Yes, it’s fine to dislike posh people
May 31, 2011
I’m not a poshist; some of my friends are posh. And what good chaps they are, even though some of them are girls; in an earlier age they’d be referred to as the officer class and be the first into battle, no matter the odds. However, I am greatly amused by the rearguard action currently being perpetrated by people who describe themselves as posh, even if they are manifestly ghastly little oiks.
This ‘debate’ came about following an argument on Radio 4 involving a ‘gentleman’ (one presumes) called Lord Fellowes, who made the following gloriously absurd statement:
“There was an era when people wanted to be governed by great kings, then they wanted to be governed by great nobles who would keep the king in his place. Now they want to be governed by great friends. They want to know these people — whether or not they like toffee ice cream — and my natural pull is more towards the statesmen era.”
Quite apart from the obvious rejoinder of people not being free to choose their king or their nobles, what’s missing from Fellowes’ statement is the fact that Fellowes too wants his rulers to be great friends – or rather, to be more like his friends. Wanting rulers to be like your friends doesn’t suddenly become acceptable when your friends are immensely rich members of the Cousinhood. It doesn’t become acceptable when you live in a nice semi-detached house in Wolverhampton either; selecting your rulers on the basis of chumminess is irrational in the modern era, even if it has shadows of the ancient urge to be pals with the chief and get the best cuts of mammoth meat.
Fellowes claims that Cameron’s determination to be ‘one of the guys’ is a reflection of people’s dislike of his Etonian origin, and that this dislike is unwarranted. It’s this ‘prejudice’ at which Delingpole and his stablemate Brendan O’Neill take aim, being seemingly upset that everyone doesn’t recognise them for being the immensely talented lives of the national party they so manifestly are.
As I said, I’ve got posh friends. Individually, they’re great. But individuals are not the same as a type. ‘Poshness’ refers to a set of of qualities which are present to a greater or lesser degree, including accent, etiquette, behaviour and upbringing. Some of those it would be pointless to dislike, such as accent. Some of them it is absolutely fine to dislike, particularly any qualities which relate to inequality of opportunity. This doesn’t just cover extra access to educational resources, but also to modes of behaviour which are seen as social signifiers. This includes a whole suite of references to literature and culture to which the children of the better-off have easy access, but to which the children of the less well-off only have access via bastardised ‘accessible’ versions of Shakespeare and the like. People tend to employ people who are like them, for the irrational reasons given above, and if you can’t evidence familiarity with the culture of the ruling classes you’ll never get into them.
It is for this reason – evidence of an inequality in our society not born of individual choice – that it’s fine to dislike posh people in the round. It is also for this reason that it’s not okay to dislike Boris Johnson for being posh – after all, he wants poor kids to learn Latin too.