Shirley Tart: Don’t patronise us all by hailing the ‘working class vote’

I am frankly furious over one aspect of the general election and its result.

The so-called ‘working classes’ were held up as the key to Boris Johnson’s election victory. They turned, you see – betrayed their instinct to back Labour for a rare foray into the Tory ranks.

And now there is much debate among the Conservative ranks over how those who turned to their party can somehow be ‘rewarded’.

Anyone who lives in the real world knows putting any group into a bracket of class is simply nonsense. Frankly, all this talk has got right under my skin.

What I am increasingly angry about is not every other person saying Brexit so many times in one sentence but those who use the term ‘the working classes’ without a clue what they are saying.

Let’s cut to the quick – in the minds of everyone who use the phrase ‘the working classes’, there is this curious image of those who walk around carrying a spade or similar or the forever underling in an office, the lifelong junior.

These are the working classes, are they not? Well they may be but they are not on their own.

The three words here are obvious – people who work at anything for a living from the window cleaner to, say, the airline pilot. Happily, that includes many of us who are on the sidelines of life rather than centre stage. Yet the phrase is still used casually and often divisively.

The ‘working class’ – it sounds to me like something from the dark ages.

Take my family for instance. My father was a steel worker for most of his life. He saw more unreasonable hours than anyone else I knew. He was often on his bike as he cycled to work in the middle of the night. When he wasn’t at his job, he also worked for the local farmer.


Then my mother. They both came from the same tiny village but before they married. She was ‘in service’ to the most lovely family who lived in Sutton Coldfield and treated mum like a real friend. That her elderly Aunt Polly ran the household helped!

But many of the skills mum learned there she also used in the years to come and so enhanced our in our little cottage home in its woodside setting.

She didn’t go out to work but she gave us standards we treasure still.

Then there was me, first born, a bit bossy at three, that sort of thing, only child for five years. It is a great sadness that Gill and Colin have both died with only my sister Jen and me left of the siblings. When I took and passed the 11+ exams for high school and became the second person in both our big families to do that, conversations immediately turned to badges and blazers, hockey sticks and tennis racquets, oh, and which school bus I should catch.

It was frenetic and in the middle of it all was a mother who – bless her – had her own new raincoat dyed navy for me from the sea blue she had bought herself just a week or so before as a rare treat.

Working class? Of course we are. And so is every other working family in the land, whatever they do.

So please don’t demean us by rabbiting on about the working class as though it’s some hard done by group of no-gooders out there with hands outstretched and destined to be poor and helpless forever.

Boris calls for ‘one nation’. Let’s make that a reality in both thoughts and deeds.

Yes there are such people and we must help where we can.

But constant use of the phrase for blatant political advantage is a very different matter.

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