The Guardian

A tiny bit of history repeated itself with the results of last month's London mayoral election. In the spring of 1908, the Progressive Party, the first administration at the London County council, was ejected from the office it held for almost 20 years. In The Condition of England the following year, parliamentarian Charles Masterman wrote: "The Progressive Party ended its political career in the Metropolis because it had forgotten the Middle Classes." Those middle classes dwelt in suburbs in what became Greater London, and existed as figures of fun, particularly to authors such as George Gissing and even HG Wells, himself a native of Bromley, south London. They were cast as thrifty conservative clerks living in villas named Homelea, grudgingly handing over taxes for the indolent proles they feared were ready to revolt and head their way.  A hundred years on, many of those suburbs are populated by the white working class, once resident in inner London's poorer neighbourhood. This time it is they who were forgotten, ruinously, by London's ruling politicians. 

Since moving to the capital's "doughnut ring", these white hicks in the satellite suburbs have shouldered the contempt of the middle-class metropolitan Londoner - particularly those within the media who reinvent themselves as classless and colourless.

Their crime appears to have been their failure to be middle class, embracing excess and ostentation rather than traditional middle-class values of thrift and conformism. They are Essex Man and White Van Man, who harbour populist opinions and are not well-versed in the cultural and racial etiquette decided by their "progressive" superiors. 

This was apparent in the wake of last month's mayoral election. It was intriguing to read broadsheet columnists blaming the result on voters in the "richer" boroughs of the capital's outer ring. Richer than where exactly? The Clerkenwells, Islingtons and Notting Hills where many of those columnists reside? 

Statistically, the boroughs where the turnout was highest, where the votes for Tory candidate Boris Johnson were greatest, were the London boroughs of Bexley and Bromley. This patch may have parts of Chislehurst within its boundaries, but it also has the less salubrious Erith, Welling and Thamesmead. 

In an attempt to be relevant, London Evening Standard columnist Will Self trotted out tired lines on "multi-culturalism" to highlight his superiority to the suburban hillbillies. It's a theme he has warmed to in the past when writing of "these Barratt-homeowners out in the sticks, who don't see a black or brown face from one week to the next".

Once it was the urban working class's ignorance of the country that made them the subject for middle-class mockery; now it's the fact that they don't live in the modern multicultural city in a 19th-century townhouse. It's an attitude that reveals more about the author's provincialism than the realistic urban experience of his target.

Many of those Barratt homeowners grew up on inner-London estates and went to multi-ethnic schools, but never had the luxury of seeing non-whites solely as colourful carnival revellers or the passive victims of racial violence. These working-class whites experienced ethnic minorities as everything from muggers and killers to carers and lovers.

This continues to be the case. Boroughs such as Bexley are no longer white enclaves but areas in transition. Since the 2001 census, the racial demographic has shifted rapidly, particularly with the swelling of the west African contingent. This is a suburb whose population is becoming younger, one dealing with issues relating to violence, gang culture and knife crime that many of its residents left inner London to escape. 

Those that turned out in their droves to vote against Ken Livingstone's administration at the London assembly did so because they felt as neglected and disenfranchised as the middle-class suburbanites who ejected the leaders of the London County council a century ago.