IN 1919 my grandmother wrote to her sister: “I don’t think that there is any other country where class differences are felt so much as in England.”
Considering she had just arrived here after fleeing the post-revolution civil war in Russia, that is some statement.
In fact, divisions between the haves and have-nots, the working-class and the gentry, the landowner and the serf, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – define the classes how you will – have always been intrinsic to every society.
Social justice – or lack of it – has always been crucial in politics everywhere.
Which is why I applaud Ed Miliband’s insistent use of the term in Manchester this week.
And why I was gobsmacked to read a respected Tory columnist, Matthew Parris, describing David Cameron as “middle class”.
OK, he used the expression, “upper-middle-class” (complete with all those upper middle class hyphens).
But if Cameron is at the upper end, where on earth is the middle middle? And how much room is left above him for the upper class?
I grew up thinking of myself as middle class.
I went to the village primary school, a state grammar school and finally a comprehensive, where I was the first pupil to go on to university.
David Cameron went to the same prep school as princes Andrew and Edward. From there he followed his father and brother to Eton, the most famous fee-paying school in the world and still the chief bastion of British privilege.
His time at Oxford was marked by his membership of posh, right-wing, boisterous – and very expensive – “drinking clubs”.
He probably never saw inside the kind of dark, poky former servants’ quarters that I inhabited at the other place.
Cameron is a direct descendant of King William IV. His family tree is heavy with baronets, dukes, countesses and viscounts. Most of its non-titled fruit (and some of the knights) seem to have been bankers or stockbrokers.
At birth, Cameron had more dosh than I am likely to earn in the whole of my life. Many times over.
If we’re both in the middle, it’s a darned broad middle.
Cameron’s inherited wealth makes his “magnanimous” decision to forego some of his prime-ministerial pay packet a pretty pointless, empty gesture.
And makes you wonder where the axe will cut most deeply in the coming spending review.
Presumably it’s the middle classes who will take the heaviest hit.
It has to be. Because if Cameron’s in the middle, and “middle” extends as far below the centre line as it apparently does above it, then we’re all middle class. Except maybe the Royal Family.
Something tells me, though, that the upper middle won’t feel the pain as much as the middle middle, the lower middle middle, or the bottom middle.
IT’S not that long ago – post-Chernobyl, post-Three Mile Island, post-Windscale – that nuclear power had a bad name for environmental disasters.
These days you’ll often hear it touted as a solution to the problem of high energy demand, disappearing resources and climate change.
So how have the experts managed to solve the safety issues? How have they settled the question of storing up major disasters for future generations?
A big, lucrative industry has simply bought better PR.
I heard a news presenter talking cheerily the other day about supposedly “green” nuclear power “saving the world”.
There’s some sense in that.
The same sense as there is in curing someone of cancer by shooting them dead.
“LET’S start to have a grown-up debate in this country about who we are and where we want to go and what kind of country we want to leave for our kids.”
“The focus groups will tell you that there’s no votes in green issues. Maybe not.
“But taking the difficult steps to protect our planet for future generations is the greatest challenge our generation faces.”
Good words, Ed. In fact, I thought the new leader’s first speech to the Labour conference was full of fine words.
It was a lot better overall than any individual soundbites you may have heard on the news. As, in fact, the speeches of almost every Labour leader apart from Tony Blair usually have been.
I wasn’t so keen on Jack Straw ending his 30 years on the front bench by looking forward to “a Labour victory in 2015”.
I hope Ed’s chance to take charge comes much sooner than that, and that he’s ready when it does.
The Tory-Tory coalition can do an awful lot of damage in five years.