That would be “posh”, then? No? He allegedly said “pleb”? So that’s out of order; and “posh”, presumably, is out of order too. No? Why not?
The rules of class warfare are baffling to the uninitiated; that is to say, to anybody who brings an open mind and a modicum of objectivity to the topic. This most banal of all political preoccupations has been given a fresh lease of life since the regretted advent to public life of Tony Blair. Amid the controversies of class conflict, one consensual axiom stands out clearly: if you want a definition of “low-life” it is Blair and New Labour. It was the Great Charlatan and his cohorts who breathed life back into the cold corpse of Aneurin Bevan’s lost class war. It found its fatuous but venomous expression in Blair’s “Forces of Conservatism” speech, the ban on hunting and all the other vulgarities posing as policies that pock-marked his despicable administration.
Class War II, however, is rather different from Class War I. It is led by plutocrats, the friends of plutocrats and those who aspire to enter that repulsive category. The classless society will be ruled by billionaires, with millionaires as their sycophantic lieutenants. Since a project of such rampant excess and inequity might provoke resentment among the helots it needs a persuasive PR slogan; happily, it has devised just such a motto: “Equality”. The “equalities agenda” is a crusade to ensure that while the rich get richer (and how) they simultaneously grow crasser, grosser and more vulgar.
The old link between money and breeding is sedulously being destroyed. The theory is that possessing grotesque amounts of money will not offend public sensibilities, provided it is not attended by good taste, elegance, manners, broad culture and a command of the Queen’s English. The ideal plutocrat is a cross between a Russian oligarch and a lottery winner. Inherited wealth, even in very modest quantities, is pilloried, especially since it may well be accompanied by the disqualifying social graces already mentioned. Only those who have earned their money by the sweat of their mediocrity on the coal-face of celebrity have an unchallengeable moral right to wealth.
Those who unfashionably preserve the civilised traditions they have inherited are the grit in the machinery of the equality revolution. They are “posh”, “snobbish”, “socially divisive” and so are the institutions to which they cleave. They are demonised by the forces of modernity, most aggressively by the Conservative Party. Dave and his fellow public schoolboys abandoning their ties, in a pale parody of the Iranian revolution; attempting opportunistic glottalisation of speech, like Blair before them; clumsily affecting every pseudo-egalitarian fashion, with their eyes unwaveringly fixed on the twin objectives of power and wealth, are the pathetic exemplars of class betrayal. Dave Égalité and his kitchen-supper cronies are today’s version of the aristocratic philosophes in pre-Revolutionary France whose antics led them eventually and deservedly to the guillotine.
The nastiness that lurks beneath this façade was exposed by Andrew Mitchell’s outburst. It was the style of the scowling, damn-your-eyes boor that is the scourge of London clubland. Britain is the only country in the world where rudeness is thought to be upper-class behaviour. (Did the Mitchells come over with the Conqueror?) A French or Italian nobleman will greet a complete stranger with smiling courtesy; the English muck-shifter’s pin-striped grandson hoovering up bonuses in a bank will think it obligatory for him to snub all comers. This ill-founded sense of entitlement will have been reinforced by a public-school education.
The public schools expanded greatly in the 19th century when they were required to manufacture first-generation gentlemen to garrison and govern an expanding empire. To the continental nobility, the notion that one can purchase hereditary gentility by writing three cheques a year to an educational institution is as baffling as it is hilarious. The British aristocracy has largely been destroyed by death duties (an act of class war) and divorce (a ruinous self-indulgence).
Fortunately, the phenomenon of the gentleman stubbornly survives. Some are gentlemen of coat armour, others from very different backgrounds. The identifying characteristics are courtesy, consideration for others, conservative dress (particularly well polished shoes), eschewing foul language, reticence regarding sexual matters, chivalry towards women and respect for all legitimate hierarchies. Collectively, they form the healthy culture of deference, as distinct from servility towards wealth. They are “modern” Britain’s worst nightmare and they are still with us.