Having skim-read Vogue, Marie Claire and Elle in the hairdressers yesterday I ended up reading a Tatler article on 'the Manners Maze' on essential issues such as "Is it rude to defriend someone on Facebook?" and "Should one discuss politics, sex or religion at dinner?" In answer to the latter, Quentin Letts said: "Only the dullest MPs avoid these essential subjects. Religion is quite the best. Anything to taunt dreadul clip-on atheists." I have no idea what a 'clip on' atheist is, unless it's some sort of reference to a clip-on bow tie being an inferior version of the real thing... but no, still have no idea what he's on about.
Anyway, the highlight of this feature comes with the question: "Is it rude to vote Labour?" Answers range from "It's a bit infra dig, like commenting on Grandma's moustache" and "Not only rude but also ridiculous" to "Not so much rude as ostentatiously contrary. Demonstrates a bolshy form of inverted snobbery". In other words, voting Labour is for common people. Or for people who want to live like Common People. (I was at law college with people like that... You might think that getting a university education takes you up in the world, but at law college there were 21 year olds who belonged to gentleman's clubs and treated me, I always felt, like a serving wench who'd gotten ideas above her station.)
Labour has come under some fire over the past few weeks for supposedly reigniting the class war: Gordon Brown's "playing fields of Eton" jibe at Cameron at PMQs; the Zac Goldsmith furore and criticism of Tory inheritance tax plans which would benefit only the privileged few; the resurrection of the fox-hunting debate with www.backtheban. (Resurrected only in response to a Tory pledge to revisit the issue, I hasten to add). The truth is, it never went away. But it's not Us who've been propogating it. It's Them.
What Labour is being accused of at the moment is the class equivalent of "playing the race card", Not in the sense of Tories 'playing the race card' at the last election with their "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" posters in areas of high immigration (and now Michael Howard, Tory leader at the time, accuses all political parties of not doing enough to confront the BNP... but I digress, as ever.) Not in that sense, but in the sense that people from BME communities are often accused of playing the race card when they raise questions of injustice and poor treatment. And just as those allegations often come from out-and-out racists, so faux outrage over 'class war' is often the preserve of out-and-out snobs.
Jacob Rees-Mogg once said that "John Prescott's accent most certainly stereotypes him as an oaf" and talked of the state education system producing "potted plants". And yet, if we were to describe him as a Tory toff, which he patently obviously is, we'd no doubt be accused of class warfare. (And before you start, Crewe and Nantwich... yes, silly campaign, he's not even that posh. Stinking rich, maybe, but not a toff).
Incidentally, not only has Cameron tried to get the sister, Annunziata, to change her name to Nancy Mogg for the election campaign, I have it on good authority that the Moggs are amongst those who've been told by CCHQ not to do regional media, because they 'create the wrong impression', by being too posh. Or maybe it's just because calling voters potted plants doesn't go down too well in the South West. Or anywhere really. The farmer/ Tory PPC Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones is also on the list, which is quite ironic really as it seems he's just pretending to be posh.
It seems to me that it's the Tories who are obsessed by the Toff Factor, and their mockrage at "class war" by Labour is motivated primarily by fear of the label sticking. Which if the response I've been getting on the doorsteps of Bristol East is anything to go by, it is. I suspect the focus-groups are telling CCHQ exactly the same thing.
But the reason it is sticking is not because Labour have been having at bit of fun talking about Bullingdon boys or the playing fields of Eton or the Tory front-bench resembling Millionaire's Row. It's because the Conservative Party leadership has clearly demonstrated by the policies it is putting forward that its priority in Government would be to protect the interests of the privileged elite in whose circles they so comfortably move. Cameron's Christmas card list, as Gordon put it. And until they demonstrate that their priorities lie elsewhere - and drop the offensive denigration of working-class communities as 'Broken Britain' while they're at it - we're perfectly entitled to point that out.