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The Class System
Social Class in BritainBritain has far more strictly defined class divisions than the United States or many other countries. There are several ways that these are categorised by people. Some people will tell you that Class is dead in modern Britain. Do not believe them. It has ceased to matter as it once did, and most of the old elitist bastions now happily admit anyone with the right qualifications or enough money. Class is sadly alive and kicking, though — a good way to tell is by looking at the different demographics targeted by British Newspapers. Many academics have attempted to write a definition of the various classes, and most have failed to pin it down exactly, but it has a lot to do with what you do for a living. No, actually, it has a lot to do with what your parents do/did for a living, though you can transcend your class. Also note that class is not directly related to how much money you or your family earn, though it can be heavily related to what school and what if any university you went to. Alas, Tall Poppy Syndrome is still somewhat prevalent; while it's nowhere near as it once was, social climbing is not generally the done thing.
You could determine the classes as:
- Underclass - Do not work and subsist on State benefits or crime. 10% of the adult population has not worked since 1997 and 20% of British children are growing up in a household where no adult works.
- Working Class - Anyone who performs physical labour as part of the job. Used to be the largest group in the country. Although this mostly includes farm labourers in the countryside as well as factory workers and workplace cleaners in the cities, all fairly low paid jobs, it also includes professional footballers, some of whom earn more in a week than the Prime Minister does in a year. A good rule of thumb is "if you work standing up, you're working class".
- Middle Class - divided into three:
- Lower Middle Class: One step up from Working Class. Traditionally a factory foreman or a skilled tradesman (builder, plumber, roofer). Alternatively someone in a working class job, but self employed. But increasingly it's low-grade office and clerical workers, such as call centre staff or simple data entering jobs, people who occupy a similar place on the economic ladder to the old upper end of the working class but the nature of their job means they're middle class. Above them are:
- Middle Middle Class: Office workers, particularly at Clerical and middle-Management grades, and other skilled workers such as teachers. Also most of the remaining small business community, including shop owners and such.
- Upper Middle Class: Not only includes Senior Management, professionals such as doctors, solicitors, university lecturers and the like, but any rich person who doesn't come from a titled family. So billionaire Richard Branson and Prime Minister David Cameron are considered Upper-Middle Class (although the latter does have upper-class blood).
- Upper Class - If the other classes are defined by what you do for a living, Upper Class people traditionally don't. Historically this class was made up of the landed gentry and aristocracy who lived on the rents of the land they owned and their family's Old Money. The Second World War and modern taxes ended this lifestyle for almost everyone so most of the modern generation of lords and ladies actually do have to work, though they tend to be more prevalent in advertising, the law and, media rather than "trade" though many still keep up their family estates—albeit nowadays as tourist attractions. The source of your money matters far more than the amount; an Army Colonel on £80,000 a year (usually Upper Middle/Professional-class wages) would be generally regarded as slightly more Upper Class than his twin brother businessman earning £160,000. Even investment banking and City tradingnote was seen as slightly gauche.
Historically it was common for members of this class to become military officers, Church of England clergy and politicians if they wanted to and that cachet still persists. Additionally, at certain times the careers listed above as 'professionals' were also open to younger sons without losing too much status; becoming a barrister (but not a solicitor) was particularly acceptable, as it was more or less necessary in order to be appointed a judge and gave you the public speaking practice and understanding of law that came in handy when kickstarting a career in politics. After the Industrial Revolution, however, these lower-gentlemen were fused with upwardly-mobile businessmen to form the middle class. The novels of Jane Austen are a great snapshot of this shift as it happened.
Race in Britain
DCI Dick Catherwood (white guy): Get in there, Get into the community and find out what they know.
DI Moses Jones (second generation Afro-Caribbean guy): You want me to go around asking local Africans about ritual killing?
DCI Dick Catherwood: Well it's better coming from you Moses. They're your people.
DI Moses Jones: My people, and who am I, Bishop Tutu?
DCI Dick Catherwood: If only.
DI Moses Jones: I am from Shepherds Bush. note
—Moses Jones (2009 Mini Series)An important note to begin with. When Britons call themselves or other people "Asian", they are usually referring to someone from the Indian sub-continent, not East Asia as is the American default assumption. For many years ethnicity monitoring questions on government forms actually gave "Asian" and "Chinese" as different options! Partly this is simply because most ethnically Asian people in Britain are of Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi/Sri Lankan origin, but it's also because people from the other three countries in that region get upset for good reason if they're described as "Indian". Also, there's some sensitivity about referring to people as "Pakistani" because of the common British use of the abbreviation "Paki" as a racist insult as extreme and explosive as the word "Nigger" is in the USA. Finally, whatever you do don't refer to black British people as African-American, as you will be mocked mercilessly by all and sundry. Britain has been colonised by many ethnic groups over the ages (including failed colonisations between Ice Ages), with identifiable Late Stone and Bronze Age individuals found to be from France, Germany, Switzerland,and further East such as Hungary and Poland. Much evidence was lost when the North Sea Plain flooded in more recent ages. Cheddar Man (found in the nineteenth century in a cave in Cheddar Gorge) was Old Stone Age. Britain is still a mostly white country, with 80.5% of the population being White British, 1% White Irish and 4.4% White (Other) according to the 2011 censusnote . Although this varies greatly around the country with Northern Ireland having under 2 percent of its population being non-white (In Northern Ireland the census doesn't differentiate between White Irish and White British for obvious reasons). The Irish have migrated in large numbers to Britain for centuries; when the Irish economy was strong (referred to as 'the Celtic Tiger', in reference to the 'Asian Tigers' of the same time period), this tailed off, but after the Irish economy went down the drain, young Irish have been moving to Britain in quantity again (and, when they find that Britain isn't doing much better, a lot of them end up going to the US — most commonly the East Coast, particularly New York and Boston, although Chicago is also popular). The non-white ethnic minorities (14.1%) of the UK are mostly found in London. Significant minority populations (in percentage of the local population terms) also exist in Leicester, Birmingham, Slough and Luton, as well as this ghettos with large South Asian Muslim populations that exist in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Minorities are more common in cities and it is rarer (although they are still prevalent) to come across them in rural areas.
The main ethnic minority groups are:
- Afro/Caribbean Blacks: At least 3% of the population — split fairly evenly (11:18) between Caribbean (from the British West Indies) and African (from the African nations of the former British Empire) respectively. In the last 10 years the number of Blacks from Africa has overtaken those from the Caribbean. Although present in miniscule numbers since at least the 17-18th Century, if not Roman times. The Caribbean variety first arrived in the 1950s and are entering third generation status whilst the African ones tend to be more recent immigrants. Interracial relationships amongst Afro-Caribbeans and Whites are now so common that Afro-Caribbeans are expected to virtually disappear as a distinct group.
- South Asian: At least 5% of the population — those from the former British India, split between Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and those who fled from Idi Amin's Uganda and stayed. These largely arrived in the 1970s, although communities had already been established in Victorian times. The second and third are mostly Muslim. This has led to some tensions in British society — with home-grown terrorism, most notably the 7/7 terrorist attacks, carried out by British-born Muslims.
- Britain does have the Asian Store-Owner stereotype, in that you are likely to see South Asians running newsagents in fiction (also extending to an Asian Taxi Driver stereotype sometimes.)
- Central and Eastern Europeans: Not actually that new. A large number of Jews arrived in Britain around 1900 from the Russian Empirenote , followed by considerable Polish, Greek and Italian immigration after the Second World War. However, since the admission of several new states into The European Union in 2004, quite a lot have arrived, taking mostly factory, building and service jobs. The credit crunch has seen many head back home, particularly the Poles (as Poland weathered the crisis rather better than Britain).
Racial Issues in UKOne could write a rather interesting comparative history of racism in the US and UK. The UK never had the system of legalised segregation that the US had in its southern states, but there was a considerable amount of informal discrimination. Originally, the British Empire was one of the largest sources of slave traders, but they also banned slavery much earlier than the United States did and took a very hard-line approach to traders who persisted ... including non-British traders who weren't actually bound by British law. Interestingly, "blacking up" lasted about 20 years longer on UK media than in the United States, since it took a while for the negative associations (hatred of African people, refusal to let Africans be television actors) to cross the pond. There is still a fair amount of racism in the UK. The Far Right have a worrying level of support, although it's actually lot less than in most other European nations. The British National Party (regularly nicknamed the British Nazi Party, and not without reason) briefly (between 2009 and 2014) had seats in the European Parliament. They lost them in 2014 but The UK Independence Party (or, UKIP) have gained a large number in their place, and have since gained a couple of MPs in Parliament, thanks to defections from the Conservatives. Contrary to popular belief, the far right will probably do worse under proportional representation since a) the most likely forms involve ranked voting and they are a lot of people's absolute last choice and b) electoral reformers claim proportional representation will greatly increase turnout, swamping the committed nutters with less committed moderates. At the same time, the most right wing parties periodically come in for an absolute roasting from the less right-wing members of the media, Britain's large stable of comedians and the general public, who are much more willing to laugh at absurd politicians than their American counterparts, while UKIP are seen as the nation's "Nasty Party", much like the Conservatives — if not, worse. Since this is a reputation the Conservatives gained thanks to the work of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose death was greeted with dancing in the streets and ''Ding Dong the Witch is Dead'' only narrowly failing to reach number one in the singles charts in England (it actually managed the top spot in the Scottish charts), this is nothing short of astonishing. Or, to put it more simply: heartfelt belief that non-white people are inferior is lower than on the continent, is probably considerably less than the USA and is very much looked down upon. In casual conversation race is also less taboo in Britain than the USA, if only because the whole 'slavery' thing was so much more abstract in the UK, even though the nation was in control of the slave trade. The average Brit is more likely than an American (or one that was born after the mid-1970s) to find a(n ironic) negative racial stereotype funny, whereas said American might well feel moral indignation at the racial undertones and 'be offended' by it. If the American pointed out to the Brit, "That's actually kinda racist," he/she is more likely to say "Yes, so what? We're not racist," or "Yes, let us stop finding it funny and express moral outrage," than would a Frenchman or a Pole.
Religion in the UK
Cold is God's way of telling us to burn more Catholics.
—Blackadder's Puritan Auntie, Black Adder II, "Beer".Britain has not had the mass persecution of some other countries, but it has been there — especially against Roman Catholics. After the Reformation, the monasteries were "dissolved" and the assets seized by Henry VIII, on the specious grounds of debauchery by the monks. Contrary to common understanding, while he legalised the Church of England, Henry didn't fully convert the country to Protestantism — that was actually left to his very young heir Edward VI (who, being crowned at only 9, was subject to heavy influence by royal advisors.) Catholics were subjected to organised discrimination, such as the Disenfranchising Act 1727 in Ireland, barring all of them from voting. This also applied to other "non-conformists", such as the "Clarendon Code" (though Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon and chief minister, didn't write them or fully approve of them). These effectively barred them from holding public offices. Henry's daughter, Mary I (who inherited when Edward died unmarried aged 15), converted the country back to Catholicism, and executed numerous Protestants, hence being known as Bloody Mary. Her half-sister, Elizabeth I, converted it back to Protestantism, and made at least a token effort not to offend Catholic Europe by doing so. During the reign of the Stuarts there was a kind of Red Scare against Catholics, thanks to the scaremongering tactics of Titus Oates and others — people believed that there was a widespread conspiracy to overthrow the British monarchy and forcibly convert all of the Britons to Catholicism. It got so bad that people were afraid to go out to the theatre in case the Catholics got them. Laws were put in place to make sure Catholics could never have power in Britain again. Ironically, the last Stuart king (James II and VII) was a Catholic, which is why they got rid of him and replaced him with his very Protestant daughter, Mary II. Despite this, there remained certain pockets of Catholicism in Britain; leaving out Ireland, there was also the Scottish Highlands, as well as some parts of the North. Additionally, certain aristocratic families became firmly associated with Catholicism over the centuries, to the point where all of society expected them to be "recusant" (the legal term for English Catholics back then). Particularly notable are the Howard family, the main line of which, being the Dukes of Norfolk, were the seniormost non-royal aristocrats in the country and held certain hereditary roles in the government which they never lostnote despite being Catholic (it sort of became one of those utterly incomprehensible institutions of which the British are so fond). Most of the anti-Catholic laws were repealed in the early 19th century, but there is one notable exception — if a member of the Royal Family were to become a Catholic or (until 2013) marry one, they are barred from ascending to the throne. In the 19th century, there was a secret society called the Kit-Kat Club dedicated to ensuring the future heirs to the kingdom were all Protestant. (It either no longer exists, or is having a break.) Lingering anti-Catholic feeling may have contributed to Tony Blair not formally converting to Catholicism until he had left the office of PM, although it was more likely simply his not wishing to make a big deal over his level of religious belief, as profession of and the influence of such tends to be more subdued than in the US even with pious politicians. This was far worse in Ireland and continues to have an impact in Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent in Glasgow, where there is a large population of Irish descent. Because the Church of England's split from Rome was because of the King's sex life rather than popular demand, the Anglican Church has always had a rather wider range of internal doctrinal difference than most Christian denominations. The traditional split, to simplify things considerably, has been between the Anglo-Catholics, or "High Church", who think that just because you reject the authority of the Pope doesn't mean you can't continue to substantially accept Catholic doctrines and practices, and the Evangelicals, or "Low Church", who are fully Protestant in their doctrines and practices. The English Civil War was partly a religious conflict, with the High Church siding predominantly with the King and the Low Church with Parliament. Since the nineteenth century a third element has been added in the shape of the Modernist/Liberal wing. These, stereotypically, are the kind of people who hold yoga sessions in the church hall, publicly doubt the bodily Resurrection, and want to be able to hold same-sex marriages. Note that the political associations of the High and Low Churches have to some extent dissipated and even reversed. Most notably, the ultra-High-Church Oxford Movement of the 19th century was devoted to making Anglicanism as much like Catholicism as possible, with the hope of an eventual reconciliation or at least rapprochement with Rome; those in the movement were often the period equivalent of champagne socialists and tended to have conciliatory/"pro-Irish" views on The Irish Question (historically characteristic of the left) and as a result, many High Church members are today associated with the Christian Left (Tony Blair, an Anglo-Catholic prior to his conversion to Catholicism, is probably the most prominent contemporary example). In the meantime, many Low Church members became the sort of business-oriented, religiously conservative small shopkeepers who back the Conservatives. Note that the link between class and church orientation has been weakened as well; Queen Elizabeth herself has been noted to have a "serious Low Church piety"; this is possibly the influence of her Scottish mother, although frankly the Royal Family (with the notable exception of Edward VII, who was also the most liberal—relative to his time—of the lot) has had distinctly Low Church leanings since the reign of Queen Victoria—who went so far as to prefer the Church of Scotland over the Church of England in her personal religiosity. Beyond the Low Church wing of Anglicanism, there are a variety of even more Protestant denominations who reject the Anglican system as too centralised and/or too much of a compromise with Catholicism, including Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists,note and a host of other smaller and sometimes short-lived movements. These are collectively known as Nonconformists (as in refusing to "conform" to Anglicanism) or Dissenters, and were persecuted and restricted at times in the past. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dissenters were, like Catholics, generally prohibited from holding public office, attending university, or even having churches in the cities. As time went on, these restrictions were lifted, but not before they built an elaborate network of academies that, unlike their Church of England counterparts, taught practical subjects like applied maths, science, (living) foreign languages, engineering, and business methods. Oh yes, business methods: Since the Dissenters were not prohibited from becoming craftsmen, and their religions tended not to frown upon and often even encouraged the pursuit of material success, they developed their crafts into industry—a field that Anglicans (particularly High Church Tories) were often too high-and-mighty to touch. Incidentally, these academies, especially the Quaker ones, are very often to this day among the most prestigious secondary schools in Britain outside of the traditional public schools.note The Treaty of Union (1707) which combined England with Scotland included protection of Scotland's own established church, the Church of Scotland (known in Scots and informal English as "the Kirk"), which is Presbyterian (the Scottish Anglican minority is known as the Scottish Episcopal Church). It has had several acrimonious splits over its history. The stereotype of these folks, in sharp contrast to the Anglicans, is grey-haired, grizzled ministers with hard boots preaching the coming Doom of the world and railing against sinful fun. This is seldom true, and almost any instances will be found in the Western Isles or rural areas of the Highlands. Most of these will be part of one of the smaller splinter churches from the Kirk known as the Wee Frees (the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Association of Free Churches, the Free Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) and so-on), some of which are unrelated and some of which result from the traditional and ongoing habit of schisming (the most recent was in 2000). The result of all of this is that the Dissenters — along with some Scots (the hardworking, business-minded Lowlanders who made up the core of the Kirk's membership found the English Dissenters most congenial as brothers in faith and as business partners) — were absolutely critical in making Britain what it became. As the craftsman Dissenters and Scots quickly discovered, the basic tools of industrialisation were lying all around them, with many key inventions dating back to the Middle Ages: things like techniques for running heavy machinery on power (usually water power, which sent a lot of Dissenters to the hills, where fast-running streams were in ample supply) and processes for making glass that, it turns out, translated easily to metallurgy. With no way to get ahead except starting a business and turning a huge profit, these Dissenters (and their Scottish brethren) started to put old technologies together in ways that changed the world — all with an eye to making a fast buck from the rich Anglican snobs who disdained them but also seemed to collectively have more money than sense. The origin of the Industrial Revolution is thus peppered with the names of the Dissenters and Scottish Presbyterians who put these pieces together—people like Abraham Darby,note Thomas Newcomen,note James Watt,note John Wilkinson,note Josiah Wedgwood,note William Murdoch,note and so on. A large proportion of the basic science on which the industrial techniques were founded were also the product of Dissenters (and their Church of Scotland brethren); the most consequential are probably Joseph Priestley (John Wilkinson's brother-in-law, a bad preachernote but a great chemist—he discovered carbon dioxide and oxygen) and Joseph Black (a professor at the University of Glasgow who discovered latent heat,note a concept critical to the development of efficient steam engines), but really, the whole scientific side of the Scottish Enlightenment (in full swing at the time) counts. And they financed much of this themselves, too: both Lloyds Bank and Barclays, the first banks to provide capital to the provincial cities where this business was happening, were founded by Quakers—largely because the Anglican financiers of London didn't think banking had a future outside the capital. By the beginning of the 19th century, the Dissenters (and the Scots) had turned Britain into an industrial powerhouse, creating the middle bits of the aforementioned class structure (by creating the non-agricultural working class outright and by expanding the middle classes through various direct and indirect means), and establishing themselves as industrialists—in part because their ancestors had had their other opportunities severely limited (and to a lesser degree, because the Anglican upper crust laughed at them). So, thank you, C of E, we guess?note Since the 1990s or so there has been a further shift in British Christianity, with the appearance of many small Pentecostalist and Charismatic churches with strong US and African influences, which largely appeal to people of African and Afro-Caribbean ethnic background. These are one of the fastest-growing elements of the British Christian scene, but have sometimes come into conflict with the authorities over claims of miraculous healing, and more darkly cases of exorcism of allegedly demon-possessed people, which have occasionally tipped over into child abuse. Jews have a long but sometimes unhappy history in Britain, with discrimination against them being common during the Middle Ages, including occasional bloody pogroms. There was ultimately the Edict of Explusion of 1290, where all the Jews in England were expelled — this was not formally overturned until 1656 by Oliver Cromwell, who it turns out wasn't as harsh a Puritan as people sometimes think. (Though in fairness letting the Jews back in was inspired by millenarianism. Why? Ask an eschatologist.)note By 1874, Britain had an ethnically Jewish Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. (Religiously he was Christian — in fact he'd become an MP many years before it became legal for observant Jews to hold public office — but this was still a big deal, and he was proud of it.) Several Jewish Britons participated in the aforementioned Industrial Revolutionary intellectual ferment, chief among them David Ricardo—a descendant of Portuguese Jews who made great contributions to the science of economics, building on what the (Scottish) Adam Smith had started. There are now quite a lot of Muslims in Britain (2.7 million at the 2011 Census), mostly (South) Asians. There have been small populations of Asian Muslims for quite some time, but their numbers didn't really take off until The '60s and The '70s, when Asians in general started migrating. Discrimination against Muslims has generally been ethnic rather than religious (i.e., Asian Muslims and Asian Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists, etc., generally all faced the same treatment), but recent events have led Baroness Warsi, co-chair of the Conservative Party and a Punjabi Muslim herself, to claim that Islamophobia is the last socially acceptable form of racism in Britain. This created a small stir in some circles, but was probably justified given frequent rejigged Political Correctness Gone Mad smear pieces in the right-wing tabloids about Muslims allegedly trying to impose their faith on others, of the "Muslims want The Three Little Pigs BANNED!" type, and the foundation of a new street-level far-right-wing group called the English Defence League, which claimed (very unconvincingly) to be non-racist and opposed to Islam. There are also a considerable numbers of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists in Britain. The first two of these outnumber Jews in Britain and the last one has approximately the same number of adherents. Hindus and Sikhs are mostly concentrated in the South East and Leicester whilst Buddhists are present in small numbers all over the country with the most Buddhist town in the UK being the military town of Aldershot in Hampshire mainly due to it being home to large numbers of Buddhist Gurkhas who were allowed to settle in England and chose to do so near where they had been based whilst in the army. The oldest Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Europe is also in the UK, Samyé Ling at Eskdale in the Scottish Borders. Leonard Cohen and David Bowie studied Buddhism there in the late 1960s; Bowie almost became a monk at Samyé Ling, but ultimately decided to pursue pop music rather than celibacy.
The North/South Divide
Northen vs Southern EnglandOne clear division that can be seen in the UK is the divide between the "North" of England and the "South". The precise divide is debated (common ones are the Watford Gap Service Station, the most northerly point where one can buy the Evening Standard note , and anywhere outside the M25), but the 1983 General Election, where Labour won no seats south of Birmingham outside of Greater London gives you a good hint. Note that the North-South Divide refers to the north and south of England, not England/Scotland rivalry. Care must be taken when referring to a place as The North, as this can mean northern England ("Oop North"), Northern Ireland ("Da North"), or northern Scotland. A not too uncommon conversation (here between an English and a Scottish person) might go:
English person: "I'm from the North."
Scottish person: "Oh, like Inverness?"
English person: "No, Newcastle."
Scottish person: "So the South."
English person: "Um, yes. But ... no."It is also important to note that the line of the north-south divide does not run east-west, but rather North-east/South-West: somewhere around Bristol Channel-The Wash is one (not too controversial) common location. Another definition of the North is where people stop pronouncing "ass" as "arse". Strange to some, this has its problems as many in The West Country also use the "Northern" pronunciation. This confusion and debate might be due to most political, business and media events largely happening in London, though one of the others may have hit upon something in the North-East/ South-West divide, nothing seems to happen in the east either, so the BBC don't often call round to check up on the North-East. Another reason is that a lot of Southerners claim to be Northern because of the stereotype that Northerners are working-class miners from kitchen-sink dramas (which basically makes you sound both really hard and a victim of domestic abuse, the Top Trump of My Upbringing Was More Difficult than Yours), so if their dad's from Nottingham they'll say they're Northern, even if they only go at the Easter Holidays. The division also depends on where you stand. For people in London, most of England may belong to "the North", but the people of Yorkshire or Lancashire might refer to inhabitants of Birmingham, Nottingham or Derby as being in the West and East Midlands.
- Note that some of the traditional divisions of England go back centuries, for instance for linguists the line between Midland and Northern dialects reflects the Danish conquest of the Early Middle Ages.
- Note also that some areas that are generally considered part of the South - most notably The West Country (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset) and to a lesser extent East Anglia (Norfolk, Suffolk) are stereotypically seen as populated by rural yokels and seadogs. The stereotypical "pirate accent" is a variation of a West Country one. note