Posh-bashing: Enough to make you want to leave the Bullingdon Club

Benedict Cumberbatch should realise that being sneered at for being posh just isn't that bad.

The actor Benedict Cumberbatch is considering leaving the UK on account of “all the posh-bashing that goes on“. Sick and tired of being “castigated as a moaning, rich, public-school bastard”, he might just up and leave. I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen. My partner and I have had him on “the list” for years, all thanks to a particularly saucy scene in To The Ends of The Earth. Visits to the SS Great Britain in Bristol haven’t been the same since and for that we have Benedict to thank.

Like Cumberbatch, I too have been a victim of posh-bashing. Unlike him, this was not because I attended a posh school. Au contraire, I attended a normal state school, but was bashed on account of being the type of person who needlessly throws around phrases such as “au contraire” (I also have a ridiculously long name, a barrister dad and degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. I might have a northern accent, but I know where I stand on the poshometer, and it’s a million miles away from Coronation Street). So Benedict Cumberbatch, I know where you’re coming from (well, not literally, since I didn’t go to Harrow. But generally, I mean). Posh-bashing is mean, and it’s clearly wrong. But is it really that big a deal?

When I mentioned the posh-bashing to my partner – an Old Sennockian, no less – he was less than sympathetic. “Ooh, I wouldn’t mind a bit of the old posh-bashing with Benedict,” he winked, trying (unsuccessfully) to create a cheeky innuendo. See? That’s just the kind of attitude the poshos are up against, and it’s from their own kind (self-hating poshos are the worst). Me, I feel for Benedict, but mainly due to his total inability to get a bit of perspective. Being sneered at for being posh just isn’t all that bad. We all get sneered at for being either too posh or too common (at Oxford even I found myself in situations where, relatively speaking, I was a veritable Hilda Ogden). It’s just not that important.

Of course, the ideal position to be in is that of a very rich person from a very poor background. That way you get all the kudos of being self-made and having suffered and none of the shit that actually comes with being poor. Of course, you won’t be able to pass this unique status on to your children. Send them to whatever school you like and they’ll still be posh kids now. All the same, it’s better than them being poor.

According to Brendan O’Neill in the Telegraph, “posh-bashing has replaced prole-bashing as the nastiest strain in British politics”. It really hasn’t, though. All the “media handwringing over the Oxford Bullingdon Club” isn’t happening because it’s fun. It isn’t fun. It’s depressing that our country is in the hands of people who have so little idea of what middle-class muddling, let alone real deprivation, actually is. Despairing over David Cameron’s cossetted background isn’t the same as salivating over the apparent uselessness of chavs. Neither is it the same as being a bit mean to Benedict Cumberbatch. I’d defend Cumberbatch’s right to be left in peace way before Cameron’s, but still – even the sexiest Sherlock Holmes needs to get a grip.

In 1983 I had a full-on scrap with a classmate who accused me of being posh. Looking back, it was brilliant – everyone standing around after school in a huge circle, clapping and chanting “scrap! scrap!” – but at the time it was terrible. It got broken up by a teacher, just when I was about to win (whatever that would have involved), leaving my nemesis to insist that she was the victor. What with her being the cool, non-posh one, everyone went along with this (but it wasn’t true. Au contraire, I was way harder). Anyhow, a decade later I got my revenge. I had a place at Oxford and my dad was defending my nemesis for ABH. She was working as a hairdresser and, putting our differences aside, I went to her for my “going to university” haircut. She told me my dad was doing a good job and a small part of me couldn’t help thinking “Hah! Posh girl won in the end”. But it was a rubbish thought and, quite rightly, it made me feel crap. Posh people always win in the end. The bashing makes no difference at all.

This post first appeared here on glosswatch.com. Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.

Benedict Cumberbatch. Posh and over-sensitive? Photograph: Getty Images

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Getty
Show Hide image

What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.