This iconoclasm is class warfare

The rage against monuments reflects a middle class ashamed of its country and history.

Alexander Adams

Topics Politics UK

Recent iconoclasm in Britain, far from being a popular uprising of racial anger, is white middle-class performative anti-racism. Whatever the dynamic in the US, events in Britain have a unique class character.

The working and upper classes are generally more patriotic than the middle class. They are more comfortable in their skins, less self-conscious. Orwell observed, ‘England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution.’ The middle-class left is ashamed of British history, suspicious of our flags and anthems. This cosmopolitan, xenophile, predominantly white managerial caste provides our politicians, civil servants, senior police officers, journalists, media pundits and teachers.

It has not escaped anyone’s notice that many rioters in London and Bristol were middle-class white people. BLM in Britain barely exists. (When BLM protests took place in the UK a few years ago, it was a handful of white middle-class people protesting about airport runway expansion.) BLM in Britain overlaps with eco-activism and Antifa. As in the US, Antifa supporters in the UK are largely young, middle-class and white. Many activists join the Antifa movement while at university.

It was entitled middle-class vandals who defiled the Cenotaph that commemorates British and Empire dead – comprising a wide array of ethnicities and political creeds. Among those dead are socialist servicemen who were not motivated by chauvinism, but compelled by duty to defend family and nation. Images of the Cenotaph being desecrated – passively watched by police – will not be forgotten.

People know the protesters were middle-class anti-patriots who managed to accomplish so much because of the acquiescence of police chiefs, local councillors, mayors, cabinet ministers and the prime minister – all of whom are middle-class social liberals. Television news programmes and many newspapers downplayed the violence; the BBC portrayed riots targeting national symbols as ‘largely peaceful anti-racism protests’ (quickly altering that wording once it attracted criticism). British demonstrations are a clash of class values. By targeting symbols they nominate as racist, arrogant middle-class liberals assert they know how to fight racism; the working classes’ opposition to iconoclasm is therefore treated as evidence of their inherent racism.

When, subsequently, groups came out ostensibly to prevent monuments from being attacked, they were condemned by the press and politicians (including Boris Johnson) as ‘racist thugs’. When ordinary people – angered by lawlessness, lockdown flouting and defilement of public property – believe (correctly or otherwise) that those individuals were putting their safety on the line to protect statues that the police had so singularly failed to defend, this generates solidarity with those ‘thugs’. What next? After all, if holding ordinary views (such as patriotism, respect for law, venerating the war dead) is ‘far right’, then why not vote for far-right Patriotic Alternative or Britain First? If being normal is far right, then far right is normal.

There is a greater unaddressed grievance that the working class has against the middle class.

The murder of black man Stephen Lawrence in 1993 by a gang of racist white youths in South London catalysed a change that had awful implications for British race relations. The killers escaped initial prosecution because police failed to handle the crime correctly; some officers were implicated in an apparent cover-up, which allowed the killers to remain free for years. Incompetence, corruption and callousness on the part of police officers caused further injustice indirectly due to the 1999 Macpherson Report.

That report advanced the concept of ‘institutional racism’ – the idea that a whole organisation can be racist even though no perpetrators of outright racism can be identified. It established the Orwellian definition of racist incidents as ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’ – a dangerously subjective definition that has entered hate-speech legislation. Macpherson stated that ‘colour-blind’ policing was not legitimate and should be dropped in favour of colour-directed policing, thereby abandoning any attempt at neutrality. The new policing culture caused police to obsess about phantom prejudice among (working-class) officers who needed to be scrutinised by (middle-class) superiors; conversely, evidence of crimes committed by ethnic-minority perpetrators was actively suppressed. The Macpherson Report paved the way for decades of silence regarding the Muslim grooming-gang scandal.

Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of police officers, social workers, teachers, local councillors and journalists knew about the drugging, rape and torture of women and girls by Muslim men. When they reported this information, they were told by superiors to be quiet. An undeniable contributing factor was that middle-class individuals in authority did not trust or empathise with white working-class victims. People believe justice should have been served not only on gang members, but also individuals in authority who were more worried about race relations than rape. Yet a whole generation of people who colluded in silencing victims of abuse have retired with OBEs and substantial pensions, protected by the system they served. Read website comment sections or listen to pub conversations and you’ll be left in no doubt how strongly people feel about this.

In former eras we had noblesse oblige – the practice of nobility looking after families working for them (partly due to patrician beneficence, partly due to undiluted self-interest). Lords, bishops and gentlemen met ordinary people and understood their concerns. Nowadays, British society is governed by a managerial elite that only encounters working people when they pass them in Waitrose stacking shelves. Today’s politicians, journalists and police commanders consider ordinary people’s sentiments backward and view their concerns about crime and migration as bigoted.

If our system of technocratic governance exists without accountability or transparency – run by political parties populated by politicians of the same caste with nearly identical social outlooks – is it any wonder we are caught between poles of apathy and violence?

Alexander Adams is an artist and writer. His book, Culture War: Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism, is published by Societas. Visit his website here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Flossy Morris

25th June 2020 at 6:30 pm

“The middle-class left is ashamed of British history”

Are we sure about this? Is it really shame that they feel? If anyone knows how shame feels, then they know how crippling and hollowing it can be, and it’s usually a result of one’s own thoughts or actions. Most of these people don’t seem ashamed to me; they look absolutely delighted with themselves in my estimations.

And if the terrible history of slavery that ended 200 years ago is sufficiently “damaging” or “harmful” for these vandals – let’s call them what they are – to topple statues, then why are they not smashing up the Guardian offices? John Edward Taylor, the founder of the Manchester Guardian, set up the paper using proceeds from slave labour. Surely, if they’re so “ashamed”, should the journalists who were so eager for Nelson’s statue to be removed not resign seeing as they, too, are symbolic of a chapter of history they would rather people forget?

Just to be clear, I don’t want the Guardian offices smashed up and if journalists there want to resign or stay on, that’s for them to decide. Not advocating or inciting anything here. Just highlighting a bit of hypocrisy.

Ellen Whitaker

25th June 2020 at 5:42 pm

I have to remind myself that the terrifying, violent, silencing, cancelling, white-hating, white-shaming culture on display right now is driven as much or more by white, college-age, activists (the so-called BLM allies) as any other group. They have been carefully cultivated and brought along by their teachers and college professors and administrators, until now they have completely outdone these teachers and enablers in mindless radicalism. Do their older teachers and enablers feel a warm glow now, when they see what they have wrought?

Jonnie Henly

25th June 2020 at 5:10 pm

“police chiefs, local councillors, mayors, cabinet ministers and the prime minister – all of whom are middle-class social liberals.”

No they’re not. Many of the above group are social conservatives and always have been. Just as many in the media and journalism are as well.

Jonnie Henly

25th June 2020 at 5:07 pm

It’s quite telling when the supposed class conscious writers on here openly pine for the days of “noblesse oblige”, purely so they can vent their angst at the “liberal middle classes” (often a self loathing angst since no one hates the middle class more than certain middle class members themselves).

Siding with the upper class over those below them isn’t radical, and it doesn’t actually help resolve the issue of class divisions in the UK at all. Britain’s nobility were not benevolent masters, they were just as self centered and elitist as anyone else in their position, if not more so. Of course, decades of the media romanticising this means the upper classes have been allowed to rewrite history.

And those “statue defenders” were denounced as racist thugs after they attacked police, made racist gestures at onlookers, harassed bystanders and urinated next to the monuments they apparently wished to defend. That image won’t be forgotten. There’s nothing ordinary about that.

And this came right after the political elite agreed that people vandalizing memorials should face a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.

Linda Payne

25th June 2020 at 2:30 pm

There really needs to be a day of reckoning for the individuals who covered up the systemic rape of working class girls; I attended a conference 20 years ago on the perils of political correctness but at no time could I have forseen that it would lead to such crimes as this, I really believed that common sense would prevail and no one with any sense of duty and compassion in the public services would let this ideology poison society at such an extent; But they did and it has and it will never be forgotten by the people

Dominic Straiton

25th June 2020 at 1:37 pm

The perfect representation of these fools was the man on London Bridge (the first one)who shouted that Islam is a peaceful religion as a manic shouting Alu akbar was stabbing people to death 10 feet away. They have all been to university and come out dumber than when they went in.They have a smart phone with access to everything but spit on people that built their world with a spade and a horse. Tear down every memorial and monument,but what have they built. Nothing. Cancel people, dox people ,your a warrior now. A real hero.

David J

25th June 2020 at 1:06 pm

I know the guilt syndrome quite well.
I lived with a white-liberal lady for a while, whose historical knowledge had first been fuelled by a communist father, amplified by a poor 1960s-1970s education, boosted further when she entered the university sector.
In tertiary education, most lecturers (and therefore students) appear to exist within a communal bubble, inside which Britain and its considerable achievements are largely dismissed, with concentration always on negative aspects.


25th June 2020 at 1:03 pm

The major problem in the UK is that our polity still based on a traditionalist and ethnonationalist understanding of the nation. The US with its written constitution and bill of rights has a far more successful and open understanding of what nationhood represents. Anybody who swears allegiance to the constitution of the United States can become an American. In the UK, you can live here 50 years and still not be considered fully British.


25th June 2020 at 1:01 pm

What’s wrong with being ashamed of your country and its history? There is barely a corner on earth in which the British have not meddled, often with tragic consequences. In any case, anybody who puts their country above their duty to their family, friends and fellow man (of whatever race or nation) is a fool and a hypocrite. Let’s end this worship of ‘country’.

Andrew Shaughnessy

25th June 2020 at 2:37 pm

I’m ashamed of my country. I’m ashamed that it was able to abolish slavery without having to fight a war to do so. Then – unforgivably – it dared to hold out against Nazi Germany, forcing Hitler to fight a war on two fronts. Oh, the ignominy! Then instead of executing gays like all those forward-thinking Middle-Eastern countries, it actually allowed them to marry! I could just kill myself!

That enough shame for you?


25th June 2020 at 4:55 pm

Well said.


25th June 2020 at 12:53 pm

Depressingly, I suspect that Adams is on to something with this article. His reasoning would help to explain the supine, and even supportive, response of wide sectors of English public institutions and businesses to the BLM riots. It really is weird behaviour. Note, on the one hand, the massive money guzzling business of Premier League football identifying with them, even to the point of persecuting a man who publicly pointed out that – guess what – ‘white’ lives matter too. On the other we have the spectacle of the professionally and near perpetually outraged journalist, Piers Morgan, saying that he was proud of his own son breaking UK law in support of a cause that has nothing whatsoever to do with this country. There really has to be some sort of explanation doesn’t there? It can’t all be an inexplicable madness, a sort of St Vitus dance?

Matt Ryan

25th June 2020 at 6:41 pm

Fastest way to fix the footballers is to refuse to purchase their product. Problem is that, although working class white man might not like the way thinks are going, he’ll still pay £1000s per annum for his season ticket.

Boycott that tosser Hamilton and F1 as well for that matter.

James Knight

25th June 2020 at 12:52 pm

There is a lot of privilege on display at these anti-statue protests, much of it white privilege.
In Freudian terms, it is the “id” that was on display:

“The id remains infantile in its function throughout a person’s life and does not change with time or experience, as it is not in touch with the external world. The id is not affected by reality, logic or the everyday world, as it operates within the unconscious part of the mind. “

Linda Payne

25th June 2020 at 2:41 pm

Which has been ‘rationalised’ by the professional middle classes

Vivian Darkbloom

25th June 2020 at 2:56 pm

The superego is dead! Let the unfettered will run free! Unleash the monsters of the Id!

A few suggestions for protest banners.


25th June 2020 at 5:19 pm

Most of the privilege on display is from those who are employed in institutions that are mostly shielded from the vagaries of the economy. They are comfortable in their ignorance as to how the private sector works and of the plebs who work within it – The BBC, Universities, Civil Service, Education, NGOs and charities.

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