Uni fees debate going on in the Chamber at the moment. I’ve popped upstairs to the office, but watching it on television and will go back down soon. There are so many people waiting to speak, and I’m almost certain not to get called… Well, definitely not going to. Might do one or two interventions if someone lets me. Backbenchers are on a six minute time limit. They get an extra minute for each of the first two interventions they accept, but after that they’re using up their own time.
David Blunkett was the first Labour backbencher to speak (obviously first in the pecking order, being a former Sec of State for Education) and was greeted with howls of rage from Tory backbenchers when he made what could be described as a ‘class war’ point. I cant remember exactly what he said, but at one point it could have been construed as him saying MPs on the benches opposite wouldn’t understand how cleaners felt, because they didn’t have as many in their constituencies and didn’t meet them at their surgeries…
There are two types of Tory responses to ‘class war’ from the Labour benches. One is the Toff Response, who basically try to portray as all as flat-capped commies fighting the battles of yesteryear; they think class doesn’t matter anymore, that it’s a non-issue in British politics. I say “they think” – perhaps they are so out-of-touch and ivory-towered that they do think that. Or perhaps it’s because it challenges their privileged position, and the best response to a threat is to ridicule and dismiss it.
The second type of Tory response – and it’s a more recent phenomenon – comes from the genuine working-class Tories. (Who is it that Cameron refers to as his “bit of rough?” Can’t remember.) Some of them do come from poor backgrounds, or, more commonly the sort of background I suppose I had; working class parents who went on to make a bit of money, usually self-employed or in small businesses. and whose children were then given a stepping stone up to being a bit more middle class, or at least financially better off. The “first in my family to go to university” generation. (Actually I just flicked back to televised coverage of the Chamber, having been checking out Sky coverage of protests outside, and caught a Tory mid-sentence saying exactly that!) And I think they are genuinely aggrieved when we portray them all as toffs.
But class is of course still hugely important… The feelings so brilliantly captured by Jarvis Cocker’s lyrics, on “A Different Class”, although there’s an element of outsider-ness there too, it’s not just about being working-class, it’s about being different. And the Libertines “and we’ll die in the class we were born; that’s a class of all our own”. But that’s a topic for another time. Teabreak over, I’m going to try to see what’s happening in Parliament Square and then go back into the Chamber.