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Back To The Class Wars

The word pleb seems to have dragged up some class stereotypes of old writes political editor Andy Bell

At the Lib Dem Conference

Not so long ago class was meant to be a political dead end for opponents of the Conservatives. When Labour sent people dressed in top hats to hound the Conservative candidate in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election on the grounds that he was a "toff", there was almost universal denunciation.

This was the product of a bygone age, people said, a class stereotype as out of date as flat caps and whippets. But there is no doubt that class is back as a potent issue.

That is the reason why Andrew Mitchell cannot say he used the word "plebs" - he says he didn't, for the record. Plebs is exactly the kind of word that public school educated types with a born-to-rule attitude would use about people they regard as servants.

After "country suppers" and rides in the Oxfordshire countryside the image of a posh clique around the Prime Minister has embedded itself. It is exactly the image David Cameron was so eager to dispel when he took over. I can remember asking him in interviews if his own background was a political problem. No, he replied, people these days don't care about where you're from, but where you're going. It sounded plausible at the time.

At the beginning Of David Cameron's time as party leader this didn't seem to be an issue, perhaps because the country was ready to give him the benefit of the doubt. But two and a half years into government  and with an economy which at best is bumping along the bottom, the old class issue is resonating again.