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Plebgate Proves We Still Have an Ideological Class System

Posted on the 26 September 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Downton Abbey's old school class system. Photo Credit: Flickr. Downton Abbey’s old school class system. Photo Credit: Flickr.

Andrew Mitchell’s unfortunate outburst – the political equivalent of a face-plant- has opened up a Pandora’s Box of class issues. Yet the media storm it created proves that, not only do we abhor Mitchell’s assumed class bigotry, we expected it. The Guardian was quick to note it would lend support to already existing claims by the Labour party that the Tory government believes itself socially superior. What is fascinating in this issue is that it lays bare the prejudices of everyone involved – a surprisingly democratic scandal in that respect. Crucially, our ingrained assumption in the class bigotry of Tories and their ilk is just as damaging as Mitchell’s alleged comment. Many were shockingly quick to run to the assumption that all Conservatives are tweed-clad bigots, who happily scoff about ‘plebs’ in between rousing choruses of ‘God Save the Queen’ and lashings of brandy.

That’s the crux of this class maelstrom: the uncomfortable reality that we are a divided nation in dire need of an attitude makeover. The ‘them and us’ mentality and unfortunate stereotyping is helping no one. For the social differences in our society (think TOWIE vs. Made in Chelsea if you have to) do exist, even if the unjust restrictions such a system used to impose are, thankfully, defunct. It is the alarming lack of interaction and ignorant finger pointing between ‘the classes’ that must stop. And this class bigotry is a pendulum that swings both ways. You need only check The Daily Mail every summer for its annual ‘toff bashing’ at the expense of Oxbridge universities and their May Balls and drinking societies to see that.

What we must learn from Plebgate is not whether or not class still exists but whether class bigotry does. The key to pacifying these differences is, as ever, social mobility and an end to a ‘them and us’ culture. I feel, in a way, well placed to make this comment. I was state educated my entire life and was then fortunate enough to earn a place at Cambridge. Whilst there I became alarmingly aware of social prejudice levied at me – not from my fellow students, but from others who assumed that, because of my university I must be a rich privileged snob. There were also students, many who had gone to the most elite of boarding schools, who, quite literally, had not the first clue about how the rest of the world live. My experiences have allowed me to delve into both worlds and I feel lucky enough to have accrued a roster of friends that live in both council estates and actual estates. Whatever social divisions exist in this country can be bridged the moment we, ‘pleb’ or ‘toff’ take our barriers down and get an education in how the other half live.

Andrew Mitchell may well be bigoted. He may well be a tweed-clad Tory whose ignorance of the working class is as abhorrent and damaging as his detractors  suspects it is. But if plebgate threatens to become ‘toffgate,’ then this folly has exposed the ingrained prejudices of a divided nation. If we are, as Cameron suggests, “in this together” then it is high time we started acting like it.

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