The student politics of British universities has always possessed what one could call a bellicose energy in its conduct. The toxic mixture of polarising ideologies and an increasingly diverse student populace has bred a lip-smacking hostility and an irrational approach to political debate. With the rising tension in the aftermath of ‘Coopergate’ and the 2012 NUS Demonstration, the language of our fellow students has descended into the realms of delusionary class war, vilifying the perceived enemy of the ‘Toff’, the ‘Buller-Boys’.
The OED cites the first use of the word ‘toff’ at around 1851, the definition being ‘a person who is stylishly dressed or who has a smart appearance; a swell; (hence) one of the well-to-do, a ‘nob’’. Indeed, the ‘nobish’ connotations of the term have increased since the 19th Century, now being a favourable term of abuse across the social spectrum, from the alehouse to the university debating-hall.
To many, it rings in the ears with an uncomfortable familiarity, often associated with aggressive political point scoring and at times threats and abuses of physical violence. In recent weeks the word ‘toff’ has been thrown at all opposition to the established Left at Royal Holloway, with all those taking objection to SU policy being branded as ‘haters of the poor’ and ‘Bullingdon-Tories’, regardless of their genuine political inclinations. It is a sad truth that such abuse has now culminated in more than just verbal harassment, but a physical assault on a fellow student, purely based upon an irrational and bigoted class prejudice.
It would appear that the outspoken votaries of egalitarianism, those who wear their thumping red hearts upon their sleeve have committed the gross hypocrisy of judgement based upon individual appearance. To verbally or physically attack an individual for the colour of their skin, their religious affiliations or indeed their sexual orientation would, quite rightly, face social condemnation and official sanctions. The ‘toffs’ on the other hand, well they’re fair game.
Let us consider, for one moment, the history of the ‘toff’ in relation to socialist and liberal ideologies. Perhaps consider Oscar Wilde; a dandy, a popinjay, quite frankly a vainglorious and self-indulgent ‘nob’. His literature was permeated with the hypocrisies of Victorian society, the repression of homosexuality and indeed explicitly doffed his hat to the Left in his essay ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’.
What about that wealthy middle-class Jew, Karl Marx? Well, despite the frivolity of his youth in spending his father’s money on late night binges in Berlin taverns and his autumn of his life spent in bourgeois domesticity in West London, we are all aware of his abhorrence for the subjugation of the working classes.
The philosopher The Right Honourable Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS; he was also a member of the British Humanist Association, an active member of the pacifist movement and member of the British Labour Party. Consider the Old Etonian and Imperial Police Officer Eric Blair, latter known as George Orwell. Is one expected to ignore the beauty of his literature and its contribution to democratic socialism simply because he was appalled to discover that the working classes did not ‘dress for dinner’? I think not.
It would appear that British socialism has been shaped by the ‘toff’, that those belonging to the middle and upper classes were not quite what one would expect. The vilification we have witnessed of our fellow students is based upon fabrications, it is irrational and it is a disgrace to any individual who calls themselves a democrat, a liberal or indeed a socialist. The Left have defined their opposition in such a way that negates their honourable intentions; the vehement language of class-war blinding them from our political reality.
I would like to express my support for the leadership shown by the SURHUL Executive Committee, particularly the Sabbaticals and Chair, who have endeavoured to discourage and prevent verbal and physical harassment of individual students based upon political beliefs and opinions.