an alphabetical cypher.
To the marketer, the great crawling, seething, brawling and, above all, spending hordes are divisible under the labels A, B, C (one or two), D and E. These categories, though devised by sociologists, have generally been held to correspond to some kind of reality. The central criterion is occupational. As far as marketing is concerned, there is no upper class, but there are three kinds of middle class: A is upper middle class and comprises higher managerial types; B is middle, middle class and includes administrative or professional categories; and C1 is lower middle class and toils at junior managerial and supervisory tasks. According to those labels, about 40 per cent of the pop-ulation is middle class and sits atop an agglomeration of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers, state pensioners, widows and casual or lowest-grade workers.
But now this neat and convenient stratification has been blown apart, so it is said, by an ICM poll for Radio 4’s Today programme. Of a random sample of more than 1,000 adults, 41 per cent described themselves as middle class and 55 per cent as working class, which accords almost exactly with the facts described above. So why all the fuss?
Well, say the commentators, the research cannot reflect the reality. With fewer and fewer jobs to be found in traditional working class manufacturing industries, about 60 per cent of the population are today middle class. The puzzle said to be perplexing the advertising and marketing industries is why so many of the new middle classes describe themselves as working class.
It is, of course, no puzzle at all. To an outsider, such as a newspaper commentator, the ICM findings might be enigmatic, but to the world of marketing, which is steeped in honesty, plain dealing, and transparent trustworthiness, there is no mystery – the respondents to the survey were simply telling the truth. Moreover, they were telling it with a candour that bordered on the ingenuous.
Their message was as simple as it is ancient: it is that money has little to do with class. The NRS social grade definitions imply that social standing and wealth go hand in hand, but only a sociologist could believe that. Class, as we all know, is woven from an intricate pattern whose threads include education, manners, attitudes, prejudices, and much else that is either admirable or despicable. True, to be middle class, you need a certain income, but someone who attains that income does not thereby gain admission to the middle classes. Just as the upper class despises new money, the middle class is unimpressed by dosh alone.
The ICM survey tells us no more than we already knew, namely that for the first time in history we have a working class with money. That it should continue to describe itself as working class is unremarkable and indeed laudable. Behind the survey, however, there lies a dark truth that is seldom mentioned. Britain is no longer divided between rich and poor, or middle class and working class. It is split between the beleaguered rump of the old bourgeoisie and the growing army of New Brits. And they are at war with each other.
The bourgeoisie clings desperately to the tattered standard of Crown and country, of decency, civility, morality, privacy, reserve, aloofness, and a certain self-righteousness. The New Brit, who has moved in next door, wears a baseball cap, has a ring in his ear, drinks beer from the bottle, calls his children Darren and Demi, has a satellite dish, runs a four-wheel drive, has pizza delivery bikes calling at all times, and uses the F word as a punctuation mark.
New Labour, falsely believing that, through the magic of focus groups, it has tapped a seam of middle class support, has itself unwittingly declared war on Middle England. The Government seems determined to curb the leylandii, not realising that this fast-growing conifer represents the last hope of those who were once content with privet.
Encircled by New Brits, the old middle classes have retreated behind a laager of giant hedges, pitifully cleaving to the belief that, shielded by vast and burgeoning barriers, they can continue to use napkins and lavatories, ask “What?” and not “Pardon?”, and thumb through The Telegraph in the dwindling hope of finding something in its pages that is neither trivial nor vulgar.
Of course, it’s all pathetic self-deception. Fifty-five per cent of the population are working class, and with numbers comes clout. The BBC, taking its cue from the politicians, will not draw breath without first consulting the working classes. Roads, pubs, shops, high streets, holiday resorts, every last bolt-hole, all are beset by New Brits, enfranchised, mobilised, and made omnipresent by cash. Hadrian had his wall, Offa his dyke, but all Middle England has is the leylandii. And now they want to take that away. –