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Author Topic: Who was the last 'working class' British PM?  (Read 1304 times)
afleitch
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« on: May 03, 2010, 04:37:48 pm »
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My own thoughts; probably John Major.
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Sibboleth
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« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2010, 04:58:53 pm »
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Depends how you define the term. If you're imposing a very strict definiton, there's only ever been one; Ramsay MacDonald. Arguments can be made for Wilson, Callaghan and Major but - in all cases - there are strong arguments to file them under 'lower middle class' instead. Major's father was a former music-hall performer and failed garden-gnome manufacturer, Callaghan's was a petty officer in the Navy (who died when Callaghan was young plunging his family into poverty), Wilson's was an industrial chemist.
Callaghan was the last to speak with something that could be called a working class accent (and arguably the only one ever to do so in public).
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« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2010, 12:33:15 am »
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John Major wasn't working class. I agree on Ramsay MacDonald but the others certainly were privileged enough to a point where I can not consider their background to be 'working class'. I am assuming you refer to their background, though, and not pro-working class policies.
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« Reply #3 on: May 04, 2010, 01:14:30 am »
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William Gladstone
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« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2010, 01:42:35 am »
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William Gladstone

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« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2010, 08:30:26 am »
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John Major wasn't working class. I agree on Ramsay MacDonald but the others certainly were privileged enough to a point where I can not consider their background to be 'working class'. I am assuming you refer to their background, though, and not pro-working class policies.

Callaghan's background was hardly privileged, even if his class position was confused. It's mildly interesting to note that the reason he became such a strong Labour partisan (and all that led on from that) was a minor reform to service pensions (allowing widows to claim them, or something like that. I forget the details) introduced by the first MacDonald government.
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« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2010, 10:13:57 am »
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None in recent times
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« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2010, 12:17:25 pm »
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Depends how you define the term. If you're imposing a very strict definiton, there's only ever been one; Ramsay MacDonald. Arguments can be made for Wilson, Callaghan and Major but - in all cases - there are strong arguments to file them under 'lower middle class' instead. Major's father was a former music-hall performer and failed garden-gnome manufacturer
Not failed. The company was still in existence (and in Major's elder brother's ownership) during Major's tenure as PM.

Major (and Callaghan and Wilson; not to mention Brown and Thatcher and especially Lloyd George) weren't working class, but they weren't born into a special privileged caste. Unlike Clegg and Cameron and Blair and, well, all the other 20th century prime ministers (unless I'm forgetting someone) and certainly all prime ministers before Lloyd George (unless you go really way, way back to the ministers of the late middle ages - with the term prime minister not yet in existence. They actually include some people of rather common origins. Thomas Cromwell, for one.)
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« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2010, 12:39:22 pm »
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Thatcher was actually born into a local elite; which mattered a lot more back then than it does now, even in somewhere as (relatively) small as Grantham. But yeah, that's still outside the ruling caste.
As for previous exceptions, it depends on how you define the boundaries of things. There's also the problem (especially wrt Wilson) of changing class definitions; at the time he was born he was clearly lower middle class (classic - almost stereotypical - West Riding Nonconformist Radical-Liberal lower middle class at that) but someone of his background now would usually be classed (wrongly, I'd argue) as 'skilled working class'.

Though there was nearly a PM from a very working class background in 1992.
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« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2010, 02:07:49 pm »
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Major (and Callaghan and Wilson; not to mention Brown and Thatcher and especially Lloyd George) weren't working class, but they weren't born into a special privileged caste. Unlike Clegg and Cameron and Blair and, well, all the other 20th century prime ministers (unless I'm forgetting someone)
Attlee. I was forgetting Attlee. Though (like Thatcher) near the upper end of the spectrum, obviously.
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« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2010, 02:24:42 pm »
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Major (and Callaghan and Wilson; not to mention Brown and Thatcher and especially Lloyd George) weren't working class, but they weren't born into a special privileged caste. Unlike Clegg and Cameron and Blair and, well, all the other 20th century prime ministers (unless I'm forgetting someone)
Attlee. I was forgetting Attlee. Though (like Thatcher) near the upper end of the spectrum, obviously.

Have you ever heard footage of him speaking? Absolutely classic early twentieth century upper-lower middle class accent.

You've also forgotten The Death.
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« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2010, 02:29:57 pm »
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I've just never looked up his background.

Sounds like the third remotely acceptable answer to the poll question (besides Callaghan and of course McDonald), actually.



On a not remotely related note, you told me about the weird class distinctions within Cricket once, with teams made up of upper-middle-class amateurs plus hired specialist (bowlers) pros drawn from the working or servant classes.

Turns out H.G.Wells' father was such a cricket pro. Cheesy
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« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2010, 02:36:36 pm »
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I've just never looked up his background.

It just doesn't seem likely, does it? A bit like Roy Jenkins in that respect.

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On a not remotely related note, you told me about the weird class distinctions within Cricket once, with teams made up of upper-middle-class amateurs plus hired specialist (bowlers) pros drawn from the working or servant classes.

Turns out H.G.Wells' father was such a cricket pro. Cheesy

Haha. Didn't know that Smiley
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afleitch
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« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2010, 04:09:36 pm »
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I'd still classify Major as of working class roots. I suspect it depends on where you take the 'snapshot' of his life. He left school with a handful of O-levels, dad dead at 19 never went to university, was for a period genuinely unemployed and signing and flat shared with three families in Brixton. He pulled himself up as he entered his 30's of course and worked his way up in his career and in politics.
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« Reply #14 on: May 04, 2010, 05:37:14 pm »
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I'd still classify Major as of working class roots. I suspect it depends on where you take the 'snapshot' of his life. He left school with a handful of O-levels, dad dead at 19 never went to university, was for a period genuinely unemployed and signing and flat shared with three families in Brixton. He pulled himself up as he entered his 30's of course and worked his way up in his career and in politics.

I see where you are coming from but I still do not consider his background to be working class. Where in the UK do you reside? I lived in Portsmouth for 14 years.
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afleitch
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« Reply #15 on: May 05, 2010, 06:53:53 am »
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I'd still classify Major as of working class roots. I suspect it depends on where you take the 'snapshot' of his life. He left school with a handful of O-levels, dad dead at 19 never went to university, was for a period genuinely unemployed and signing and flat shared with three families in Brixton. He pulled himself up as he entered his 30's of course and worked his way up in his career and in politics.

I see where you are coming from but I still do not consider his background to be working class. Where in the UK do you reside? I lived in Portsmouth for 14 years.

Glasgow
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« Reply #16 on: May 05, 2010, 06:58:57 am »
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I'd still classify Major as of working class roots. I suspect it depends on where you take the 'snapshot' of his life. He left school with a handful of O-levels, dad dead at 19 never went to university, was for a period genuinely unemployed and signing and flat shared with three families in Brixton. He pulled himself up as he entered his 30's of course and worked his way up in his career and in politics.

I see where you are coming from but I still do not consider his background to be working class. Where in the UK do you reside? I lived in Portsmouth for 14 years.

Glasgow

Wait you're a Scottish Tory?!
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« Reply #17 on: May 05, 2010, 07:02:39 am »
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I'd still classify Major as of working class roots. I suspect it depends on where you take the 'snapshot' of his life. He left school with a handful of O-levels, dad dead at 19 never went to university, was for a period genuinely unemployed and signing and flat shared with three families in Brixton. He pulled himself up as he entered his 30's of course and worked his way up in his career and in politics.

I see where you are coming from but I still do not consider his background to be working class. Where in the UK do you reside? I lived in Portsmouth for 14 years.

Glasgow

Wait you're a Scottish Tory?!

That's how we all reacted Tongue
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« Reply #18 on: May 05, 2010, 09:31:55 pm »
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Are we talking about a working class background (with the PM upwardly mobile into the middle class in cultural sensibilities and demeanor), or still having a working class style while PM? Was Major really from working class roots, or lower middle class ones, regarding cultural sensibilities?
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« Reply #19 on: May 07, 2010, 01:10:31 am »
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Are we talking about a working class background (with the PM upwardly mobile into the middle class in cultural sensibilities and demeanor), or still having a working class style while PM? Was Major really from working class roots, or lower middle class ones, regarding cultural sensibilities?

I think so.

Major was the last really "working class" origin PM.
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« Reply #20 on: May 16, 2010, 06:05:04 pm »
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Failed garden gnome manufacturer sounds like the most lower middle class profession I've ever heard of (although it could, ironically, also be the most upper class profession imaginable. But that's true of a lot of things, of course).
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« Reply #21 on: May 24, 2010, 08:24:03 pm »
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Failed garden gnome manufacturer sounds like the most lower middle class profession I've ever heard of (although it could, ironically, also be the most upper class profession imaginable. But that's true of a lot of things, of course).

The guy didn't even complete high school; that is not exactly Establishment.
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« Reply #22 on: May 24, 2010, 08:42:44 pm »
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No one's arguing that he was 'Establishment', though...
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