Class Will Always Be The Last British Taboo


It’s the end of 2016, and evidence of growing class separation is suddenly all around us.

‘I ruined a goose last week,’ said the lady behind me at the theatre. ‘Then someone told me about this shop called Lidl. The most extraordinary place. They sell frozen geese. Do you know, it was every bit as good as the one from our village butcher, and a fraction of the price? Of course I can never tell anyone I went to Lidl.’

No matter how well the chainstore Lidl sources its food some middle class people would need to wear a false moustache to shop there. In the world of middle-class values class is an ever-changing minefield. Shops like Primark and TK Maxx are for proles. Anything Australian is vulgar. Under Obama America had been accorded middle-class respectability but has now been branded a hillbilly no-go zone for electing Trump. Our refusal to understand any complicated situation leaves us prejudiced and in the dark.


We applaud the artist Tracey Emin’s decision to move back to Margate. ‘It’s where she belongs, after all,’ said one TV snob. Acting, once considering little better than being a whore, is now a desirable profession because there are virtually no working class actors left; who can afford the training?

So what about writers? Here’s a section from an Amazon review of a book called ‘The Weekenders: Travels in the Heart of Africa’:

‘What would happen if you took some of Britain’s best writing talent, put them on a plane and flew them to one of the most extraordinary and inaccessible places on the planet?‘ The roll-call includes Irvine Welsh, Alex Garland, Tony Hawks, Victoria Glendinning, Andrew O’Hagan, Giles Foden and WF Deedes. Welsh, you’ll note, is the token commoner, invited ‘from the streets of Edinburgh’ as the blurb puts it (he must live in a cardboard box). The rest are resolutely middle class.

Frankly these days there aren’t many working class authors left to invite on such a project. I was recently told by a very silly man that reading itself is middle class, which made me want to punch him in the throat. Reading is a right for every human being and therefore classless. But publishers are not. There are still publishers and writers who use social networks as if they were getting to grips with a loom.

The dividing lines of class, which until recently were fading to grey, have now been re-established in concrete. In this world ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ becomes the rallying cry of the stupid (one now-famous clip shows a man arguing that ‘Brexit will keep out the Muslims’), while the Remainers prove their solidarity with Europe by going skiing in – Zermatt. It’s as confusing as the freezing fog the country is trapped in this week.


Where do I stand now? I am middle-class. My parents were in science and law, and owned their own home. They were poorer than the working class people in their neighbourhood, but richer than their parents before them. I live in the ‘London Bubble’*, although how one would describe those who voted Remain outside London is a mystery.

Class is no longer judged by your background. It’s about having enough money for university, education, homes, holidays. When Viz invented its character ‘Student Grant’, students were still being paid to go to college, not the reverse. Presumably working class values will make a comeback in 2017. Or perhaps not. As one of this site’s readers, Mark, pointed out; ‘Individuality and free will are relatively new concepts, so it’s possible that they will cease in importance again.’

Here’s to an interesting 2017!

*Definition of ‘London Bubble’; My neighbour posted an online plea – ‘Help, we are having an emergency. Our raclette grill has broken and we’re having a party. Does anyone have one we can borrow?’

13 comments on “Class Will Always Be The Last British Taboo”

  1. Brian Evans says:

    My partner once described my step-mother to a friend of his as being “stultifyingly middle-class”. When I told her she thought it was a “hoot” and then went on to strenuously deny it. When visiting two days ago she was horrified when I told her that my nice jumper she was admiring cost £4 from a charity shop. The tea cup crashed into the saucer; “But there’re for poor people”

    Politics has always been a contentious issue between her and my dad. She is a true-blue Tory, and Dad is a hard-left Labour former shop-steward.

    But the biggest issue for me is: when does middle class (and the other alternatives) have a hyphen, and when doesn’t it?

  2. Ness says:

    In my defence, I’m only a half vulgar neo-Luddite. Just don’t call me middle class…

  3. Jackie Hayles says:

    Catherine Tate’s Posh Mum ( and more!) says it all! As usual, her observations are perfect. Also, John Lennon’s “peasants” remark about those people who think they’re so clever and classless and free. My Mum used to say that nobody is better or worse than anyone else, and everyone uses the loo. It is a sobering thought indeed. Happy New Year to you and all your readers and thank you for another year of Kindle-borne joys.

  4. Roger says:

    “. I was recently told by a very silly man that reading itself is middle class, which made me want to punch him in the throat.”
    I think that’s a definite sign you’re working-class (or working class) in some ways. Middle-class people would want to punch him on the nose.
    What’s my class-position? I own a flat in Fulham, but I don’t own a raclette grill or even know what a raclette is?

  5. Brooke says:

    Sweetie, I’ve lived in the United States (off and on) for almost seventy years. It always has been and will be a hilly-billy, gun toting zone.

  6. SteveB says:

    – Are you sure it’s not your awareness that changed?
    – I’m not convinced that individuality and free will are something modern; I’m pretty sure that Simon Foreman had plenty of both, for example. As to the -concept- of free will. Augustine certainly had it didn’t he. And I guess arguably the stoics before him.
    Anyway – Chris, thanks for all the entertainment and education and keeping us challenged. And I do wish all of us whose paths cross here a very great 2017. I’m off to have some beer 🙂

  7. Graham Hounslow says:

    I’ve always been puzzled by what makes somebody working class or middle class. Is it their job, their parents, their education, where they shop or just their outlook on life?

    Am I working class as I’ve shopped in Lidl, by the way their goose is really good and the fat that comes off it make really good roast potatoes. Or am I middle class as I also shop in Waitrose and John Lewis for stuff as well?

    I also know what a raclette grill is, though I don’t own one – so am I doomed?

  8. Chris Lancaster says:

    Brian, the general rule (although there are exceptions) is that compound words such as ‘middle class’ are written as two words when used as a noun, but as a single hyphenated word when used as an adjective.

    Happy New Year from the grammar police! (Who would quite happily go to Lidl, but doesn’t as his wife refers to it as ‘that awful shop’ — if I bought anything there then she would refuse to eat it).

  9. Brian Evans says:

    Thanks Chris (Lancaster), That’s sorted that mystery out.

    I’m an Aldi man myself.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    I know there are classes here, but you can ignore them most of the time. My son would describe me as bourgeois, I’m afraid, hopelessly bourgeois, in fact, but much of the time I don’t care. I’ve temporarily abandoned Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent in favour of Chris Fowler’s The Water Room and am feeling all the better for it.

  11. Sharon Fielding says:

    OMG….Life must be so hard in the U.K.
    Ignorance is bliss, being from the south in South Australia.

  12. admin says:

    Life isn’t hard in the UK, Sharon. Problems are mitigated by feeling very connected, very alive. Actually it’s quite thrilling.

  13. Anne Fernie says:

    Living in the Manchester bubble I had to google ‘raclett grill’ – it’s a glorified Breville isn’t it????

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