Blair/Brown ‘pretend society’ exposed
£35bn debts to avoid being seen to be working class
It all seems rather silly now, but it was not so long ago that many on the liberal left fully expected the Gordon Brown coronation to deliver a significant change of political direction rather than a mere, though welcome, change of style.
It was always a fantasy, of course, and Brown did not waste much time in disillusioning them. But what was the basis for the wishful thinking in the first place? In part it can be put down to Brown seeking to out-manoeuvre Blair with a series of ‘dog-whistles’ to the party faithful. These supposed ‘values’ were in turn given undue credibility as a result of a febrile media constantly delivering bulletins on the teeth-bared battle behind the scenes between the so-called Blairities and Brownities for control of the party, and, as too many allowed themselves to think, for the soul of it. After all, if the intense internecine warfare was not evidence of a deep ideological divide, what was it about? After the wretched dithering over the autumn election, the fêting of Thatcher, the delay in nationalising Northern Rock, the 10p debacle and much more, culminating in the tactics leading up to the Crewe & Nantwitch by-election, the mystery may have been resolved. New Labour’s strategy at Crewe is what caused the penny to drop.
First of all, here was a party that once grandly announced that it had ‘no problem with people getting filthy rich’ and had spent a decade and half of bowing at the altar of privilege now attempting to dupe voters by playing the class card. More than anything it is the little details that suggest the gig is up. For example it has been reported that voters had been woken up at 4am by callers pretending to be Tory canvassers. And four-by-four vehicles festooned with blue balloons according to an article in The Independent have been careering through council estates – more pretend Tory canvassers. Next minute they’re pointing the finger at the Tories for being soft on immigrants. A chorus of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!’ would have mocked these clunking inconsistencies in the New Labour message in any football ground in the country. The sheer desperation, panic and by-any-means-necessary approach is not, however, matched by the ruthlessness characteristic of the Blair regime in terms of delivery. Instead, there is an absurdly amateur element that would have had Blair apparatchiks recoiling in horror. Which raises an interesting question. If, as is now almost universally accepted, the Brown v Blair tug of war never was ideologically based, why then were there ‘Brownites’ at all? What were they for? It is when you check out the Brown Cabinet, jam-packed as it is with sycophantic time-servers who could never have hoped to have made the cut in the Blair era, that it starts to make sense. There never was any genuine Brownite faction devoted either to leader or cause at all. What there was were individuals who, aware of the Blair-Brown pact, hitched themselves to Brown’s bandwagon out of nothing more than grinding personal ambition matched deep down with a cold-eyed estimate of their true abilities. In short, sub-prime ‘Blairites’ to a man/woman—and they all know it.
One senior Labour MP quoted in the London Evening Standard said, on the disastrous Crewe Nantwitch by-election campaign, “It has been juvenile and counter-productive. And if they think this has played badly in the North of England, that’s nothing to the way it looks to people in the South and London who thought class warfare was a thing of the past. Down here people do not hate those who are better off—they aspire to join them.”
Many indeed may well ‘aspire’ but jumping classes is an altogether different matter, as a recent survey shows. Millions of Britons are getting into debt to finance a lifestyle beyond their means simply because they want to give the appearance of being middle class.
An astonishing 15 million people have racked up debts of £35billion despite their income being below the national average, the survey found.
Six million wannabe middle class households bring in less than £15,000 a year and many rely on credit cards and bank loans to fund their spending.
The average income for working class people is £23,000 and £33,000 for the middle class.
But rent and mortgage payments are nearly the same at £366 for a working class household compared with £334 for the middle classes.
Those considered to be in the ‘upper middle class’ were found to earn more, with average earnings of almost £52,000 a year.
Richard Mason, director of moneysupermarket.com, which carried out the research, said: ‘It’s worrying to see that so many people are spending and borrowing beyond their means to try to keep up with the lifestyles of others.’
Rather optimistically, personal finance expert Sue Hayward said that it all showed ‘the class divide was shrinking’. Actually what it shows is that together with the ever-expanding wealth divide between rich and poor, the politically more significant class divide between working and middle classes is also keeping pace. More significant because in the real world, contrary to myth, it is the working class, not the middle class, that is really expanding. But if Ms Hayward is confused it is understandable. With his slogan ‘we’re all middle class now’ Blair seemed to promise a meritocracy. But as repeated surveys show, neo-liberalism did not and indeed could not deliver. Social mobility stalled or went in to reverse. So what we have instead is not a society based on solid achievement but on the appearance of achievement; a facsimile of a true meritocracy. And while ‘pretend canvassers’ might be risible, a pretend society, with all the attendant psychoses, will in the long run be the real Blair/Brown legacy that will prove altogether more damning.