The Home Office occupies a particular position vis-à-vis the public, which sometimes translates into class politics. Home secretaries are often moved by the plight of the defenceless in society: vulnerable children, elderly people plagued by rowdy teenagers on their estates, the victims of Harold Shipman (whose suicide apparently tempted David Blunkett to ‘open a bottle’). Often, these people are defenceless because they are powerless, and they are powerless because they are poor, less well educated and culturally marginalised. And yet they are still British, and deserving of the state’s defence. One former Home Office official told me that the Home Office has long been identified as the voice of the working class inside Whitehall, and feels looked down on by the Oxbridge elite in Downing Street and the Treasury. This person compared the ethos of the Home Office to that of Millwall fans: ‘No one likes us, we don’t care.’

Home secretaries see the world in Hobbesian terms, as a dangerous and frightening place, in which vulnerable people are robbed, murdered and blown up, and these things happen because the state has failed them. What’s worse, lawyers and Guardian readers – who are rarely the victims of these crimes – then criticise the state for trying harder to protect the public through surveillance and policing.



Politicians have always used cultural tropes in order to build popularity and even hegemony. Thatcher spoke a nationalist, militarist language, while doing considerable harm to many of Britain’s institutions and traditions. Blair had his football, coffee mug and badly-fitting jeans. Conservatives have often struggled to find a coherent post-Blair cultural scheme, alternating between fake displays of liberalism (Cameron’s huskies) and the embarrassing reality of their party base. Right now, however, matters of nationality and cultural tradition do not seem like window-dressing: when the state is offering to look after some of us, but not all of us, the way you look, talk, behave and learn threatens to become the most important political issue of all.

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