“So long as they (the Proles) continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance.
Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern…Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”
? George Orwell, 1984
I like bingo. I used to play with my Nana on the seafront at Broadstairs. She was a demon at it. She was also a Tory Street Captain.
I like beer. Those who know me will attest I’m not averse to a pint or two. Sometimes I’d have a beer with my Tory Councillor Grandad.
I wonder what on earth my grandparents would have made of Grant Shapps truly inept online poster – tweeted out last night. How utterly patronising to the life they had worked hard to build for themselves to reduce it to such a crass stereotype.
My Grandparents loved Thatcher. It was something on which we were never, ever going to agree. (I left the arguing about this to my parents – I talked to them about other things as families who disagree do.) They loved her because to them she stood for the values they believed in and had benefited from. Social mobility – though never expressed in those terms – was a key part of their Toryism. As far as they were concerned, she was on the side of people like them. People who had worked their way up from less to more and wanted more for their kids.
The word that really stands out in that poster is “They”. The stereotype is bad. But worse is the sense that the Tories have simply “othered” anyone who isn’t “one of us”. This is Cameron’s noblesse oblige approach to leadership writ large. Pacification not power sharing.
How many people at Conservative Central Office saw that poster before it was published? How many in Grant Shapps office alone? Who was the digital person who designed it? Who wrote the text?
How did not a single one of them spot how awful it was? How have the Tories drift so far from the sense of surety they had in their relationship with certain sections of the working and lower middle classes?
It strikes me that this ad is part of an ongoing effort to deal with the Tories’ UKIP problem. Farrage himself – or at least the carefully crafted image he chooses to project – is almost as much of a patronising stereotype. He’s the saloon bar bore made good.
But people believe Farage is one of them. He appeals as one of them. Not as someone who will dole out the odd treat, but as someone who will stand up for the things they worry about. I wish they didn’t feel this way about Farage (much as I wished the same about Thatcher) but I can’t deny that they do.
They do not feel this way about Cameron’s Conservatives and a couple of pennies off beer and bingo isn’t going to change that. Nor is being patronised about it.
In the end, this poster is a Twitterstorm in a teacup. It will blow over. It is not the poster itself that matters. In the longer term, what matters is how badly the Tories have drifted from Thatcher’s ability to speak to all classes (if not all communities – there weren’t many like my Grandparents in the North East). If they can’t arrest this shrinking of their own interests, if they continue to other those who didn’t go to the right schools and have the right ancestry, then they will continue to be the party that is not seen as representing “people like me”
A major critique from Tory commentators of Ed’s response to the budget yesterday was to call his tactics “Class War”. This Crosby-like line is a relic from the 70s we will hear a lot as the election approaches and Labour continue to push hard on the inequalities that are endemic in our society and are failing all of us.
But this poster exposes the real class warriors. Not those who wish to fight for greater equality for all, but those who simply cannot see those who aren’t like them as a true part of the conversation. They Tories have chosen – deliberately or unconsciously – to be the party where “us” is the 5% who own 20% of our national wealth and “they” is the rest of us.
Ultimately, this is what will be their undoing.
This post first appeared on LabourList.
Tags: Grant Shapps