Class conscious

I was buying a Tube ticket this week when a quite smartly dressed young woman approached me and said: "Excuse me, do you know the date?" I told her, and she nodded, reflecting on the answer for a while, before asking, "Could you spare me some change for the ticket machines?"

She was a beggar but I noted that she had cleverly framed her request in middle-class terms. The implication of her asking the date was that she was considering some archetypally middle-class act, like renewing a travelcard, or writing a cheque.

This tactic is increasingly common among beggars, and represents an inversion of the normal modus operandi, which is to look deserving. The new type of beggar tries his or her best to look undeserving, having realised that in our society, unpractised as it is in altruism, people with money are more relaxed about giving money to other people with money than to people without any. This is why all you have to do in this country to get a lot of money is to have a lot of money to begin with, then people will want to give you even more.

I know somebody who was approached by a master of this new art: a man clutching a slightly bedraggled airline ticket. "Excuse me," he said, "but I'm catching a flight to New Zealand tonight, and I've just realised I'm a pound short of the Tube fare to the airport . . ." My friend was impressed by the way the man's begging technique operated on two levels: on the one hand, he made a good job of not appearing to be a beggar, thus triggering the generous response described above. At the same time, according to my friend, his mention of the airport "triggered your instinctive desire to get him out of the country". I suppose that the new breed of beggars could refine the art even further, saying: "I'm just a pound short of my upgrade to club class, could you possibly . . .?"

These new beggars have taken to heart John Prescott's dictum that we're all middle class now, so the days of "Spare a pound for a cup of tea, guv?" are numbered. Henceforth it'll be, "Spare the price of a latte and cinnamon danish, guv?"

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.