George Friedman on the Posh versus the Blokes

George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures looks at class and Brexit:

The Posh versus the Blokes in the UK

I arrived in London on Saturday afternoon. Traffic was heavy and it took nearly two hours to reach my hotel, giving ample time to speak to my driver. It was time well spent. He was a Scotsman who had been living and driving in London for a long time. We discussed the election, of course, and the devastation of the Labour Party and the rise of the Conservatives. He had voted for the Tories. He explained that this was because of his loathing for what he called the “posh in London” and their hatred of England while enriching themselves shamelessly and despising anyone who doesn’t worship as they worship.

By “worship” he was not referring to religion, but their belief that Britain is corrupt and demands ruthless reform. He particularly was enraged that the playing of “Rule Britannia” was seen by the posh left as disgraceful, because it paid homage to an evil that Britain ought to apologize for over and over: the British Empire. The loss of empire didn’t bother him. What bothered him was that the posh left was unwilling to respect that whatever faults Britain might have had, Britain was a great moment in human history, and he as a British subject and as a Scotsman was not prepared to be ashamed about it.

What has happened in Britain is something that can be seen elsewhere. The left-wing party has become the party of the well-to-do and educated elite. The conservatives have become the party of the workers. The former demand the right to hold on to their status but also to redefine the meaning of a nation’s history, and use their power to force moral principles on a society not prepared to respect them. England’s Labour Party had been the party of the working class but seems to a great extent to have turned on the workers.

The European Union question is mixed in with this. The posh (I will use this name for them) supported EU membership eagerly. According to my driver, the left-wing posh are all involved in finance, and they saw EU membership as beneficial to them. But there was another aspect he did not mention. If one of the things you wish to do is take ownership of British history and deny the British the right to admire the greatness and forgive themselves what harm they did, then the EU is the perfect vehicle. In announcing and trying to impose a European identity, devaluing one’s own nation, the EU gave the posh a powerful tool with which to subordinate the brilliant, dark and beloved history of Britain.

The desire of this class to make more money is easy to understand. Harder to understand is this class’s desire to redefine British recollection of their past. When voters opted to leave the EU, this class was both dumbfounded and enraged. You could read many times about how the people who voted to leave were considered to be uneducated, lacking all understanding of what they were doing. The posh wanted to delegitimize the election and insisted that it be replayed. The desire for a do-over was in their rational interest, but more was going on. The posh believed they had a right to rule, and that those who voted against them were illegitimate pretenders. As the struggle to reverse Brexit intensified, the battle to delegitimize the enemies of the EU also intensified. Having opened by declaring the voters ignorant, they extended their assault to include a range of other values, such as patriotism, and the right to preserve and celebrate British culture. The struggle over Brexit did not start the culture war, but it pushed the industrial working class into an uprising against the posh and their belief.

There was of course a massive economic dimension. The industrial working class of the Midlands were not experiencing the benefits of the EU. The posh of London were. The EU played a major role in this. Britain is the second-largest economy of the EU, and its loss would be extremely painful. The EU had two possible routes. One was to reach a redefinition of the relationship with Britain. The other was to be utterly rigid in finding a resolution. The EU assumption was that rigidity was more rational, since it would force a shift in the British political alignment that would reverse Brexit. It did everything it could to make Brexit appear a disaster, and it convinced all those who already believed it, while building rage against the EU in those who didn’t. The political collaboration between the posh and the EU drove a further wedge between the two English classes and strengthened the belief that rational acceptance of the EU was being blocked by primitive and ignorant nationalism. Thus the economic and financial battles merged.

The British political structure has now massively shifted. The Labour Party had been the party of the industrial working class and aligned with their culture, unlike Marxists who wanted to transform it. The Conservative Party was the party of the well-to-do and of empire. Today, Labour is the party of the posh, demanding cultural shifts, while the Conservatives are the party that lost posh London and took a huge chunk out of the industrial Midlands. It should be noted that the major shift was cultural and not economic. Labour was unclear on the EU and shared with the posh the desire for moral reform. The Conservatives sided with the working class on both economic and cultural matters.

The British realignment is something we also see more broadly in the Euro-American world. Parties that were formerly working-class parties have shifted to supporting the well-to-do and focusing on cultural change. Parties that were formerly the parties of the wealthy are now speaking for the workers, and particularly for their cultural views. This isn’t particular to Britain at all. The desire to protect traditional cultural values is powerful among working classes, who see the assault on their values by former allies as a betrayal. Thus the Labour Party became the party of the posh, and the Conservatives speak for my driver.

That conclusion is reinforced by YouGov post-election polling. Alain Tolhurst of PoliticsHome reports that “Tories now more popular with working class voters than middle class ones, reveals election poll”:

A survey by YouGov found that the Conservatives won 48% of voters in the lower C2DE social grade at last week’s election, as opposed to 43% in the higher ABC1.

The C2DE grade is made up of skilled and unskilled manual workers, pensioners, casual workers and the unemployed, while ABC1 is managerial, professional and administrative staff.

The Tories triumph, but a modern version of the Roman slave whose task it was to murmur into the victorious general’s ear, “Remember, thou art mortal” would whisper to them, “Young people overwhelmingly vote Labour”. Yes, it was ever thus, but now it is more thus. Another change: women are now more left wing than men. For most of the twentieth century women tended to be Conservative stalwarts.

Updated: 19th December 2019 — 8:40 am


  1. The replacement of reliable husbands and fathers bringing home the bacon with government forcing all men and women to subsidise poor life choices via social housing, child support etc has flipped a chunk of the female electorate from Tory to Labour. Another chunk of women have comfy unproductive government jobs administering leftie statist bollocks or teaching jobs. It all helps Labour. Just not enough this time.

  2. While the Young who do vote overwhelming vote Labour it appears to be forgotten that as they get older (and more experienced with greater states in society) they change to voting Conservative.

  3. It seems that, whenever one side of politics represents the interests of the working class, the other side is supported by women. As long as Labour represented the working class, women voted Conservative. Similarly in France, i believe. Also, when socialists and commies represented the working class in Italy and Germany before the war, women voted for Mussolini and Hitler. (I invite corrections if i got any facts wrong.)

    NB: I do not mean to imply in any way that the UK Conservatives were akin to fascists, when the working classes voted Labour; but you are welcome to your own opinion about the relationship of Corbynism to fascism, now that the working classes have abandoned “Labour”.

    Also, i do not mean to dismiss women voters: they were quite right to vote Conservative — and perhaps Mussolini was the lesser evil at the time.

    As for the young, they might be voting “Labour” in greater numbers, but it remains to be seen whether the rate at which they get mugged by reality is also increased.

  4. A conjecture as to why “Labour” has abandoned the working class:
    The trouble was that Old Labour policies failed, and were seen to fail.
    It became necessary for Labour to find a new raison d’être, if you’ll forgive my French: a new political formula, as Gaetano Mosca would call it. They found it in women, ethnic/religious/sexual minorities, and the environment.

    At that point, the Conservatives might easily have flipped the working class, had they bothered to appeal to them. Instead, Cameron chose to run on the same political formula as “Labour”. It worked for a while.

    Incidentally, it is not the 1st time that a party supposedly of the “”left”” deserts the working class. Just ask Lech Walesa!

  5. AWilliams,

    I don’t think anyone is forgetting that there is a long standing pattern of left wing young people turning more Tory as they get older. However the degree to which the young are currently skewed left is historically unusual. According to YouGov 21% of 18-24 year olds voted Conservative in 2019. I can’t find the link now but I’ve read that in Margaret Thatcher’s time 40% of the same age group voted Conservative.

    I’m far from believing that the current situation is set in stone. If the last five years since the wipeout of Scottish Labour in 2015 (which in retrospect was an omen) have taught us anything, it is that nothing in politics is set in stone. The Tories are now in the fortunate position of having five years to take action. If they mistake having considerable time to do something for not needing to do anything, they will regret it.

  6. Has Labour abandoned the “working class” — or has the pre-WWII working class disappeared, transmogrified into something else?

    When the UK was the Workshop of the World, there was indeed a huge working class which labored in the dark Satanic mills, crawled underground in the coal mines, sweated in the steel mills, swung heavy iron building the locomotives, ships, automobiles. This was Marx’s working class — the people whom George Orwell observed so closely; the people who voted Labour, the people whom the Conservatives of that time looked down on.

    Now the coal mines are closed, as are the mills, the steel works, the shipyards. The surviving Japanese- & Indian-run car plants are very different places from before — robots instead of masses of workers doing repetitive tasks. The “posh” made money by offshoring the UK’s former industrial capacity, and the former working class has changed — becoming much more dependent on government in the process.

    This has all happened before. The Plebians in Roman society were “posh” claiming to represent the ordinary people, the plebs. The Patricians were also “posh”, claiming to represent the interests of the better sort of people, like themselves. And we all know how that worked out for the Romans.

    The big mistake Brexiteers made several years ago was imagining that a narrow plurality in the Referendum was the end of the story. Conservatives should avoid that same triumphalist mistake now — they got a big majority in Parliament, but 56% of voters voted for someone else. The story is never over, and this new Conservative Party needs to prove itself by its actions.

  7. @Snorri Godhi – what makes you think that the Nazis were the opposite of Communism/Socialism?

  8. Phil: that is like asking me when i stopped beating my wife.
    The Nazis obviously came out of the same putrid nexus of ideas that gave us Marx, Mussolini, American Progressivism, the Frankfurt School, and so on.
    All the same, Nazis and Marxists were on opposite sides in Germany in the 1930s; and unfortunately there was no feasible third way.

  9. A leftie murderer civil war scores them no liberty or decency points!

  10. @Snorri Godhi – The subject of Germany in the 1920’s and early 1930’s is a complex political situation but the Nazis were only one faction of a number of left wing parties, the communists being the one of the others. When the Nazis became the dominant party, many Communists joined that party to gain power since the policies and direction was the same. That they were on opposite sides is like saying the BREXIT party and the Conservatives have diametrically opposite policies and aims (though come to think of it, that is a bad analogy nowadays … ). A better one might be that the Chinese Communist party and the USSR Communist party were on opposite sides and clashed on their mutual border. Sorting out which one is to take the role of the “right wing” would challenge a Medieval theologian and make the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin childs play in comparison. Both differ in minor detail but both are communist.

    Don’t forget that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact had both the Communists and the Nazis helping each other until 22nd June 1941. Indeed, the British Communist party was extremely anti war until Hitler invaded the USSR on that date when it changed to be an extremely “start a 2nd front” pressure party.

    A side by side comparison of the two shows no difference:

    Both had a leader cult (Hitler, Lenin, Stalin)
    Both had secret police (Gestapo, Cheka/NKVD/KGB)
    Both had “camps” (Concentration camps, Gulags) and execution squads (Einzatzgruppen, NKVD execution sites such as Katyn)
    Both had youth movements (Hitler Youth, Young Communist league)
    Both had class enemies (the Jews, the Bourgeois, rich kulaks, ordinary kulaks, kulaks, class enemies,capitalists etc). Hitler ran out of time before he ran out of Jews.
    Both had planned economies – the Nazis did not progress towards the state ownership of everything as did the Communists but it was there.
    Both invaded Poland in September 1939.

    Etc. etc. and so forth. I can’t see a difference except that with Nazi Germany, we invaded and turned over every rock and saw what was underneath. Not so with Soviet communism, hence Nazism is bad, the Communists get a free pass, though they were much worse than the Nazis.

    You mightwant to search for a document called Icebreaker by Victor Suvorov (it is here and free for an interesting discussion about why Hitler invaded the USSR. Not as straightforward as you think and notin alignment with the Western historians views either.

  11. I would point out that the “Posh” depend on the support of the would be posh- all those who associate themselves with the values and ideas of the truly posh, but without any actual enhancement in wealth or power over the herd. Important amongst these are graduates who adopt the ideas prevalent in universities in order to gain approval, even though the.ideas being bring them no benefit. Given time they abandon those ideas of course, but it does skew the opinions of the young.
    I have been known to wonder if that wasn’t the point of enlarged university admissions and raising the school leaving age. Or was it solely to provide more jobs for teachers and lecturers and vastly more money for universities?

  12. Phil B — Suvorov later (2008) published another book (“The Chief Culprit”) covering much the same ground as “Icebreaker”. He makes a plausible case that the reason the Red Army was over-run during the initial German invasion of USSR-held Polish territory was that the Red Army was then in a very exposed position, being out of its defensive frontier and itself on the move preparing to attack German-held territory.

    Suvorov also points to the little noticed (in the West) Soviet invasion of Japanese-held Chinese territory in the closing days of WWII, where Stalin successfully did the kind of mass attack he had planned on Germany, but had failed because Germany attacked first, beating Stalin to the punch by a week or two.

    It has to be admitted that Europe’s 1940s history seems more interesting than today’s interminable squabbles.

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