Monday, November 3, 2008

British Class system divide

British-Class-SystemI was watching a BBC program about the class differences in the British society presented by John Prescott the other day.

Long story short, Prescott, who is from the working class rose from a ship's steward to the deputy Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1997 under the Blair's administration, went around the country interviewing people from different social backgrounds and discussed whether the class system is still applicable today.

A public figure known more for his public gaffes than being politically correct, Prescott is no stranger to controversies. Throughout the program, he went on to cite one example after another on how the class divide still separates the British society. That is despite a decade of Labour in power.

In fact, according to him, the class divide is so ingrained in the society that people of different backgrounds find it difficult to get along. Be it the way people behave, the choice of words, the food they eat and even the jokes they share has made it utterly impossible for people of different social classes to mix.

He recalled about the people that he used to serve as a ship steward several decades earlier. "They seemed to think that their main reason of being is to be served by people like us".

Though the subject on class system may seem to be somewhat irrelevant and even a taboo these days, it is still very much alive and is still a determining factor of how far one goes in life whether we like it or not.

Simply put, there are certain characteristics or behavioral traits, which comes with the background that we are born into, that we cannot shake off regardless of how hard we try. That said, even the political parties' ideological differences - Republicans vs Democrats, Conservatives vs Labour, originates from class differences.

Do you agree?

Read also...
The under-appreciated Monarchy

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My Bug Life said...

Those with the mindset that their main reason of being is to be served by people like so and so...are downright arrogant!
I agree that sometimes, it can be quite a task getting along with ppl from different social backgrounds..but I believe ppl should always remember they are in no way different from another human being who deserves respect, honour and dignity.

Mike said...

Interesting post, considering your culture and ethnicity. As a Brit living in an Asian country (Thailand) I actually find the class division much greater here than at home. It seems much harder here for the Thais to bridge the divide. I don't think you will find many Prescott types in the Thai Government in Thailand. However you will find ex an Thai Prime Minister operating in London Society.

Dutchie said...

The indian caste system is another good example of how people r held in their place, with no reprieve whatsoever. It is a cruel system.

In NL, we hv remnants of a past with the ruling class n their serfs. We hv the term "U" to address someone senior to you n "je" for the humble joe. Between strangers, it's standard to use "U" to create distance in familiarity. There r scores of formal words to use when one is addressing the upper crust (my own experience was with the mayor). A plain "dear sir" is a grave faux pas !

Talk abt the difficulty of mingling with a different class - try sitting in a formal dinner - the sets of cutlery is enough to put a humble jane off her food ! I heard from my aunts here that they never attend company dinners bec of this stumbling block !

Lastly, we come into this world naked n hands empty, n we will leave this world the same way. People who tries to put others in their place (beneath them) r in fact shallow n narrow-mind.

Personally I prefer a system based on merits n not privilege. Royal families r the oldest in line (being cocooned in luxury with tax payers' contributions) when a PM is just as effective for the job !

Martin Miller-Yianni said...

The quest for a classless society will never work. That's is the jist of your well written blog.

Pity, but that is a fact of life and you have to try and live with that fact or be a society of fish out of water.

American Mom In London said...

Class is one of those things that are in eyes of the beholder, but there is still no escaping it.

I don't think it's "impossible for people of different social classes to mix", it's probably just harder when both parties are actively aware of the disparity (or, rather, see that there is one).

kyh said...

I know the class system is prevalent in the Indian society, but I nvr know it exists in British society too! Me thinks the class system should be abolished once and for all in this century where equality is the goal for all humanity.

P/s: thx for updating my link, but the name of my blog has been changed too. :P

Rico said...

Nice Pictures, and well written post.

magma3637 said...

good info. it really still exist nowadays.

Kevin Grieves said...

A thought provoking post.

The class system does not exist in Britain as it once did; however, social classes do still exist. I am making a distinction between institutionalised forms of class formation and the way that certain groups create a coherent cultural identification with the people they are closest to. Not unlike regional variation within the country: they still exist but not in the way that they once did.

I do not think that political allegiance is necessarily a matter of class. Sections of the British working class have repeatedly proven themselves to be (small-c) conservative, while many leading socialists have come from the middling sort.

As ever with these things, there is endless nuance and variation within society and it is all the better for it.

Sheila Sultani said...

I totally agree - the only way to get rid of this would be to pick up the entire population and put them in a totally uncivilized environment (like the US way back when) where no one has anything and everyone has to work together to live.

C K said...

@my bug life,
It's interesting how many still possess such mentality in this present day. However, regardless of what we believe about the basic human rights, some individuals still enjoy more rights, which are more subtle, than the rest.

Were you referring to Taksin? Well, the media has been a bit quiet on him of late. I'll be very surprised if the British govt actually send him back to Thailand.

I think class differences exist/existed in all cultures and ethnicities. While some to a larger extent, many jsut aren't discussed openly due to political sensitivities.

So which part of Thailand are you residing in now?

I have come across literature about the Indian caste system. The ironic thing is that even when many have migrated overseas, they are still bound by it within their communities even though they are in a foreign land. Though I have a couple of Indian acquintances, I have never actually discussed this issue with them.

I thought you brought up a great point on how that perceived class system is ingrained into our languages. As I have pointed out in my earlier comment, such differences in social class still prevails. There's no restriction about going to formal dinners but the very nature of it puts a person, who is used to eating with just one pair of cutlery, off.

As for the discussion about Monarchy, I think they serve their functions. I mean, people wouldn't travel to London to see Gordan Brown, would they? Though they are a dying breed, it still pains me to see how many younger royalties have succumbed to vices and thus losing the respect of the people that they serve.

@martin miller-yianni,
Agreed. A truely classless society belongs to that of the Communist and even that didn't work too well. China and Russia are good examples of Communist regimes which embraced certain aspects of capitalism.

@american mom in london,
I agree that it's not 'impossible' but they wouldn't be pals, I would say. As dutchie (further up) has pointed out, a simple dinner differentiates the background that one is brought up in. That is something that cannot be trivalised.

With the Monarchy and all, the attempt to break down class barriers is a recent thing in Europe with the two world wars acting as catalysts.

Having a classless society is easier said than done. Being humans, we tend to work more efficiently for our own good than for the entire race. That's how Capitalism triumps over Communism.

I've updated the name of your blog as well. Cheers!

Thanks for stopping by. Nice blog you got there.

Thanks. Have you encountered it of late?

@kevin grieves,
Thanks for your enlightening comment.

I agree with your take on the different political allegiance of the people now as compared to a couple of decades ago.

As you have pointed out, the middle class tend to go for socialist parties while the working class (especially those with viable jobs) tend to opt for the conservatives. Perhaps its a way of the middle class feeling a 'social' guilt and supporting the socialists is a way of 'paying' back to the society. On the other hand, the working class holds the 'if I can do it, why can't you?' attitude.

@sheila sultani,
An entertaining idea. But as the need for organizing people arises, there will emerge be a 'class' of individuals who are more privileged than the others. The cycle goes on again.

Robert said...

Cool article dude.

Check out for more stuff about London and the job scene.