Goodbye, working class

office at office at
Tue Apr 16 12:48:01 BST 2002

The following article in last Saturday's Guardian refers to the writ that has been issued by Dano Ltd regarding their proposed development of a site in Central London for luxury housing, that is seeking to overrule a covenant on that same land which has stipulated since 1929 that this area be reserved for "working classes".

Goodbye, working class 
By John O'Farrell
The Guardian 
Saturday April 13, 2002 

This week a writ was submitted to the high court which stated: "The words 'working classes' are not now capable of any meaningful definition." The judge looked up from his copy of the Daily Star, took a stubby pencil from behind his ear and said: "Ooh dear, nah mate, a court case like that's gonna cost yer, innit? And we're booked up for ages - tell you what, I'll see if one of me mates can adjudicate for yer, I'll just get me mobile from the van." 
The assertion that the working classes no longer exist is being made by a property company which wants to develop a site in central London for luxury housing, despite a 1929 covenant which states that the land may only be used to provide housing for the working classes. The clause goes on to say that they must have stone cladding and a satellite dish on the front, a car stacked up on bricks in the front garden and a doorbell that plays an electric version of Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner. 
You have to admire the brilliance of Dano Ltd to spot this particular gap in the market. I mean, luxury housing, what a brilliantly original idea! They must have sat around for ages in that board meeting till someone came up with that one. 
"Another prime site has just come up in central London. Any ideas?" 
"How about low cost housing for public sector workers?" 
"Not again; that's all we ever build!" 
"Hey, here's a thought! What about some luxury housing?" 
"Brilliant, why's nobody thought of that before?" 
The original 1929 clause was clearly intended to safeguard housing for ordinary people doing low paid jobs, and today this need is greater than ever. Obviously the working classes are not the same as they were in the 1920s. They're not all wearing flat caps and saying to a wobbly black and white camera: "Well I'm just a simple working man and don't know nuffink about no gold standard but if that Mr Churchill says we's ought go back on it, well that's good enuff for the likes of me." 
To hear some of the commentators on this story over the past couple of days you would think they'd never met a working class person in their lives. (Presumably their cleaners are from the Philippines, so that doesn't count.) It's like we're talking about some near extinct species that could only be tracked down after days spent trekking through the urban jungle. You can almost imagine the next nature documentary from the BBC, featuring a memorable piece of footage in which David Attenborough encounters a surviving family group of the endangered species known as "working class people". He whispers to camera that he is going to try to get closer. 
At first they are wary of him; the dominant male grunts and furrows his eyebrows before returning to feed on his natural diet of crisps and Tango. The mother seems anxious about her new offspring - he's still not back from the shop with her fags - but the older cubs are more playful, and before long are climbing all over David Attenborough and nicking his mobile phone. 
In the old days you could tell what social class people belonged to by the way that they voted. The middle classes voted SDP and the working classes all voted for Maggie. If you go further back in history it was even more confusing: the rich people were fat and the poor people were all thin. Apparently the poor didn't eat much and had to walk everywhere: in direct contrast to today, of course, where the Royle family lie around all day in front of telly eating bacon butties while the high earners are starving themselves on a lettuce leaf and spending an hour a day on a Stairmaster treadmill. 
But there are also all sorts of ways in which the classes overlap. I might decide to get myself a proletarian supper of fish and chips, but then I'll go and give myself away by asking if the vinegar is balsamic. (I hadn't had such a funny look since I asked if it was organic free range chicken in the KFC bargain bucket.) Ultimately it still comes down to money. The working classes are embarrassed that they don't have more of it, and the middle classes are mortified that they have so much. 
All of these determining factors will be gone over in the high court later this year. My prediction is that the court will rule in favour of Dano Ltd, thereby finally establishing in law that the British working class are indeed finally extinct. In other words, the law courts will have sided with the posh chaps from the property company in Surrey. And what more proof do you need that the English class system is alive and well and still screwing the working classes as much as ever? It makes my middle-class blood boil so much I want to tut and say "honestly!", but best not make a fuss, I suppose.

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