Why We Shouldn’t Stop Talking About Class

Rosie McCann is a second year History student at KCL.

As mentioned in Emily O’Sullivan’s ‘Myth of Meritocracy,’ Blair’s ‘Third Way’ approach to politics turned us away from class politics and towards a ‘classless society.’ Instead of this vision creating a meritocracy and social mobility, it merely disenfranchised the working class, which alienated us entirely. This denial of our existence meant that politicians are unable to understand us politically and underestimate our importance within society.

Evans and Tilley argue that in the mid twentieth century, there was little shame surrounding being working class. Yet, the arrival of Thatcher, and subsequently Blair, moved us into an age of working-class marginalisation, which we are yet to escape. Class no longer matters, because we have been told that it does not.  The line between ‘working class’ and ‘middle class’ has been blurred so intensely, there is no longer such thing as working-class pride, and thus no political outlet for working class voices.

Let me expand on this. Blair’s narrative of a classless society stated that the ‘new middle class’ would include millions of people who may traditionally see themselves as working class, but whose ambitions are broader than those of their ancestors. The linguistic choices here are worrying and seek to create an ‘underclass’ of people who cannot simply socially progress, due to their economic circumstances. This false sense of meritocracy erases the existence and the worth of Britain’s working class. 

When you pretend a group no longer exists, you seize their political voice, their ability to be heard, and make it difficult for their needs to be met. 

Many liberal perspectives on Brexit highlight the significance of this issue.  The working class ‘leave’ vote is often characterised as a result of lack of education, ignorance and their susceptibility to populism. While it may be true that some working-class people voted for Brexit, and did so on the basis of immigration, or promises made by misleading politicians, by stating that the working class are too uneducated to understand their own political beliefs is proof that our political voice is being consistently undermined. 

While it may feel progressive to state that certain beliefs are due to a lack of education, it is actually regressive and patronising. If we start to acknowledge and appreciate the political voice of the working class, mainstream politics may not feel inaccessible. 

Furthermore, there is significant argue to suggest that the elites have got it all wrong, and their attempts to understand the working class have failed. A recent LSE study confirms that the leave vote being synonymous with a lack of education and the preservation of the white working-class identity is largely a myth. This study states that people with intermediate levels of education (Good GCSES and A Levels) were more pro-leave than those who are considered to have a low level of education. Hence, the idea that Brexit was a unified response of the working class who finally found their ‘long lost voice’ is simply inaccurate, and challenges the idea that Brexit was an issue of working-class frustrations. 

Yet again, the working class have been failed to be understood. Why?

The answer, simply put, is because we no longer talk about class. 

Third Way principles engulfed the working class into a socio-economic group they could not identify with, which marginalised us even further. People no longer feel proud to be working class, because to feel anything but middle class is demonised. A working class still exists, and they need to be listened to.  

Bibliography: 

Social Class and British Politics, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 3 

– Mark Abrams

Blair Hails Middle Class Revolution – Michael White (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/1999/jan/15/uk.politicalnews1)

Many would have you believe the working class is reactionary and right wing – but this research disproves that – Phil Burton-Cartledge (https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/working-class-right-left-wing-lse-research-ukip-brexit-labour-a9025731.html)

The new class war: Excluding the working class in 21st‐century Britain, Progressive Review – Geoff Evans and James Tilley (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.2050-5876.2015.00821.x)

Brexit was not the voice of the working class nor of the uneducated – it was of the squeezed middle 

Tony Blair, the promotion of the ‘active’ educational citizen, and middle‐class hegemony – Diane Reay (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03054980802518821)

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