An account of becoming middle class is too pious but worth arguing with, says David Goodhartby David Goodhart / May 19, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Does class still drive British politics?
A few months ago, the comedian David Baddiel gave a newspaper interview in which he described himself as lower middle class. As he went to the north London private school Haberdashers’ Aske’s (albeit on a scholarship) and Cambridge University, I thought that was stretching a point and tweeted something about it.
He was unhappy about being accused of inverted snobbery and I got a clobbering from his many fans on Twitter. But I thought his self-description said something interesting about the increasing fluidity and subjectivity of social class.
Lynsey Hanley might also be described as lower middle class. Her father had a white-collar job and her family owned their own home. They had expectations of upward mobility for their precocious only child. The fact that she chooses to describe herself as respectable working class, rather than lower middle class, is partly to do with her centre-left politics but also because she was raised on the Chelmsley Wood council estate in Solihull, near Birmingham.
Such large council estates—both pre-war and post-war, ranging from high-rise blocks to estates of semi-detached houses with gardens—used to be home to a quarter of British people. In 1979, half the population lived in public housing of some kind (it is now just 16 per cent including housing association tenure). In their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when incomes were rising steadily, the better estates were proper communities with tenants from a range of occupations, including teachers and policemen. But by the time Hanley was growing up in “the Wood” in the 1980s and 1990s, it had a reputation as a ghetto of deprivation and anti-social behaviour—its main secondary school was a far cry from Haberdashers’ Aske’s.
Hanley has already written a well-received semi-autobiographical book about council housing—Estates—but in Respectable she attempts something more ambitious: a…