Gone are the days when we had A,B, C1,C2, D and E’s. And gone are the days when we could classify people between working, middle and upper classes. Today the UK has become broken into four distinct and identifyable groups, each with a story to tell and each ultimately contributing to the Brexit vote and the future direction of the country. And, unless things change rapidly, there will be a very British war of head shaking, moaning and tsk tsking between the sides that will end up with the country worse off.
Whilst not everyone can be pigeonholed into the same bracket and whilst there will always be exceptions to the rule, these four groupings can help us not only understand how we have got to where we have but also what needs to happen if things, over time, are to change.
When looked at in isolation, the four groups have opinions that defy logic as they are detrimental to themselves. Yet once you can put on their glasses and walk a mile in their shoes then it starts to make more sense. These four are the Privileged, the Young, the Invisibles and the Older White Men.
The first group are the Privileged – people working in the service sectors with high incomes, primarily in the South East, urban areas and particularly London. They are, for example, the doctors and nurses, the politicians, civil servants, bankers, charity workers, lobbyists, IT experts, tube drivers, police, social media gurus, marketing people, architects, designers, middle management, small business owners, journalists and, of course, lawyers. They can be spotted as they fall into three distinct categories. They are people who either have jobs that cannot be gotten rid of (yet), have skills in demand so can move from job to job with ease or work in industries, like the public sector, where there is no competition and job security is guaranteed. They are the righteous, the educated, the home owner, the child rearer, the ones with disposable income and whose opinions are listened to by those with levers of power in both business, media and politics. They have everything but want more. Their vision of Britain is one where the crash of 2008 never hit them or hurt them and they see the arrival of migrants and immigrants as something to be welcomed for they bring new recipes and help assuage their guilt of buying sweat shop underpriced clothes from mainstream outlets that say they are merely driving down costs. This group cannot understand how or why Britain voted Brexit but will sit and Facebook, Tweet and sign petitions demonstrating, without any impact, just how ghastly it all is.
Then there are the Young – those who have become adults since the great depression of 2008. This set of people have been forced to complete some form of education until they were 18. They are used to globalisation, multiculturalism, computers, social media, debt and their parents giving them what they want when they want it. It is a consumer generation that is being sold a world which for almost all of them is unattainable both financially, mentally, physically and socially. Politically they had pinned their hopes on Labour and Lib Dems until they perceived that one party brought the great crash that stopped them getting jobs, owning homes or buying what they wanted and the other broke their promise not to introduce eye watering tuition fees saddling them with upwards of £40,000 of debt before they had even become 21. They know that they will be the first generation in history to be worse off than their parents and they have no political party or ideology to offer them any hope. Unfettered capitalism has taught them competition and so they will never band together to protest against this injustice. Instead they see the others who are the same age not as people in the same shitty boat but as competition for the rare job that comes on offer that isn’t some apprentice gig or minimum wage token offering by some multinational tax avoiding greed loving profit monster. They can’t afford to get drunk or protest or take drugs or rebel for if they do they will be uploaded onto the never forgetting internet for the rest of time and any employer or parent will find it and hold it against them.They have to conform.
The third are the Invisibles – those who have been discriminated against for generations and whose voices are never really heard. The disabled, women, migrants, immigrants, refugees, former Eastern bloc residents and the gay community. All have suffered at the hands of the majority or the media or the government or hate groups. Finally, after decades of oppression, bigotry and having generally been ruthlessly picked upon, these groups have been assisted by legislation and economic windfalls in order to help them finally become an equal both in the eyes of the law and their fellow British citizen. Equality acts, minimum wage introduction, statutory long term maternity, equal pay rights, gay marriage and a myriad of other progressive changes have helped reduce the gap for these individuals. Yet, despite this, they still all too often fail to vote or fail to engage with wider society or the politics of the land, leaving that to people who have the time to get involved – pensioners, white men and the privileged. And whilst the law feels they are equal, in their own heads they still haven’t reached that acceptance yet and there is still a feeling that others know better than them when it comes to making the big decisions.
This parity has also come at a price. As Newton’s Third Law states – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For there to have been groups that have had their lives improve other groups, relatively, have had to suffer.
The final group and the one that perceives it has suffered is the large swathe of white, poorly educated, older men and their spouses who make up most of Britain outside of the urban centres. Every day this group invites a 65p friend into their house to castigate these other groups. They trust this Mail friend who tells them how hard done by they are. How immigrants are taking their jobs. How Britain is swamped. How Muslims are terrorists. How Trump has a point and Farage is a good egg. How they deserve more money because they are better than the youth of today. How women should remain in their place by the kitchen sink and breed. How foreigners are bloodsuckers. How politicians are only out for themselves and milk the system and the taxpayer. How environmentalists are the real bad guys with their wind farms. How Brussels is trying to take over Britain and force straight bananas and litres and Romanians and laws on them. And because they live in rural white areas miles away from the reality of mainstream day-to-day British life, they live without a counterpoise or an alternative view. They haven’t seen a young person because they have all migrated to the cities where there are jobs. Or any migrants for the same reason. They respond to clickbait in CAPITAL LETTERS thinking that will get their point across and change minds. And most importantly of all for this group – they feel that no one has listened to them for a very long time.
And to a point it is true for them. Alongside the young of today, their incomes have been frozen. Their jobs have been automated, outsourced to India or the industry they once worked in has vanished. They have seen people who they feel aren’t as good as them getting jobs that they feel are owed by society for all the good they have done. They haven’t been listened to because their views are illogical. But that doesn’t mean to say that they shouldn’t at least have lip service paid to what they think – even if it is complete Brexitballs.
For countries to make better decisions there needs to be an understanding of how groups have morphed over the last decade and how society is re-stratifying. Once there is an acceptance that A, B, C1, C2, D, E or working class or white collar labels are defunct brackets to put people in then it is possible to respond accordingly to each groups needs and desires. For the Privileged of yesterday were the white older men who now feel disenfranchised. The Privileged of today need to be noticed so they don’t become as embattled and bitter as the previous lucky group. For the Young, the Invisibles and the White Men things need to change. Society needs to start recognising that the Young need more opportunities, less debt, less marketing, more hope. The Invisibles need to be treated completely equally. And White Men need to feel they are being heard.
Do that and, over time, there may be a chance that countries could reunite around a common hope. Don’t do that and every nation risks isolating itself into groups that shrink from the wider world.