Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Tuesday 5th February 2013

Consumed: How Shopping Fed the Class System by Harry Wallop

It takes a confident journalist to write about class and Harry Wallop, a feature writer for the Daily Telegraph, certainly doesn’t lack confidence. The reason most authors steer clear of the subject is because nothing is more guaranteed to reveal their own class prejudices. It’s one of the peculiarities of the English Class system that your views on the topic are almost entirely dictated by your own class background. More often than not, this is obvious to everyone except the person holding forth.

Harry Wallop is a case in point. His contention is that class is no longer determined by your family background, education, the way you talk, etc, but by how you spend your money. “It is about the little things – where you buy your jeans, the thickness of froth on your coffee, the thinness of your bresaola.”

Taking this as his starting point, he’s invented a whole new vocabulary to describe the various tribes that make up modern Britain based on their shopping habits. Out go such old-fashioned terms as “upper class” and “working class”, and in come “Sun Skittlers” (read the Sun and play skittles), “Asda Mums” (poor but aspirational), “Wood Burning Stovers” (Guardian readers) and “Portland Privateers” (residents of Notting Hill and Kensington, who have their babies at the private Portland Hospital).

This is all quite fun. But Wallop’s underlying thesis is plainly bonkers. What we choose to spend our money on is undoubtedly a strong class indicator, but it’s not a determinant of class status.

Here he is, for instance, writing about the upwardly-mobile post-war generation: “Much of their journey upwards was thanks to Britons enjoying significant amounts of disposable income during this period, allowing them to make purchases and choices that were just not available to the previous generation.”

Come again? Their “journey upwards” was not “thanks to” the fact that they had “significant amounts of disposable income”. Rather, they earned more money as a result of the massive expansion of white-collar jobs. The fact that they chose to buy their furniture at Habitat was not the cause of their upward social mobility, but one of its effects.

Reading between the lines, it’s clear that Wallop doesn’t really believe that the fundamental determinants of class status have changed, because he’s constantly reminding us how posh he is. If family background no longer matters, why does he repeatedly tell us that his grandfather was the Earl of Portsmouth and that the Wallop family still owns 4,000 acres in Hampshire?

He makes a laughable attempt at the beginning of the book to disavow his own aristocratic lineage, claiming he’s spent his entire life “having strived to squash my pheasant-plucking background”.

In almost the next breath, he tells us he attended prep school with a Royal Duke, progressed to Radley and, from there, went up to Oxford clutching a bag of sheets that had been used on “the servants’ beds” at the family seat in Hampshire.

Wallop doesn’t seem to notice this fundamental contradiction at the heart of the book and this leads to plenty of inadvertent comedy. For instance, he claims that Nancy Mitford’s famous distinction between U and Non-U linguistic usage (Upper Class and Non-Upper class) is now hopelessly out of date. “My children say ‘Pardon’, and I shrug my shoulders,” he says.

A few pages later, he’s pointing out that “lavatory” is every bit as vulgar as the word “toilet” and the correct term is “loo”.

“Every time I have to type the word lavatory, I slightly shudder,” he writes.

Wallop is a decent journalist and he’s done a good deal of research. The section on how the supermarket chains break down their customers according to their postcode is fascinating. But I can’t help feeling he would have done better to avoid this subject altogether. When it comes to the dreaded English class system, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter RT @KonstantinKisin: And his appeal was just rejected...  (1 hour ago)


Why the left keeps losing by John Gray -
The closing of the conservative mind: Politics and the art of war by John Gray -
Cambridge and the exclusion of Jordan Peterson by Nigel Biggar -
The shocking truth about Jordan Peterson by Wesley Yang -
The intellectual dark web by Bari Weiss -
How identity politics is harming the sciences by Heather Mac Donald -
The fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat -
How Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe by Michael Lewis - Vanity Fair
The neuro-diversity case for free speech by Geoffrey Miller -
The Age of Outrage by Jonathan Haidt -
The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski -
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony -
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller -
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan -
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand -
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge -
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell -
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander -
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell -
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff -
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings -
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew -
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus -
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman -
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer -
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan -
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Inside Westminster's free school -
Robert Conquest obit -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film