Thursday, July 15, 1999 Published at 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK
A touch of class
Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott: "Pretty middle class"
Forget "tomaytoes" and "tomartoes". It's "classs" and "clarse" that's making all the running.
Retired railwayman Bert Prescott, 89, of Chester, is in no doubt that it's classs. Working classs.
John "worked as a steward on ships serving drinks to well-to-do passengers", Bert Prescott told The Sun. "If that's not working class, I don't know what is."
The difference of opinion about class is one which has been repeated in family after family up and down the country, and is a telling insight into the way UK society has changed.
Not that it has gone away, though. A poll for BBC Radio 4's Today programme last year found that 55% of people in the UK thought of themselves as working class, with just 41% saying they were middle class. (1% said they were upper class.)
It was a figure which surprised many. But it illustrated that, nearly 10 years since John Major said he wanted to create a classless society, the UK is more diverse than people might imagine.
One thing which has changed since Mr Prescott senior started working, however, is social mobility - people's ability to move between classes.
If anything, he said, it was getting more difficult for working class people to move to managerial and professional positions. After the war, there was an expanion of managerial jobs in the public and private sectors, which were filled by the working classes.
In John Prescott's case, he said, it was not clear-cut. In occupation, he said Mr Prescott was right to say he was middle class. But there is also class in a cultural sense, which depends on background.
"I'm sure that John Prescott perceives the world, as a Labour minister, in a way that is not untypical for people from working class backgrounds.
"He happens to have made good in the system. So there's a sense in which he's right to say he's middle class, and that his father's right to say he's working class because that's the family he came from."
Things had changed a great deal over the years, he said. In particular, the "old male, manual, muscular working class" had virtually disappeared.
"But we certainly don't live in a meritocracy, we don't have a society where everybody has an equal chance to get to top positions."
Mr Rose was behind the devising of new social classifications to be used for government statistics within the next two years. The new formulations take things a step further on than classifying simply by which job is done. Instead they look at how you are treated in the job, including job security and career prospects.
In a line which curiously echoes the position of his deputy, he said it would be "a middle class that will include millions of people who traditionally see themselves as working class, but whose ambitions are far broader than those of their parents and grandparents".
While the Daily Mail headline was "Blair vows to build new Middle Britain", Roy Hattersley wrote in the New Statesman: "New Labour is recklessly willing to sacrifice all claim to intellectual consistency in the pursuit of power."
Some things don't change.