Where parliament is obsessed with etiquette, working-class people are more interested in manners—and the difference between the two explains a lot about our political systemby Rik Worth / September 4, 2019 / Leave a comment
During last night’s emergency House of Commons debate, one image seemed to encapsulate everything wrong with the Eton mess of the new government: Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House in title alone, stretched out on the front bench. A bit like a cat, if that cat was a contemptible 18th-century smarm-baron.
Mogg is routinely held up as a man of good manners. But in addition to being the “physical embodiment of arrogance, entitlement, disrespect and contempt for our parliament” as Labour MP Anna Turley put it, Mogg’s seat slouching simply looks rude.
The physical embodiment of arrogance, entitlement, disrespect and contempt for our parliament. pic.twitter.com/XdnFQmkfCS
— Anna Turley MP (@annaturley) September 3, 2019
Whether he likes it or not, every MP in the room has—in theory—achieved the same thing to be there and deserves to be treated as an equal. To many, however, Mogg appeared to find his fellow MPs contributions to the debate beneath him; not worth even sitting up for.
Manners vs etiquette
Beneath the mocking memes and shouts of “sit up!” there is a serious point here about the distinction between matters and etiquette. It’s the working class that cares about the former. The upper-class care about the latter.
In the working class, we say “please” and “thank you” because we’re embarrassed to ask for, and receive, something if we know it could be at someone else’s expenses. We’re told not to discuss money because we don’t want to upset anyone or, if we’re lucky enough, appear gauche.
On top of which, studies show, we’re more empathetic than the ruling class to the plight of others. Not only are we more able to recognise the difficulties that other people face, researchers found, but we’re also more likely to do something about it.
There are practical and social reasons behind this. But more than that, we’re taught that we should have manners to improve ourselves. How many working-class mums would go insane at the idea of you having been rude to a friend’s parent or, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, putting your elbows on the table during tea time?
Like Eliza Doolittle—from My Fair Lady off the telly, not the play; we’re working-class, after all—we think we can better ourselves by acting “properly.” Implicitly, the idea is that manners will help us be more like our “betters”: the officer class, the gentlemen—the Rees-Moggs.