Polly Toynbee hits it out of the park with her latest column, looking at how talk of a “classless society” has masked the continuing class divisions within Britain.
After a brief sortie against idiotic so-called “Christians” who have been sending her hate-mail – hate-mail is so very Christ-like, don’t you think? – Toynbee starts with an account of how “class and misogyny fuse together” in the viciousness of right-wing attacks on middle-class left-wing women (such as Toynbee herself or the likes of Harriet Harman and Margaret Jay), and continues:
Rightwingers have long used class against any middle-class leftist, a bullying that sidesteps the real political argument. It implies anyone middle class is a traitor to their own by supporting fairer shares. The abuser never explains what’s hypocritical about those born privileged arguing on the side of those who are not.
As a result, the idea is promoted that:
Only those on low incomes are entitled to speak up for themselves – which is convenient, since almost by definition, fewer low earners have access to political platforms. If they did, they’d earn political or journalistic salaries and get the same contempt for “hypocrisy”
Meanwhile, the Tory front-bench – stuffed with Old Etonians – prepares self-interested plans to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £2m, tilting the tax system in favour of their own class interests while proclaiming society now to be “classless”.
Toynbee marshals a few facts to highlight the class divisions that remain:
- 50% of all employees earn less than £23,000, but “the low-paid imagine they are nearer the middle-income range than they are”.
- “Half the population has seen very little real growth in recent years, and the bottom third has suffered an absolute fall in income for five years. People feel it, yet no one says it.
- The benefits of “high GDP growth” over the past decade were enjoyed by the top 20% of the population, and mostly by the top 5%.
As Toynbee continues:
By sleight of hand, Britain abandoned class politics in a still deeply class-bound society. The illusion that anyone can make it is created by fixating on a few who do – or an older generation who did in the 50s and 60s. … Gut resentment rankles, but since Labour is silent on obscenely ostentatious wealth, there is no coherent political channel for it.
And she concludes:
The right spits venom at talk of class, except to sneer at middle-class leftists, but avoids hard facts: a working-class child is 15 times less likely to move upwards than a middle-class child is to stay put. This is no classless society, but a society whose politics conspire to deny it.