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.

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.