Tuesday 28 May 2013

Down among the middle classes

I spent the bank holiday weekend immersed in the middle classes, camping in the Wye Valley. You could hear the great middle class call sign wafting across the campsite:

“I tell you what, you look after the children and I’ll faff around with the tent...”

I event ventured into the bastion of middle class life, Tyntesfield, the National Trust extravaganza outside Bristol.

The camping was lovely, the weather beautiful, the nights freezing and Tyntesfield was fabulous and magical. It comes to something when you can recognise something extraordinary in among the bric-a-brac, and I recognised a lifebelt from the German cruiser Bresslau, which escaped to Turkey in 1914 and was eventually mined in 1918 at the entrance to the Dardanelles.

How it got to be next to live next to a broken down bath chair in a National Trust property in England was anyone’s guess. The staff didn't know either.

It was a weekend that reminded me of some of the pecularities of the middle classes which I set out in my new book Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes – their combination of law-abiding respectability with the assumption, unless proved otherwise, that all their neighbours are feckless. 

Goodness knows, I felt it myself.  It explains some of the reason why the middle classes are so suspicious of themselves, and increasingly so as they embrace a fashionable marketing-led bohemianism.

Tyntesfield was a revelation too.  Just one teasel on each vintage chair was enough to prevent people from sitting on them.  No signs ordering you around, no roped off areas, just restraint and tolerance.

This seems to me to be the central truth about the middle classes now, which alone is worth their survival, though - as I said in my book - their survival as a class looks increasingly precarious.  Despite their suspicions, despite everything else, they are the force behind the increasing and almost unique tolerance of UK society.

Despite their reputation, the middle classes have actually presided over a period of unprecedented tolerance in British life, embracing a society that – despite the difficulties – is more and more diverse and multiracial, more and more tolerant of the peculiar way that people live, if they are not harming anyone else. And if this was not led by the middle classes, who was it led by?

I have wondered occasionally whether the National Trust might be a more effective political bastion for the middle classes than either Labour or the Conservatives, and said so in one of the first blogs I wrote here.

My admiration for the National Trust and its imagination and extraordinary volunteer-led good sense and good organisation.  It is an inspiration for the public sector (or it ought to be).  But I digress (and will again)...

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