The UK has two breeds of aristocratic male. Most prominent are the feeble, balding, repressed kind – all sober suits, equestrian wives and haunting experiences at Harrow. Those bred for quiet rule, entrusted with the nation's silver, allowed to speak at the table.
Then there are the others: the Warrior Toffs, the Tybalts of Tramp Nightclub – distinguishable from their weak-chinned kinsfolk by their boat race physiques, disputed parentage and active duty body counts. They are the younger brothers of the upper class, kept away from real power, kept occupied by the armed forces and the Tatler Black Book. They might be let loose in Helmand for a few years, but ultimately their lives will be defined by obscure dignitary roles, carpeted dance floors and fleeting appearances at state funerals.
Prince Harry aside, most of them are OK with this arrangement. It's not a bad life.
Our popular history is littered with tales of Warrior Toffs; at Agincourt, Flanders Field, Port Stanley, The Ashes and The Rugby. Even in the post-Stormzy era, our culture is loaded with imagery of this rare Boden elite committing evermore outlandish deeds: Ben Fogle rowing across the Atlantic, Olympian James Cracknell doing an arctic bike race while recovering from serious cranial trauma, Bear Grylls jumping out of choppers and drinking dirty water with a straw, Dominic West doing a convincing Fred West, James Hewitt being James Hewitt.
The latest chap to try to build such a persona for himself is Laurence Fox, child of the Fox dynasty, star of Foyle's War and avenger of liberal bullshit. Too old for Sandhurst, too young for the House of Lords and too blond for Bond, Laurence seems to have happened upon a new way of enforcing his nanny issues on the people of this country: politics.
But he hasn't gone down the established political path for people like him (standing as an MP in Chipping-Feudal-System, making a yearly speech about bringing back bear baiting, resurfacing his tennis court on the company card). No, Fox is into politics in its new, millennial, proxy form. He's into politics the same way that Piers Morgan, Toby Young, Lily Allen and various "national treasures" who failed to win over the Americans are into politics.
The artist sometimes known as "Lozza" has been bubbling around in the undergrowth the new-right for a while now, quietly provoking a small number of interested observers by digging out Greta Thunberg, pwning vegans and appearing on pony sub-Rogan podcasts. But last Thursday he went well and truly over the top, making a seismic appearance on the BBC's Battle Royale of "robust debate", Question Time.
From the moment the famous theme-tune ended, you could sense something in Lozza – a kind of manic purpose. Sleeves rolled up, RADA-issue tattoos exposed, he referenced actors "preaching" about climate change in his opening gambit and didn't slow down from there. Throughout the show he sat slumped in his seat, groaning and rolling his eyes at anyone who brought up class or gender or climate, like a boy king who's been told they can no longer throw things at the staff.
He downplayed his explicitly conservative leanings somewhat, instead presenting himself as a bullshit-sick cad, a metrosexual realist, the Lord of Common-Sense-Upon-Thames, Paul Joseph Watson without the V-plates. The Liverpool audience the BBC had Tory-washed "in the interest of fairness" seemed to lap it up. He raged against the concept of white privilege before keenly segueing into grooming gangs, telling the people of Liverpool how nice they were, half-endorsing Keir Starmer and accusing an audience member of racially abusing him.
As the charade went on, I tried to work out just who he reminded me of. For a second, I thought I had it – but it turned out I was just thinking of the resentful posh boy Laurence Fox played in the 2001 young-adult erotic thriller The Hole.
Sadly, people seem to like it. Fox's debut Question Time performance has slammed him into the popular consciousness, like Bowie doing "Starman" on Top of the Pops, but for people with Union Jacks in their Twitter bios. He's been duly promoted from the arse-end of the showbiz sidebar to the main stage of the culture war. Since then, he's been doubling down, taking on all-comers with his "stunning and brave" hashtag, accusing BAME actors of "only complaining once they're famous" and becoming a new icon for the 51 percent in the process. Telegraph writer and fully paid-up Tory Charlotte Gill described him an "anti-woke badboy" – an epithet that will come to define him more memorably than his current one: "The bloke from that Inspector Morse spin-off."
Still, you have to wonder why he's doing this. Why now? His job is safe, his wealth is even safer. His side has won. To understand, I think you have to look beyond his nothingy, reactionary statements and into his soul – at the lack of purpose and power that men like him feel in this day and age.
Warrior Toffs are built for war, for the high seas, for the stage, for death and glory. Once upon a time, a man of his calibre could have sent a thousand Geordies over the top with a swipe of his baton and played The Dane at the Royal Court when he got home. But in the age of geopolitics and diversity initiatives, war means drones and radicalised children, and the Royal Court for actors of his calibre is ITV3.
There is something within Fox, in his arrogant snorts and dismissive groans, that belies an underlying rage. Perhaps he feels he hasn't been listened to, hasn't been taken seriously, that there's a party he hasn't been invited to. It's something I've picked up on in way too many insecure posh blokes – men who are simultaneously embarrassed and fiercely proud of their background.
Fox, like a lot of them, is adamant that he isn't an aristocrat, but their definition of what an aristocrat is generally seems to be "an actual monarch". Slightly more plugged into the zeitgeist than their drunk and distant parents, they watch Question Time, they read Ash Sarkar threads, they listen to political podcasts, they are battered with charges against their class and they become confused and resentful. They are furious that their surnames, their schooling, keeps them from being taken seriously (note Fox animatedly bellowing "I can't help who I am!" on Question Time), which is a huge problem for people with a birth-given sense of supremacy. This is why Fox is so concerned with "the woke" – because they don't listen to him, because privilege-conscious politics is a personal threat to somebody with a deep-seated need for attention.
Lucky for him, he's found it now. He was even called a "hero" by professional idiot Mike Parry the other day.
Much has been made of his disastrous music career, pointing out his low-charting albums an easy dig to make in the wake of his gleeful trolling. But the piss-taking doesn't seem to have penetrated his shell. Just this morning, I caught him on The Jeremy Vine Show (AKA: austerity Question Time), bemoaning that "the light has been turned out on the age of reason" via the medium of an acoustic ballad, like an open mic night Sam Harris.
With his Urban Outfitters jeans, karaoke-Cohen delivery and troubadour posturing, the whole thing seems like a toff's folly, something only a man with no fear or no shame could pull off. Indeed, Fox seems to have no shame – but that might well be his strongest card. Because in today's world, dignity will only get you so far.