While Gordon Brown stupidly plays with the fire of class warfare (as Thatcher did before him) I live in a country that has experienced real class warfare in living memory. No-one wants to return to it. The extraordinary concessions that were made by both sides to agree the 1978 constitution are proof of that.
In 1898 Spain lost the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico all in one year and the blow to its self-esteem caused by the loss of empire still rankled decades later. Society was divided into hermetic factions that were separated by a huge social gulf that could not be crossed, and while colonial conflicts were unpopular they strengthened the position of the military against weak parliamentary institutions. People hankered for strong leadership that would restore their former glory and power, and the role of religion in society was a matter of great controversy. Does that sound familiar? It should do.
But to come back to Gordon Brown, this is not his first foray into class warfare. In 2000, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he abused his office to intervene personally on behalf of Laura Spence, a sixth-former from Newcastle who had been turned down by Oxford, claiming that her rejection was a result of class and regional prejudice. Brown’s claim was refuted on practically every point, not least because the university had received 22 applications for five places and, because of A-level grade inflation, all of them had identically high grades. The university had lost its main pre-application selection tool and had to rely entirely on interview. A further point is that because of the very high cost of medical courses, human and veterinary medicine are the only two subjects for which the government sets unchangeable limits for places at each university. Oxford had no discretion and could only have admitted her by rejecting someone that it had already accepted. Brown seemed to be ignorant of this fact, as of much else in the affair, including the views of the teenager whom he was using in his attempt to foment class war in the UK:
“I never doubted Oxford's decision … I was a bit upset when I came out of the interview because I knew I hadn't done as well as I thought I could have.” Other candidates who performed better at the interview were more deserving of a place, she said, and admitted she could have prepared more thoroughly.