There is a historical pattern to classist insults. These days it is unacceptable to mock someone for their ethnic origin, religion, sexuality or disability. But it is still within the realms of social acceptability to ridicule someone on the grounds of their social class - but how much longer will this be tolerated?
Michael Heseltine was once derided by his Tory elders for having ‘bought his own furniture’. These days thousands of people stoically bear this social stigma as a badge of honour, as they queue up at Ikea. Conversely, Alan Clark was delighted to be called a real ‘toff’, even though his family were not landed aristocrats, instead having made their money from the textile industry – and they bought their own castle.
Until the First World War the elite really did run the country. Between 1914 and the1960s the working class acquired respect and cachet. But since then the middle classes seem to have gained the whip hand, to the extent that being seen as anything non-middle class is an insult. It is considered as reprehensible for cabinet ministers to be wealthy or ‘posh’ and taboo for anyone to be called a ‘pleb’.
Having personally been labelled over the years as ‘posh’ and as a ‘pleb’ (even before Plebgate made it popular), I am now anxiously waiting to complete the set, by being described as ‘bourgeois’ – but this seems quite out of fashion now!