By Ashley Husband Powton
Mr Carson, the gleefully servile butler of Downton Abbey, is a pleb who knows his place. Nothing gives him greater pleasure than waiting hand and foot on the aristocratic Crawley family in their country estate.
When the news of the sinking of the Titanic and the loss of the immediate heirs to the estate reaches the Abbey, our dutiful Mr Carson maintains without the slightest inkling of insincerity that still nothing could be worse than a maid serving a duke in the dining room.
And quite right, too! Servants are born to serve, the upper classes are born to rule, that’s the way it is and that’s the way it shall stay. ‘One whiff of reform and she hears the rattle of the guillotine’, says Lady Mary of her grandmother, the formidable Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham.
Women having opinions, the right to vote? Don’t be ridiculous! When Lady Mary suggests that her sister is entitled to her opinions, the Dowager Countess promptly reminds her that ‘No, she isn’t until she is married – then her husband will tell her what her opinions are’.
One century and two world wars later and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, refused on Friday to sit in standard class on the train, with his aides protesting that he ‘couldn’t possibly’ demean himself in such manner. George Osborne is amongst the privileged 7% of British population who are privately educated. He then went on to study at Oxford University. He is heir apparent to the Osborne Baronetcy.
The same day saw the resignation of Conservative Whip, Andrew Mitchell, as a result of the mounting pressure which has followed his insulting remarks to a Downing Street policeman, which included his infamous faux pas ‘know your f***ing place, pleb’. This resignation comes after Mitchell’s failed attempts to play the whole episode down, in which he enjoyed the full support of Prime Minister David Cameron.
Dave, like George, is a product of fine English private education and an Oxford graduate. He is also a lineal descendant of King William IV. Sadly, Mr Mitchell does not feature in Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage. His private education and Cambridge Alma mater must however have proven sufficient for the House of Commons, which is, after all, a little less exclusive than the House of Lords, where hereditary peerage is a prerequisite for 72 members.
These three men are current leaders of this nation. They are members of a government which has veritably failed to reform the House of Lords and make Britain’s parliamentary system even slightly more fit for the 21st century.
This same government is in the process of systematically dismantling the Welfare State, perhaps the proudest and greatest achievement in British political history in tackling social inequality and increasing chances of social mobility.
The principle of universal health care free at point of need is being undermined by a programme of vigorous privitisation, with lucrative contracts aplenty for the old boys network. Support for the sick, the vulnerable and the elderly is slashed and university tuitions fees are raised, whilst tax breaks for the upper echelons are introduced and rich and ruthless bankers are bailed out with government funds.
It’s not just the government which poses cause for concern. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year witnessed the lowly British masses practically falling over themselves in their eagerness to submit in devout deference to inherited wealth and title.
I can’t help feeling guilty for enjoying Downton Abbey in all its social strata snobbery soaked glory and joyful plebeian subservience. I try to justify my viewing pleasure by considering how much we as a society have moved on since those times.
But sometimes you’re forced to ask yourself just how much we have, and if the current government aren’t hell-bent on a return to the injustice and social inequality of pre-war society, or indeed the good old days – depending upon what class you happen to be born into.