The Re-emergence of class as a political concept in the UK after its supposed eclipse

Have class tensions come back? Or did they never leave?

Ross Bennett
7th March 2022
The spectre of class looms over the House of Commons (Image: Flickr, PxHere, Rawpixel, Open Food Facts)
With the rise in wealth and living conditions in the years since the Second World War, there are those who believe that the lines of class division were blurred indistinctly – making the majority of the UK populace purely middle class. However, in the past few years this has proven itself to not entirely be the case. Class lines, divisions and tensions have strongly re-embedded themselves in the British political circus.

It is impossible to separate the concept of class from those who were most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, research by the University of Nottingham found that it was working class women who were most negatively affected economically and mentally (with that particular demographic reporting the most psychological distress out of any other). Therefore, it is obvious to see the links between the governmental handlings, the following reaction of the populace and the resulting distortion effect on the political spectrum. Would those most affected by the pandemic vote for a party who could be described as mishandling it?

Would those most affected by the pandemic vote for the party that mishandled it?

Of course, it could be argued that the role of class as a political concept never disappeared, one piece of evidence supporting this is the fact that only 8% of Labour MPs come from working class backgrounds (compared with the 70% figure from the 1920s). With this information at hand can we really say that those representing the British people in government truly represent the British people?

In Cynthia Cruz’s work The Melancholia of Class, Cruz outlines how it is the tendency of working-class people to try to erase their backgrounds in order to ‘fit in’ with their middle and upper-class peers, as well as the then resulting mourning of their working-class roots. Cruz also highlights how a working-class person’s background can inform and be the basis of their later work. Linking this into the political sphere, research published in Comparative Political Studies has shown that MPs from a working-class background commonly vote for more traditional welfare policies. This is indicative of the way in which class upbringing affects political leaning.

Class in and of itself is inherently political, not just economical

Class in of itself is inherently political, not just economical. However, it has been shown that the role of class in politics is no longer as predictable as it used to be – an election poll in 2019 showed that more working-class people vote Conservative than those in the middle class. Whilst this seems unusual when compared with preconceived notions of class voting lines it shows that ideas of class are not easy to define boxes that can be slotted into.

In truth, class is inherently a political concept – albeit a fluid one. No longer as predictable as it was in the days of yester year, class has re-rooted itself firmly in the political sphere, yet it is definitely an unsure beast to wrangle with. In fact, whilst the role of class looms ever over the House of Commons, the ripple effects of its presence are nowhere near as easy to tell.

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