The Crewe cut

Next Thursday sees the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, which just might turn out to be one of those pivotal by-elections. Andrew Rawnsley has some sharp comments about the nature and tone of the Labour campaign up there.

What was once regarded as the cleverest electioneering operation in the democratic world has descended into a crude parody of the silliest and nastiest aspects of political campaigning. Labour activists dressed in toppers and tails stalk the Tory candidate to attack him as a ‘toff’ because his family built up a successful chain of shoe repairers. It’s not Edward Timpson who is made to look like the nob by these puerile games.

When not playing the class card in a juvenile way, Labour has been playing the race card in a poisonous way. The BNP is not standing in the seat, but you could be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at their stuff when you read some of Labour’s campaign material. One Labour leaflet invites a vote against the Tories on the grounds that they ‘oppose making foreign nationals carry an ID card’. The Tories actually oppose making anyone carry an ID card. Labour should be ashamed of stooping to xenophobia to try to cling on to the seat. They are getting this down and dirty because so much is at stake here, especially for the Prime Minister…

The ethics of toffism

Toffism, in case you don’t know, is discrimination against Etonians and the Bertie Wooster class generally. Edward Timson is the toff who is representing the Conservative interest in the forthcoming Nantwich and Crewe by-election, and it seems that the poor dear is being persecuted by satirists in top hats. Catherine Bennett has this to say about all that.

Timpson’s pain reminds us that it will not do, any more, for toffists to stigmatise the privileged, on the basis that an accident of insanely good fortune is preferable to one of doomed deprivation. The hapless victim of affluence, George Osborne, for instance, cannot help being named after a brand of wallpaper, any more than Boris Johnson chose to call himself ‘de Pfeffel’ or David Cameron elected to put himself through Eton – a ‘great school’, incidentally, as he ‘fessed up on Newsnight not long ago.

But the toffs’ tormentors will not let up. Just last week, Cameron was forced to stand up and ‘fess again: ‘Yes, I am wealthy, I have a very well-paid job and so does my wife.’ But if you prick him, does he not bleed? Or as he put it, with a simplicity which put some in mind of a young Orwell: ‘I drive my own car. I fill it up at the pumps and when diesel hits 121.9p per litre, which I paid outside Chipping Norton a couple of weeks ago, it really struck me that this whole tank is costing me £10 to £15 more than previously.’

So Etonians “feel the pain” too, just like Unflash Gordon. Such unity in diversity gives one a nice warm feeling. Or is it just that the seat of one’s pants has just caught fire?

Ms Bennett takes a much more enlightened view of all this.

Instead of lampooning Cameron’s otherness, his critics might want to celebrate cultural diversity, with the re-emergence in public life of a particular Tory type which was thought, until recently, to have dwindled almost to the point of extinction. Although the recent explosion in the number of breeding pairs is certainly impressive, Westminster, looked at as a whole, is very far from being ‘swamped’, as alarmists from Toff Watch have put it, by Cameron’s patrician army. Rather like Poles in Lincolnshire, it is just that its membership tends to concentrate in certain localities: Notting Hill for instance; Chipping Norton; the shadow cabinet. As they have every right to do. No one, I think, really wishes to return to the kind of bigoted hate-speech that began to sound old fashioned three decades ago, when Mrs Thatcher, declared class a ‘communist concept’, a unifying project continued by John Major, groping towards his ‘classless society’ and latterly by Tony Blair, who objected, early in his career, to Marxism’s ‘false view of class’.