Class system in politics
Ever since one person hit another over the head with a big stick and said ‘I’m better than you’, there’s been a class system. Much as we may hate it, it’s still around today. So, with what is going to become Missy Debs’s usual emphasis on British history, here’s a quick guide to class.
Britain began as a number of tribes, which eventually coalesced into one country under one King. It was invaded along the way, but the basic structure remained. A monarchy at the top, with land owners, the aristocracy, next and the people who were allowed to live on the land, working it for the aristocracy, the serfs, at the bottom. This was known as the Feudal system. The King more or less owned everything, the aristocracy held deeds to their lands and the peasants had… well, if they were doing OK, they had a roof over their heads, and possibly a turnip.
Over the next few Centuries there were slight changes, but the structure remained the same. For example, a Parliament was formed, filled with the aristocracy, although the ultimate power remained with the king. Then in the 1780s, there came the Industrial Revolution and everything began to change.
Once industry could be mechanised, and taken out of the hands of the artisans and onto the factory floors, the entire structure changed and a new class was born. The more educated and entrepreneurial of the lower classes began to open factories. This lead to the formation of towns and cities, into which the peasants, who previously worked in the fields, moved to work in the factories. A few did get uppity about the machines and did revolt, in a mildly similar fashion to the French. Though whereas the French decapitated the ruling monarchy, the British went after the Spinning Jenny. (The French were more successful).
From the 18th Century onwards, the middle class which lay between the aristocracy and the serfs (also known as the Bourgeoisie) thrived. As they grew, they took on new roles and professions, such as doctors and lawyers. They began to take some of the power from the aristocracy, the upper classes. The serfs were now working in the factories and, for the first time, were getting paid for their labour. They became known as the working class.
These definitions are constantly evolving. More people in 21st Century Britain will now identify themselves as middle class than ever before. The upper classes are becoming less powerful, and more an object of ridicule, even though they still are the majority in the House of Lords, through which all laws must pass, but more on that later. The distinctions become more economical as time goes by. A large number of the working classes are unemployed, so technically they don’t even work.
Even though we’re often told we should be living in a classless society, the aspiration to climb class still remains.
Thousands of years on, we still want to be able to hit other people over the heads with big sticks and say, ‘I’m better than you’.
A noble and handsome peasant, also known as a serf, commonly known today as working class. Has roof over head and owns at least one turnip.
On the left is a macchiavellian social climber, an aspirational member of the middle class, aiming for aristocracy and stomping on the rights of the working class in order to achieve that goal. On the right is the handsome peasant, again, being downtrodden.
A mad cavorting no doubt syphilitic member of the aristocracy. Upper class from wig to toe. Tramples on middle class and working class alike, but is ever so nice about it.