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.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.