Updated: Sep 5, 2021
Much of what David Skelton advocates to 'fix' an ailing and dispirited UK in his recently published tract The New Snobbery is indisputable common sense: more investment in further education; emergence of local banks to serve local communities; reindustrialisation of the UK economy and with it the return of dignified and secure employment for working class communities; greater representation of working people in the institutions (especially cultural) as well as the entire governmental system from the House of Lords, Commons and through Whitehall.
As such Skelton sets out a radical re-think of Britain in the twenty-first century. A lot of what he says is indeed a no brainer and serves to show just how far away we have moved from a cohesive society which functions for all. The blame, according to the author, lies firmly at the door of policy makers i.e. politicians and advisory bodies etc. Especial criticism is rightly laid at the door of successive governments from Thatcher to Blair and onwards, who blatantly decimated UK manufacturing, the very sector which had been the lifeblood of working-class Britain. Short termism, notes the author, always fails in the long run. Thus, the lop-sided state of the current UK economy. With almost total reliance on the knowledge economy, what has emerged since has been a ‘managerial elite.’ Brought up on the pervasive idea of meritocracy, this graduate class has become ever more isolated from less successful working-class communities. The author argues that this new elite believes they have succeeded on talent alone. However, as Skelton emphasises, with the entire system loaded in their favour from birth it’s a belief sorely unfounded. Put simply, UK society is strongly tilted towards the middle class. Working class communities on the other hand continue to be starved of resources and opportunities. Plus ca change. Skelton is surely right to observe that the solution to class disparity is not for the working class to ‘escape’ their background (and birthplaces) by grabbing rare opportunities to join this ever remote and ever more arrogant managerial class. Graduate fast-tracks etc. might work for a few, but what about the majority left behind? Escapism is clearly no solution. With the gap between classes widening ever more – economically, socially and culturally - Skelton puts forward a pretty radical plan which would require massive investment both financially and ideologically. Snobbery is a word used throughout the book to describe the attitude of this managerial 'elite' towards those less educated and financially worse off. Worse still, it’s bigotry that has become acceptable for average metropolitan Guardian reader to hold. Mockery and disdain towards fellow citizens though is not a healthy state of affairs – more so when the targets of middle-class scorn are viewed as by-products – deserving casualties of a society rightly geared towards the financial empowerment of CEOs and shareholders. Leaving swathes of people behind and pouring scorn on them will only lead to greater and more profound societal fragmentation. Virtually everything the author proposes should already be happening e.g. respect for working people. But it isn’t. Tune into a BBC ‘comedy’ panel show nowadays and what you get is 30 minutes of sneering, with the likes of ‘comedians’ such as Frankie Boyle punching down on the poor and disenfranchised. Switch on Radio 4’s The Now Show and the disdain towards working people is visceral and moreover unashamed. Millionaires such as Gary Lineker castigate the working class for their awful views on a daily basis. All of which makes Mr Skelton’s veneration of the BBC hard to fathom. According to the author the BBC is a ‘great national institution.’ Having taken some pains to make the case that working class voices should not only be heard, but also respected it is rather difficult to square his admiration with an organisation that has consistently mocked and derided what it chose to label as uneducated ‘Little Englander’ Brexit voters not so long ago (and still does).
Indeed, The British Broadcasting Corporation genuinely despises ordinary people and works hard to not only demonise Brexiteers at every opportunity, but all working people who might, for their sins, vote UKIP, support Donald Trump or read the Daily Mail. The broadcaster gleefully attacks the powerless, habitually depicting working class people as thick, racist gammons. As such the BBC has played and continues to play a major role in dividing the country, deferring to the rich and powerful while attacking working people with varying levels of ferocity. Further on in his tract the author reveals his ambition that the UK should be the first net zero economy in the world. Given the impact this insane 'elitist' policy is projected to have on the poorest in society, the author’s enthusiasm seems odd. Rising fuel and heating prices might not worry the managerial elite, but will impact the very poorest in society. Skelton seems to think the answer will be to retrain gas boiler fitters, presumably as solar panel engineers. Hey presto. Furthermore, his enthusiasm for what he terms a ‘multi-racial society’ also comes straight from the managerial elite approval manual. In Mr Skelton’s mind it’s a done deal: mass migration that is. However, for the working-class communities he appears to champion the issue is not quite so clear cut. ‘We were never asked’ is a complaint often voiced when ordinary people are asked their views on this phenomenon. Competition for jobs, housing, health, education and other resources means mass immigration impacts (especially northern) working communities in a way it never does the metropolitan dwelling managerial elites. Yet empowerment of the working class is a key theme of the book. It would be interesting to know how Mr Skelton might respond to working class communities opposed to continued immigration and transformation of their communities - dismissively one assumes. It’s difficult therefore not to feel that working class ‘empowerment’ as articulated in this book comes with catches, provisos – i.e. accepting the tenets of one's betters, those of the enlightened managerial elitist.
Certainly, in his many references to Labour's so-called 'red wall' the author seems unaware that to working class voters the distinction between blue and red, if it ever truly existed, has effectively evaporated. Keen to play party politics, not once does Skelton mention what Oborne describes as the 'political class' - Labour and Tory careerists who to those outside the bubble increasingly come across as an indistinct, hegemonic mass. Trying to please all the people all the time (e.g. Guardian readers) means that Mr Skelton chooses his battles with care. Not shy of exhibiting his own woke credentials wherever possible, the author tries valiantly to plant a foot in both camps – snobs and plebs - which can make him sound contradictory at times. For example, his vision of a cohesive community with increased social capital is difficult to envisage in working class enclaves at whose primary schools upwards of 40 community’ languages are spoken. A blueprint for cohesion or balkanisation? Mr Skelton would prefer not to say.
As for the working class, they'll have to just suck it up. After all, when wiser and cleverer 'experts' and technocrats have decided the future (despite their record of abject failure)
whisper it, but does it really matter what the poor and disenfranchised think? Political analysts can throw platitudes about empowerment around like confetti, but it's hard to get away from a distinct feeling that behind the rhetoric the assumptions of policy makers throughout the political spectrum are pretty much one and the same thing: working class people must and will defer to their betters. It's the natural order.
Climate change, Covid, BBC, Net Zero, diversity, LGBT issues, Big Statism, the author it transpires is a scion of ‘One Nation’ Conservatism i.e. not conservatism at all, but something more akin to soft-left globalism. And it shows. To his credit though, many of Mr Skelton’s observations are true even if some of his solutions fall somewhere between impractical and whimsical: yes, the world would indeed be a better place if people weren’t so selfish. However, I’m not so sure to what extent human nature can be legislated. In essence the author is arguing for Extra Big Statism or as its sometimes known socialism. My overall impression with this book is that the author means well, but I can’t help but feel if pressed, Mr Skelton would run with the same managerial 'elites' of whom he accuses of snobbery. Let’s just say that if the author’s views are indeed representative of mainstream Conservative thinking it explains much, not least the calamitous performance of the Boris Johnson administration since coming to power in 2019.