Class is back with a vengeance, and not just thanks to the Andrew Mitchell saga. Today’s newspapers are chock full of stories across the news spectrum linked back to class. The Mail, for example, has declared all-out war on the government, with a splash of ‘Who do you they think they are?’ — a front page one could expect to see from the Mirror. The Mitchell-Osborne matter receives the double page treatment, lambasting both affairs with ‘Exit Mitchell, four weeks late’ and ‘Move Mr Osborne? But he can’t possibly sit in standard class’. Their coverage is summarised in a strong op-ed by Simon Heffer discussing class attacks on the Tories.
The Telegraph has also splashed with both ‘plebgate’ and ‘great train snobbery’ lines aimed at Mitchell and George Osborne, continuing onto p4 saying the Chief Whip has seen ‘decades of work undone in a fleeting moment’. Even Peter Oborne says ‘Conservative ministers think they are above the law, and that the rules which apply to ordinary people simply don’t apply to them.’
Towards the centre ground, the Times has a double-page spread on Mitchell’s resignation, entitled ‘How a proud man lost his swagger and his authority among MPs’, suggesting the developments now places Cameron’s government on a par with the late-era Major government. The next page leads on the Osborne train scandal.
Not to be outdone, the Guardian’s splash proclaims ‘Mitchell finally quits over ‘pleb’ row in blow for PM’ but they have attempted to accentuate the class angle on their page three lead: ‘How a standard class ticket on the 3.11 drove chancellor into a first class row’.
But much else of what we read in the British press is a class row. Set aside Mitchell. Take this random selection of other stories from today’s papers. The Telegraph has a page lead on ‘BBC biased in favour of grammar schools, academics claim’. The Times has run with ‘Class warrior gets six months for boat race protest’ and ‘Cambridge takes in more state pupils’, as well as an article devoted to Pippa Middleton’s new party planning book (also tackled by the Mail with a double pictorial spread) for those wishing to follow in her family’s footsteps. The Guardian Weekend magazine even has a feature on Jane Austen-esque relationships that straddle class divides. That’s just a random selection; many similar stories can found by browsing any paper on any day.
The coverage in the media today shows that everyone, across political divides, is just as concerned about class. This is not in a passing Ed Miliband North-London-comprehensive-schooling fixation, but a growing idea about the us vs them. The political attacks are particularly ironic when it is the Conservatives who are fighting to bring down class divides with education and welfare reforms, as Fraser noted in his Telegraph column recently.
The return of Sir George Young as new Chief Whip has been greeted with cries of another toff joining the government: as the Guardian said ‘the old Etonian bicycling baronet’. His schooling would not have been pointed out when Young was first appointed a minister in the Thatcher government thirty years ago. Being an Old Etonian seems to matter more now than it did then. Almost two decades since John Major announced the ‘classless society’, it still seems to be one of the biggest issues in Britain today.