The trouble with Dave is that he isn’t posh enough

Alexander's picture

Any true meaning  of the word ‘posh’ vanished together with the mode of transportation from which this acronym derives. A jet circling around Heathrow has neither port nor starboard – there’s just the front and back of the plane, and where you sit depends only on how much you paid for the ticket.

Yet the word is still bandied about, usually pejoratively. The British are still fighting Victorian class battles, with the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate. Except that the formerly rich man was taxed out of his castle long ago, while the erstwhile poor man has made a killing in fund management, bought the castle and converted it into Parvenu on the Park, luxury condominiums for the whole family.

The British have a convoluted relationship with Marxism. Marx built his slipshod theory on the correct observation that classes exist and the wrong assumption that they are innately antagonistic. Yet that part of Marxism struck a chord in the British heart, and the strings are still reverberating. What the British rejected was Marx’s notion that class was determined by the ownership of ‘the means of production’ – money, in other words.

Thus someone like the multi-millionaire Alan Sugar calls himself ‘working class’, and people nod their assent. On the other hand, a Sloanie living in a bedsit and spending his last 50 pounds on a gram of coke in a dingy nightclub is described as posh.

So it’s not money that determines class. What then? Accent? Most of our friends speak in cadences guaranteed to activate class hatred. But most of their children sound like chavs, djahmean? They mispronounce ‘waistcoat’, neglect to leave its bottom button undone and often don’t even own such a garment. Nor do they commit posh crimes: for example, a young aristo I know once knocked off a convenience shop in a very underprivileged way. After his stint at Her Majesty’s pleasure he started an internet porn business – again, not an undertaking his father would have instantly countenanced.

Does this mean the family has dropped several rungs down the social ladder in just one generation? It doesn’t. All it means is that our understanding of class is hopelessly outdated.

A brief glance at history will show that the greatest cultural achievements of Western societies date back to the time when the ruling classes were also the most cultured. Such societies were called aristocratic, and the driving force behind them wasn’t economic, as is wrongly assumed, but cultural. For in the West it was its culture that produced its civilisation, not the other way around.

Since Western civilisation came into being as a result of the great cultural upheaval 2,000 years ago, it had no option but to reflect culture faithfully and to preserve it vigilantly. Unfortunately, culture’s meat is civilisation’s poison and vice versa: in order to survive, the former has to be exclusive, and the latter has no option but to be inclusive.

The two had to be prevented from damaging each other, and this could only be achieved by concentrating political, financial and military power in the same few hands that fostered (though not necessarily produced) culture. This amounts to a working definition of an aristocratic society, which Britain more or less remained until 1914. Then out went the aristocracy, gassed in Flanders, taxed in Westminster. The social pack had to be reshuffled, and different cards ended up on top.

Surviving aristocrats lost the power to act as guardians of culture (in the broadest sense of the word), thereby losing their raison d'être and exiting stage left as a political force. ‘Left’ isn’t just a figure of speech here. Many of them realised that, by putting the clamps on the more dynamic classes, socialism would keep their own position safer for longer. This explains the seemingly paradoxical left leanings of many aristocrats, including, alas, some members of the royal family.

But the trick didn’t work because the conquering socialists, while detesting the enterprising classes, hated the aristocrats even more. Like that unfortunate Duc d’Orlèans, the British aristocrat tried to become a Philip Egalité, but, though allowed to keep his head, only succeeded in becoming irrelevant. The routing of the House of Lords and divesting the aristocracy of political power was an inevitable result.

That was a shame, for, say what you will about your Wellingtons, Salisburys, Pitts and Churchills, they sensed their umbilical link with millennia of English history, past and future. Imbued from early childhood with the notion of responsibility and service, they didn’t tend to put their own interests above their country. A Salisbury or Pitt wouldn't have signed the Maastrich Treaty, and Wellington must have been an intutive eurosceptic. 

This brings us to Dave Cameron and other front-benchers who went to expensive schools, earning themselves the lifelong stigma of being ‘posh’. No doubt they've retained some posh mannerisms and cheap snobberies, but what they manifestly lack is the aristocratic sensibility of being at one with England.

In order to promote their petty aspirations they gladly abandon the outer quirks of poshness, never having been privy to its essence. Thus David has become Dave, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, come next election, he’ll push it closer to ‘Dive’. After all, his role model Blair learned, not always convincingly, how to use the glottal stop and drop his haitches (is that the proper pronunciation, Tone?). And Osborne will never become Prime Minister because his Christian (sorry, first) name doesn’t lend itself to egalitarian diminution. If he tried ‘Georgie’, it would only make matters worse.

In a way I pity these chaps. Deprived of true aristocratic spirit and culture, they’ve been cursed with quirky throwbacks that can only damage their careers. When opponents snipe at their schooling (not to be confused with education), Dave and George can’t even counter with ‘You wha’ mite?’ without sounding clownish. A tough life, too bad someone has to live it.