WCP: The Extraordinary Ordinary Working Class

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What does the return of the phrase “working class” in public discourse, particularly from right-wing politicians, suggest about the state of the economy, politics, and class in Great Britain? Tim Strangleman contemplates the motivation behind the use of the phrase by Prime Minister Theresa May and others in this week’s Working-Class Perspective.

When Theresa May stood on the steps of Downing Street earlier this summer, after succeeding David Cameron as Prime Minister, she did something extraordinary: she used the phrase ‘working class’. Not for May the mealy-mouthed ‘working people’, ‘hardworking families’, or some such combination. This was full on, max strength ‘working class’. Last week May went even further and used the phrase ‘working class’ not once but nine times in her Conservative conference speech, the nearest thing we have in the UK to a State of the Union address from our political head of state. To be fair these eighteen words were part of a near 6,000 word speech to the party faithful, but they were not tucked away in esoteric parts of the text. They were peppered through it from the first to last paragraphs, and always prefaced with the word ‘ordinary’. No one could miss these words; they were front and centre of the new PM’s platform.

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The renowned Working-Class Perspectives blog (new window) is brought to you by our Visiting Scholar for the 2015-16 academic year, John Russo, and Georgetown University English professor, Sherry Linkon. It features several regular and guest contributors.