Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Has Toff Bashing gone too far? - I should say not!

Benedict Cumberbatch
The ex-‘public school’ Harrow posh boy actor Benedict Cumberbatch, has said that 'all the posh-bashing that goes on' made him consider leaving Britain to go to the US. He added that he was often 'castigated as a moaning, rich, public-school bastard'. The Guardian newspaper asks; 
Is Cumberbatch right – has posh-bashing gone too far? 

Question1: Who or What is a Toff?

Let us start with the question of who or what is a TOFF? 

Those of us who are English, and who are not toffs usually know one when we see one, but does everyone else? 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Toff as

  • a rich or upper-class person. Origin: mid 19th century: perhaps an alteration of TUFT, used to denote a gold tassel worn on the cap by titled undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge.

The online Urban Dictionary, has this instead:

  • Toff: Wearer of only Ralph Lauren polo shirts, usually worn inside with loafers and torn up jeans half down their trousers, with 3 day old boxers on underneath Always found drinking jugs of Pims brought by daddy or mummy at the local Hunt Ball, or pints of Bitter with their pals in their local underage pub.  Listen to songs like 'Roxanne by Sting' or the Top Gun soundtrack. Went to Public School paid for by daddy

Or as a mate puts it; 
  • "toffs are 'posh gits' ."
EXAMPLE:  The use of 'Toff' in colloquial English:
The toffs had a field day smashing up the restaurant and throwing a big fat cheque after it to the owner, before going off and (illegally) jumping off the Magdalen* Bridge  into the Thames. The next day there they all were in their Ralph Lauren's trying to get their end away with the posh totties** down at Ascot Races. 
*pronounced 'maudlin' by Toffs who have been to Oxford University

** totty: usually female (but can be male) person whose poshness is an essential part of the appeal e.g. well educated; mellifluous voice; charming classy manners; sophisticated conversation; expensive clothes; trendy address, etc.

A Right Bunch of Toffs - Prime Minister and Mayor of London with fellow members of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University

Question2: Is Benedict Cumberbatch a Toff?

I will say this clearly. I do not think Cumberbatch should be bashed.  Other than unfortunately looking like a Toff, he does not appear to fall into the social category of Toff.  He was not born with the silver spoon in his mouth. He has not got wealthy parents who are inherited landowners, Polo players, Lloyds members, or Bank directors. Yes he went to a nice prep school, but that might have been because his parents worked very long hours in all sorts of jobs, just as we will be doing from September to enable our daughter to go to University.  
"But," I hear you say. "he went to Harrow - one of Britains' most historic Public schools?"

Cumberbatch did indeed go to Harrow - on a scholarship! He obtained his scholarship long after the end of the Direct Grant scholarship system, under which I been awarded a scholarship and attended a public school in the mid-1960s.  

Under the direct grant system, scholarships were awarded by the Local Authority to those children who had obtained the highest marks in the national '11 plus' exam. Just over  50% of kids at British public schools, between 1945 and the mid -1970s would have entered with a scholarships that paid their school fees in full.  Fifty percent ensured that there were more than enough of us with rough edges, to knock a few chips off the smooth edges of those from wealthier parents, rather than the other way round. Having since met many of my former school mates, I am pleased to report they are mostly pretty normal people with the same worries as the rest of us; kids, mortgages and the how to pay the gas bill. 

So, If Cumberbatch had a scholarship to Harrow, it is well worth reciting that it was not just because he obtained the highest marks in an exam, as I did. Under the Direct Grant system, I could have been given my scholarship, and my parents could have still been very wealthy, (though of course, in my case, unfortunately they were not).

However, by the mid-1980s when Cumberbatch went to Harrow,  not only did he pass the difficult Common Entrance Exam (CEE) used by Britain's public schools, but also his parents clearly did not have any sort of wealth, as he would not have been awarded a scholarship under the new rather stringent scholarship systems.   

As we explained to our children, unless we thought one of them really needed the extra input and consequent confidence  that came from going to a public school, we would not consider the Public School system, despite both of us having had an excellent experience of such schools.  Quite simply, we had enough income to afford fees for one of them to attend a Public School - but only long as the rest of us happily gave up on summer holidays and Christmas presents. However, we could never have paid for two or more to go. And we were definitely not poor enough for them to qualify for a scholarship, as a family gross income of £40,000 would only result in a contribution of 10% towards annual school fees of over £10,000.

So by deduction worthy of Sherlock Holmes, Cumberbatch, is not a toff , he doesn't have a wealthy background;  there was no silver spoon, he was a scholarship boy, and he studied at Manchester University not Oxbridge. Thus he is not by definition a Toff - it is just rather unfortunate that he looks like one,. But let us not bash him. 

Question 3 – Do we do too much Toffs Bashing?

There cannot be too much of a good thing.  and toff bashing can only but be a good thing. It gets our woes off our chests, it allows us to throw abuse at the current government which is made up almost entirely of toffs, without abusing the process of government itself, merely the set of multi-millionaires who are currently so catastrophically running our country. 

And, when we say nasty things about them, do thy hear us. I always say "they can say what they like behind my back, just don't do it to my face" [Unfortunately as a trans men, I find they do both; they say it behind my back and to my face. But lets ignore that for the time being.] If Toffs are getting upset by what we, the people,  are saying about them, then they need to get thicker skins.

A little bit of toff bashing

Toffs never have to experience it to their face. The only time they might be in our presence would be when we get the pleasure of serving them canapés or champagne, or changing their Egyptian cotton sheets, or brushing their horses, or sweeping their drives, or perhaps even ironing their Ralph Lauren's for pitiful wages. The only time we might touch is if they deign to give us a tip. 

But, it seems we say a few truths about them, and they get all uppity. So let me ask a couple of questions and make a few toffs a bit more uppity. 

3.a.Why did the toffs get so many tickets to the Olympics when we got none? 

The Answer: they were able to bid in the thousands of pounds for tickets, whereas we were worried about the couple of hundred of pounds worth we bid for. Then when the draw was done, and Locoq ran out of the posh £1200 seats, guess what?  They gave the rich toffs the cheaper seats, at the cheaper prices, so that in the end there were none left for the poor. 
Furthermore the richer you were , the cheaper the tickets - in fact in the end you got them for free. How many times did we see Dave, Sam, Boris, Seb, Big Phil, Anne, Harry, Will and Kate sitting in the best seats? Don't tell me they paid for them, if you believe that, you really are living in cloud cuckoo land.

However, if you were the unemployed poor and lucky, and Group 4 had got it's act together, you got to provide security for £8/hour whilst spending the fortnight camping out in a field out in Hertfordshire. [Apparently Group 4 is now refusing to pay those people who took the training for a job at the Olympics but who, because Group4 never got its act together, ended up sitting at home waiting for the phone call which never came].

Or if you were the less poor, and didn't have to worry about losing benefits, you also got to camp in a field in Hertfordshire. But, by agreeing to give up your vacation and stay outside the sports venues as a volunteer in a pink shirt, you got the pleasure of being  thanked profusely by a very well paid set of toffs who had loads of tickets for the games. 

3.b. How come every member of the our cabinet is a millionaire? and what the hell do they know about the price of milk or paying the gas bill?

Well, of course, they know nothing about either the price of milk or paying the gas bill. I really cannot believe that the only people worthy of running this country at present  happen, incidentally, to be multi-millionaires. Of course there are lots of people who are worthy, and many who might well be far more capable.  But because the toffs who currently run the Tory party only socialise with other toffs, they only think toffs have anything worth saying. The rest of us are quietly serving the canapés, not daring to say anything because we are just happy to have an evenings work for once, and we desperately need the wages at the end of the night. 

So that is my small bit of toff bashing. And, for those who say 'but that is discrimination' - no it isn't. Discrimination is when you treat somebody badly because they are different and it is to their disadvantage.  And nothing I have just said has disadvantaged any toff one bit, and never will. 

I say all this because I am angry. I am angry because it seems it has been perfectly OK for the toffs to say a lot of nasty stuff about the rest of us over the last couple of years. In particular, they and their nasty news rags have been saying dreadful things about 120,000 poor families on no basis other than a poorly drafted piece of bad research. 

Question 4: Who Do Toffs bash?

Whilst we might shortly get the pleasure of seeing a few of the news media toffs go to prison, for a few months, the truth is that is not a problem for a Toff. They simply spend their time inside writing a small but literate book about their experience, and once out they get a huge advance for it which more than compensates for the few months wages they have lost. Yet the 'rioters' who got such harsh sentences (and they were harsh) at the hands of the toffs who run our courts, will have no such luck, unfortunately

The truth is that toffs, especially those currently in power, and their nasty media rags, the Sun, Mail and Times, have made a new national, (a possible future Olympic?) sport of repeatedly bashing the nation’s 120,000* apparently 'problem families' , who they jointly have described as:

‘feckless, lazy, bone-idle, illiterate, innumerate, dole-scrounging, benefit cheating, asylum seeking, asbo-deserving, indian-dancing,*(see below) unemployable, unemployed, mentally ill, school failures and scourges of society’

They say this, though, we suspect, them of never having met anyone from any of these families - unless of course they accidentally brushed arms whilst a member of one of these families served them canape's  - but that can hardly be called 'meeting' can it?.

The 120,00 families are those in the Tory darling, Louise Casey’s report, “Listening to troubled families”  published in June 2012,  by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which claims there are 120,000 troubled families in England, whose lives are so chaotic, that they cost the taxpayer around £9bn per year. Doubt has been cast on the accuracy of these figures. 

The findings have been slammed by one social worker as 'more anecdote than evidence' and a counter-report from the University of Bristol  shows that Casey’s report is a 
‘sample survey, case study by interview’ 
of families whose characteristics are radically different from those targeted by the Government’s consequent ‘Troubled Families’ programme. The families in Casey’s report are, quite simply, families suffering multiple deprivation i.e. they are POOR. There is no evidence in Casey’s report, or elsewhere, that these families are families involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. 

Professor Dave Gordon, Professor of Social Justice at the University of Bristol adds : 
“In the term ‘troubled families’ (Casey's report) deliberately conflates families experiencing multiple disadvantage and families that cause trouble.” 

Professor Ruth Levitas added:

“There are two possibilities. One is that the misrepresentation is deliberate. The other is that those responsible do not understand the research they are using. Either should raise alarm bells about the way policy is being made.”

As Zoe Williams put it in her excellent article
“There are ethnographic reports grouting the British Library (I found this enlightening) about what life is like at the coal face of a "multi-agency intervention". They are conducted over weeks and over months by academics who immerse themselves in the realities of the household, not government advisers who swoop in for a couple of hours to peer at the destitute. …. when you're straight repeating work that has already been done, but sloppily, with less sophistication, drawing egregious conclusions, isn't that a waste of time?” 

The toffs have set out to malign 120,000 families, who for all they know, are nothing other than poor people. 
Worse , they have also set out to make these families poorer, by reducing benefits especially for the disabled and chronically sick. 

If they can do that, surely they can take a little ribbing when it is on the other foot. If they don't like it,  they should get out of the kitchen, take the dosh, run off to their moats and their yachts and let the rest of us get back to running the country in a way which might mean we get a chance to finally rid these families of their poverty. 

* Indian dancing included here on the basis that when our Prime minister, David Cameron, defends his government’s scrapping of the 2 hour/ week targetfor school sport, saying some schools instead give kids two hours of classes in "Indian dance" he is almost certainly referring to the ‘problem’ schools of the sort which  the kids from these ‘problem families’ attend.