The last close examination of the English class system was over twenty five years ago, Jilly Cooper͛s frighteningly accurate and wickedly funny book which still works in part.
I was musing on the class system the other day although quite what triggered it I couldn͛t say, perhaps a radio discussion on grammar schools. Any assessment is by necessity subjective. There are no golden rules. The rural/urban divide is now at its most pronounced. Particularly the rural/London divide.
In the country the social order has not changed much since the days when that great observer of rural life J S Surtees favoured his readership with such ruthless pen pictures of hunting folk in the early nineteenth century. Still today the rural aristocracy reign supreme, the pecking order is about land, the aristocracy still have most of it. Moreover land must be inherited to count. Rural communities do not consider ͚bought͛ land to classify you as a toff. No point in selling your widget factory in Leeds to buy one thousand acres of ͚mixed͛, that just makes you an amateur farmer. Next on the list is landed gentry, no titles but lots of inherited acres. The countryside also produces its own shadow aristocracy. His lordship͛s gamekeeper is first amongst equals here, tenant farmers, good stockmen, huntsmen or hedgers, masters of rural crafts usually inherited skills. The social order is basically as it ever was.
The cosmopolitan class system is more complex. The aristocrat in town cuts no mustard with anyone save head waiters. Money is the driver here or celebrity status. The reformed House of Lords now is no longer the haven of debating skills and common sense, few real lords attend, just fakes like Prescott, Mandelson, Malloch-Brown, Adonis, Turner and a plethora of retired civil servants, legal chums of Tony Blair and godless Bishops with no pastoral experience. Are these dreadful people better than the hereditary peers they replaced?
This new breed have been tolerated but more recently held in contempt. Their arrogance and disregard for fellow Englishmen mirror the high Tory nineteenth century lords stalling the repeal of the corn laws. The metropolitan elite are not actually elite at all but chronically vulgar, worse lack any form or traditional education. This genre is epitomised by Gary Lineker, Piers Morgan, Chris Evans and other members of the telestocracy demanding massive salaries from the public purse. London as a city suffers from group think. Big cities in general seem to be populated by people devoid of any independent or original thought. Secular, avaricious, depressed with crime rates through the roof, yet there are no leaders that the traditional class system used to produce in spades years ago. Take away social hierarchy and you are left with a void.
Who would argue that the late Duke of Westminster would not have made a better mayor of London, or a general from a ͚toff͛ regiment would not make a better chief constable than the serially incompetent Cresidda Dick? Imagine Lord Salisbury grovelling to an EU commissioner ? A bit of blue blood accompanied by a bit of spine could turn things around.