When I first saw the front page of this morning’s Daily Mail, I assumed I was off the pace. Had I really missed Labour’s pledge to nationalise Eton?
Not at all, as it turns out. The paper’s headline in fact refers to Gordon Brown’s rather inoffensive declaration that he was from “an ordinary middle-class family in an ordinary town”. Undoubtedly this line was a dog whistle targeted at those voters suspicious of David Cameron’s privileged background. But was it really worthy of the name “class war”?
“Class war” was once a term reserved for the sort of epic pitched battles one saw between Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill’s NUM. But now, apparently, it can be wheeled out to attack comments as unremarkable as Brown’s yesterday.
This isn’t the first time either. Last year, the Prime Minister found himself denounced as a Jacobin after one rather amusing joke about Tory policy having been dreamt up on the “playing fields of Eton”.
It’s also worth noting the Daily Mail’s rather selective criticism of class war. As Sunder Katwala reminds us today, and as my colleague Jon Bernstein has pointed out in the past, the right is perfectly willing to tolerate class war from the other side.
Conservative leaders from Margaret Thatcher to John Major to Michael Howard all highlighted their modest backgrounds for political purposes, Howard famously declaring to Tony Blair across the despatch box: “This grammar-school boy isn’t going to take any lessons from a public-school boy.”
But was any of them rebuked by the Mail for waging their own “class war”? Strangely not.