We are NOT all in this together
“Two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk” was how MP Nadine Dorries described David Cameron and George Osborne in an interview on The Daily Politics last month. Regardless of whether you agree with Ms Dorries or not, her comments seem to echo a growing consensus that the current government is hopelessly “out of touch” with us.
We are unhappy, we are cynical and we know that a good number of us will be poorer than our parents. It is now more than ever that politicians need to convince us that we are all in this together. But with a Commons disproportionately composed of multi-millionaire “toffs”- 40 per cent of which are privately educated, 20 Eton educated and a Prime Minister descended from King George II, the suggestion that we are all bearing the brunt of these austerity measures becomes ludicrously hard to believe.
Is Mr Cameron’s carefully cultivated Tesco-shopping, family oriented, bloke-next-door, man-of-the-people image perhaps a farce hiding something more sinister? To some, Cameron embodies the lofty arrogance of a public schoolboy that had silver spoons lodged into his mouth at birth. We can all recall his Commons jibe to Angela Eagles MP in 2010 in which he told her to “calm down dear” resulting in claims of sexism. What about his more recent quip to Ms Dorries in which he implied again that she should calm down as she was “extremely frustrated”? He didn’t even try and engage her in debate, just laughed. A patronising, humiliating display of the macho attitudes that dominate today’s Tory dominated frontbench.
The problem doesn’t stop with Cameron. The whole party seems to be orchestrating a reverse of the “nasty party” rebranding exercise. The budget – particularly the cutting of the 50p tax rate – was a low point. The gaffe made by Francis Maude during the fuel strike, ‘pastygate’ or granny taxes was perhaps even lower. The party fundraiser allegedly offering access for donations was horrendous. They are not doing themselves any favours.
The question boils down to whether we actually care that our public servants are a bit posh or that the Tory party are widely perceived as the ‘party of the rich’. Are bloggers and commentators across the country dwelling on Cameron’s blunders because of how trivial our politics has become, or do these sparse moments provide an insight into the entrenched snobbery irreversibly creeping into politics?
The other side of the argument is that saying our politicians are too posh isn’t a real criticism of their competence; it’s just a bit of lazy and desperate nitpicking. We don’t have to be particularly pleased with the fact that they don’t like pasties, or that Francis Maude doesn’t know that we don’t all have garages to store our jerry cans in, to judge their political proficiency. Whether Cameron wears jeans or corduroy, whether Osborne likes sausage rolls or truffles; these are not the real problems.
I agree that class in itself is too simplistic an affront. It should not be about where you were born; being born rich does not make you a “toff” anymore than being born poor makes you a “chav”. My issue is the shameful rhetoric that advocates this ‘make do and mend’ attitude from a group of people with trust funds, expensive educations and arguably no ‘ordinary’ friends. Benefits are being slashed, Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was scrapped, students are being asked to pay three times as much for their education at a time when their employment prospects are dire, affordable housing is scarce and increases in fuel and food prices hit the poor disproportionately. Yet the class make-up of the Commons is worse than it was in 2001, it’s a mockery of social mobility and a sign of the unfortunate embedding of upper-class privilege in Britain.
The small “gene puddle” that the British ruling class is drawn from is definitely a worrying issue. It seems as though I am only targeting the Conservative Party which is rightly unfair. Labour in their time in office fortunately had the luck of a good economy on their hands, the feeling that we were moving into a Middle Britain – “we’re all middle class now”. They were able to trivialise the inequality in our society fairly well. Unfortunately, economic crisis has refocused the debate. Last year living standards in the UK fell by the fastest rate since the 1920s, but the wealth of the richest 1000 Britons rose by 30 per cent; the highest increase ever recorded. Our society is now being faced with the awkward moment when we realise that we’re not at all in this together.