Brief Thoughts on the Modern British Class System: An Old Tory Writes

by Edward Frostick

Contrary to some opinions, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong, or ever has been, with the traditional working class.

The underclass is something different. There’s a lefty book called ‘Chavs: the demonization of the working class’, which is an insult to the working class. By definition, chavs aren’t working class, no matter how much the Left like to pretend they are. They’re underclass; and more often than not, unemployable underclass.

The underclass is a product of the welfare state. There has always been an underclass. But disease and parental negligence kept it to a tolerable level. Needless to say, the underclass is even less desirable than most of the immigrants.

At the other end we have a comparatively new greed class, which I’ve already covered. When I was young it was hardly noticeable. And as I said, it’s largely a product of the 80s ‘greed is good’. From then on, we have had directors ripping off their shareholder employers and asset stripping which has degenerated to people like Fred Goodwin ruining whole industries.

Back in the 1970s, Arnold Weinstock was a hate figure of the left. The hate wasn’t entirely unjustified. But he ran GEC for GEC. He didn’t run it into the ground for personal gain or glory, and it became generally regarded as Britain’s flagship.

His successor destroyed it. Shares fell from something like £11 to a halfpenny. It is no more.

These days industries seem to be run by the Goodwins rather than the Weinstocks.

11 responses to “Brief Thoughts on the Modern British Class System: An Old Tory Writes

  1. I had to tick that up, because it is all so true. Why are directors involved in the ripping off of their shareholders? Well, the self-prostitution of non-executive directors on company remuneration boards is part of it – they waive through absurd pay packages and millions of share options for nothing. And come the AGM, votes by shareholders on the pay packages are just advisory!!! Even though they own the company! Another absurdity is bonuses for nothing: a director who has personally made a difference and doubled the share price of a company deserves a bonus, but many bonus packages are based on a complex array of targets impossible not to meet. Of course, as capitalism is a free-for-all, we could all have aimed to become the directors in the position to rip off shareholders, so to that extent, from a libertarian point of view, criticism of executive behaviour is just the whining of people who had a fair chance of getting where the directors are themselves…

    I like reading Moneyweek – the best magazine in the UK today – and Merryn Somerset Webb is an astonishingly writer for that magazine and could well be described as libertarian in many of her views. She wrote on the “talent myth” at – ie the myth that directors (whether private-sector, or council bosses in the public sector) are possessed of some special “talent” that justifies the ripping off of everyone else.

  2. Wave – not waive!

  3. Nick diPerna

    But much of mainstream society still regards working class people as chavs. Me and my colleagues have faced appalling bigotry, abuse and rejection throughout our working lives – I was a full-time factory worker at 16.

    I currently work with former tradesmen used to earning a half-decent wage, now on minimum wage with no perks. I’m both saddened and amazed how they just take it on the chin and never complain. The only people who get anything in British society are the ones who whinge and complain the most. People with pride get nothing – not even respect.

  4. Nick, there was something positive about the original Old Labour, in its respect for the real working class – I would take Attlee’s Labour Party over Cameron’s Tories any day. The whole anti-racism thing has emerged into a major class issue – and even gay marriage and other supposedly trendy causes seem to be being used mainly as class differentiation issues. I doubt the people in power actually care about any of these things as such.

  5. The lumpenproletariat is rather like oral sex. Every generation thinks they’ve discovered it.

    The first great wave of puritan statism- which culminated in the ruinous Progressive Era- used as one of its main drivers a panic about the lumpens- chavs now, known as “the residuum” then- and a commitment to fix them up. As a general rule of thumb in fact, the intensity of mithering about them is a good guide to how badly infested with progressives one’s society is. As we are currently suffering a renewed infestation, the lumpens are again high on the agenda of things the reformist movements- via the State- intend to “fix” and high on the list of things the chattering classes chatter about.

    It’s all rather depressingly predictable.

  6. Sir Fred Goodwin merely did what Bankers in the private sector were supposed to do in the 90s and 2000s. That is to say: make money for their shareholders and bondholders. They did it by constructing bigger and bigger multinational conglomerates of previously independent firms, being able thus to minimise centralised costs. there was nothing wrong or even illegal about this model. Also, if you weren’t “driven” or if you showed even the slightest trace of “lacking ambition and self-motivation while aso being able to work as a team”, you were out. Ask me: I know. Ig you didn’t gobble up entire banks before breakfast, your Board might decide that “your future as a leader of this firm is not totally clear at this time…”

    Sir Fred Goodwin did it very well: better than his peers, which is why he got where he was. To strip him of a knighthood, awarded for doing exactly what he was expected to do, and which he did better than well, is shameful, and the War Secretariat has taken down the effing bastards’ names, for future reference.

    That said, Ian is right in his comment.

  7. Ian, the lumpen proles do exist and are a problem if you live in working-class areas as I do. And welfarism tends to boost the lumpen population! That is why I said Old Labour respected the “real” working class – the residuum are not the real working class. With tattoos taking over, I fear society is assimilating downwards to the residuum!

  8. Edward Spalton

    djwebb 2010 and others.
    I knew a very conscientious young social worker in the Sixties who went on to a senior, influential position. I got to read “New Society” and other trade papers . The overwhelming drive then was to dismantle any discrimination in the award of state benefits between the deserving and the undeserving poor. They were all to become “clients” . It was also in this period that unmarried motherhood became a well rewarded career option for women of modest attainments. In short, the respectable working class was deliberately slighted and undermined.

    In the small office where I worked one of the girls got pregnant. The directors were traditionally minded but kindly men and did not sack her as many would have done then. Indeed in larger offices it was usual policy because mothers of girls would not want their daughters associated with “that sort”. The directors did however ask whether the young man would accept his responsibility and marry her. “O no” she said “I would lose £10 a week benefit” . At the time a farm labourer’s basic wage would have been perhaps £11 per week (I know it was £9.50 in 1961)

    This, I am sure, was all quite deliberate. Roy Jenkins called it “the civilised society” and praised the contribution which those he called “the voluntary unemployed” were making to society. I also remember an article in “New Society” which said that the workshy should not be put to the indignity of having to appear to seek work. They should be allowed to become “state registered ergophobiacs” and a benefit of £10 per week was proposed.
    Of course, a person in employment on that wage would have been paying his NI contributions, some income tax and the expenses of getting to and from work.

    Of course, there always was a reservoir of incorrigible unemployables but it was small. The Labour Exchange (now the Jobcentre) would send them round to appear to enquire for work. I had the job of interviewing some of them and would try to find out if they had any useful experience or aptitude. “Just sign the blood card, Mister” many would say. That would provide the evidence that they were “genuinely seeking work”. I eventually told the Labour Exchange to stop sending them to us.

  9. DJ,

    I too live in a “working class area”. My neighbours consist of the proletariat shading down to the lumpen, and a large contingent of the religion of peace.

    The point I was making wasn’t that such people don’t exist. It is that they do, and the State has used their existence as justification for its massive growth and interventionism, and that their existence is nothing new. The likes of Dickens and Henry Mayhew were describing them 150 years ago, and all we can say of the subsequent century and a half of charitable and State attempts to fix them has not resulted in any observable repair.

  10. Yes, Ian, you’re right. But I preferred the previous system whereby the police would give them a clip on the ear for harassing neighbours with music. Now the police won’t get involved, and the council take months to decide not to do anything – and so your only choice is to accept inconsiderate behaviour.

    Thinking about it, if you replaced the police with a community-appointed security force, eg if there was no police force, or only a CID for very major crimes, each housing estate would purchase its own security – this means that as a paying customer you would have an input into what forms of behaviour they tolerated.

    If there are 100 houses on an estate, you could have one policeman (private-sector bobby) paid £20,000, to walk round and round. Each house would pay £200 a year, or £4 a week. Remembering that taxes would have been drastically scaled back, it would be affordable. As one of 100 customers, you would have power, and the Polish family on the estate who play bass music until 3 in the morning would find themselves the subject of regular attention by the hired security man. Real crime would fall to almost zero, as someone was constantly walking round, and keeping an eye out.

    You could rejig it to 3 shifts of 8 hours, and 3 policemen hired by the community watching an estate of 300 houses – still enough to ensure no burglaries or anti-social behaviour, and worth the money.

  11. Weinstock ran GEC the way he did because he did not face shareholder/other pressures to maximise returns on capital, although that changed towards the end of his tenure. (The disaster of what happened at Marconi should be a warning to all CEOs).

    A lot depends on the exact structure of a business. Sean G. and others have written in the past about the case against forms of limited liability. I have no problem at all with firms run in whatever way the owners want; the issue is when ownership and control are in the hands of different people. This is also particularly relevant for banks. Kevin Dowd has written about the case for increasing potential liabilities on bankers and owners of banks. He’s absolutely right. We need to make banking a job for cautious, very careful people.

    It is a bit of a myth to say that, somehow, “greed” was invented in the recent decades. The old-style unions, with their closed shops, appalling industrial relations and the rest, were pretty rapacious when they put their minds to it. And let’s not get all misty-eyed about the old working class, either. Sure, some of it was admirable, some not.

    There is also the greed for power, arguably far more dangerous than the lust for lucre.