Of Royal Weddings and Social Mobility

The excitement of the Royal wedding did not last even as long as the long Bank Holiday, displaced as it has been by Mr. Bin Laden’s death. There was little in the way of politics to the wedding: omitting Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from the guest list hardly counted as a constitutional crisis. As social commentary some suggested that the fact that Catherine Middleton is from a non aristocratic background somehow marked a welcome departure for the Royal Family.

In reality of course it is a matter for Prince William and Catherine whom they both chose to marry but the idea that this was some sort of radical departure was not entirely accurate: a number of previous royal brides have been from non aristocratic backgrounds. The idea that it represented some sort of almost planned strategy for helping the monarchy might be true but is much more likely to be a conspiracy theory. Incidentally there are already a number of conspiracy theories regarding Prince and Princess William: as ever David Icke was one of the first out of the traps (presumably Kate has been spotted by Mr. Icke shifting shape into a twelve foot tall blood drinking lizard alien).

The idea of a middle class Queen in waiting has been suggested by some but this argument was dismissed by that most erudite of royalists David Starkey. On Channel 4 News he pointed out that this was a wedding of the wealthy. Miss Middleton (as was) may not have been a member of the aristocracy but whilst her mother may have been originally working class, by the time Catherine was a child the family were significantly wealthy from a very successful mail order business; and she was sent to school at Marlborough College prior to going to St. Andrews. As such Starkey’s comment that this was a typical toff’s wedding, although maybe a touch sniffy, was correct.

The most interesting social comment from the wedding was in actual fact David Cameron’s agonising over whether to wear a standard suit or a morning suit. Here the Prime Minsiter’s lack of self awareness was interesting. Everyone knows David Cameron is a member of the upper classes; much, much more so incidentally, than Kate Middleton. That he might think that he should have worn a normal suit in order not to appear upper class shows an attempted inverse snobbery and also a failure to appreciate that very few would think less of him for wearing a morning suit. Indeed this inverse pretentiousness in considering attempting to pretend he is somehow “one of us” was a presentational mistake (albeit it a minor one). That sort of mistake, however, speaks to the ongoing failure of Cameron’s “We are all in it together” narrative of the austerity policy of his government. That Nick Clegg insisted in pretending he is not part of the same social class as Cameron by wearing an ordinary suit is again a minor issue but so far removed is Clegg from an understanding of what the country or his party expected of him that any style failings have long since become irrelevant considering the substance and U turn issues Clegg is almost universally accused of.

The other aspect by which the new Princess William is, through absolutely no fault of her own, an exemplar of Cameron and Clegg’s Britain is the form of social mobility her family have displayed. The Middletons have moved from moderate middle class prosperity, in her father’s family’s case and from the working class in her mother’s to significant wealth through business. The Middleton’s have no doubt been good business people and will have worked extremely hard for their prosperity. However, they have also been lucky as few businesses take off the way theirs has: most small business people never achieve great wealth. The coalition may talk about giving everyone an equal chance but the reality is that only extreme good luck along with hard work will ever allow ordinary people to become rich. Creating a situation in which a tiny minority of the ordinary population manage to become wealthy does not disguise the fact that social mobility has been decreasing for years in the UK and is likely to decrease further under the current government’s plans. In that way, as with so much else, the current coalition government’s plans are remarkably similar to the laissez faire attitude of classic Victorian Liberalism. In the early nineteenth century a tiny minority of people managed within one or two generations to move from working class poverty to buying estates and becoming extraordinarily wealthy. Such people will undoubtedly have displayed hard work but also will have been extremely fortunate. Sadly in Cameron and Clegg’s Britain such luck again seems more likely to be the recipe for success than any form of true meritocracy.