The truth about Labour and the middle classes

PETER Hitchens is an odd chap, isn’t he?

He uses language that is unavoidable for a tabloid columnist: extreme, uncompromising and shocking in equal measure. Did I mention “plain daft”?

His latest rant is on Labour’s alleged hatred of the middle classes. The governent’s determination to fight poverty is merely an excuse, claims Hitchens, to destroy the middle classes. Oh dear.

It’s true that Labour is, and always has been, committed to fighting poverty. That’s one of the reasons I joined up 24 years ago. It’s also true that if you’re going to fight poverty, you’re probably going to target those most likely to be affected by poverty: in other words, those families at the bottom end of the income scale (I know that sounds too obvious for words, but Hitchens seems to believe that any resources not spent on those who already enjoy middle class lifestyles is, by definition, wasted money).

But Labour’s focus on abolishing child poverty is not, as he (deliberately) patronisingly claims, for the “aah” factor. It is simply because children who are offered the same opportunities as their wealthier contemporaries are far more likely to lead productive lives as adults and be better parents. It’s called breaking the cycle of poverty, Peter. Why am I not surprised you’re against that?

It’s true that there was a time when the Labour Party believed in leveling down economically, when high taxes were  seen as A Good Thing in themselves, regardless of how the revenue would be spent. The electorate, however, had other ideas and the Labour Party of Michael Foot was kept away from the levers of power.

Hitchens fails to grasp the truth of Tony Blair’s achievement in the creation of New Labour: Blair convinced the party that it was not only okay for people to aspire – to want a bigger home, to want their kids to go to a better school, to want a better (or even a second!) car, to want better and more frequent holidays, to want to earn more – but that it was positively desirable.

Far from hating the middle class, the government wants to expand it – not by redefining it, but by raising our poorer citizens up, by getting them off benefit and into work, by helping them to realise their ambitions, to aspire.

In other words, to encourage everyone – or as many as feasibly possible – to become middle class themselves.

Mrs Thatcher realised, long before her party did, that giving working class people an economic stake in society was not only electorally profitable – it was morally right. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown learned that lesson. However, unlike the Conservatives, Labour believes that those economic and cultural opportunities should be afforded to everyone, even the poorest in society.

Maybe Hitchens believes a “full up” sign should be placed on the door of middle class-dom?

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20 Comments

Filed under Economy, Media

20 responses to “The truth about Labour and the middle classes

  1. You are not alone in being bemused by Bonkers Hitchens. I am every week. We are both supposed to be on the right, yet I find myself disagreeing with virtually everything he writes. He’s also a very predictable writer – Cameron is “useless”. The Tories are “useless”. You;d think a talented writer might be able to find a different adjective once in while, wouldn’t you? It’s almost as bad as people whose only description of Cameron is “do nothing”. Ah….

  2. John

    Christ, that column was nothing but hyperbole mixed with some good old fashioned conspiracy theory. In fairness though, did you really expect better from the Daily Mail?

    Interestingly, my comments to Daily Mail stories don’t get approved over there. The reason? Nothing so obvious as foul language or abuse, it’s because I have posted twice now on two separate stories highlighting the factual errors in the article. They don’t like that. Either criticise and get your comment burn with the downvotes, or support them and watch your comment itself turn green with approval. Point out that they are actually wrong and it will never get to a vote. I must remember this the next time THEY of all papers have the balls to cry about Liberty and openness.

    Hitchens fails to grasp the truth of Tony Blair’s achievement in the creation of New Labour: Blair convinced the party that it was not only okay for people to aspire – to want a bigger home, to want their kids to go to a better school, to want a better (or even a second!) car, to want better and more frequent holidays, to want to earn more – but that it was positively desirable.

    I never ever thought i’d see a Labour MP post that. I’m delighted. Please tell me there are more of you that think like this? It will go some way to restoring my faith in the notion that New Labour isn’t entirelly dead.

    It’s the reason New Labour was so successfull, and the reason I was and am such a Blairite. It’s not wrong to want to strive to have a better lifestyle than you have, it’s not wrong to strive to give your children the best education you can, and it’s not wrong to want not pay half of your income in tax. There I said it.

    I chuckled once at Jeremy Clarkson’s comment on the difference between the attitudes in the UK and the States. He said, when Americans see a Limo drive passed with a very rich individual inside they say, “One day, that will be me”. In this country they say, “One day, i’ll have the bastard out of that!”

  3. labourboy

    Plenty of other descriptions for Cameron, Iain, but we try to keep this blog free of excessive profanity!

  4. Rbrto

    Does anyone like Hitchens? left or right?

  5. Zorro

    “Far from hating the middle class, the government wants to expand it – not by redefining it, but by raising our poorer citizens up, by getting them off benefit and into work, by helping them to realise their ambitions, to aspire.”

    You might believe this Tom, you personally may want to ‘expand the middle class’. It might be what government /should/ want. But I /guarantee/ that’s not what Gordon wants.

    My god, think, if he succeeded – there would be no Labour voters left. Nobody on benefit. That would mean no benefit system. No client state. A smaller public sector. Virtually no Labour voters left then apart from the few deluded middle class groaniad readers… Nope Gordon’s goal is quite the opposite. Make us all dependent on the state to some degree if at all possible.

  6. Notlabourboy

    “Hitchens fails to grasp the truth of Tony Blair’s achievement in the creation of New Labour”,
    could easily read “Harris fails to grasp the truth of Gordon Brown’s destruction of New Labour”.

    While everything Hitchens says is pretty easy to disagree with, the central premise, which you have chosen to ignore, is that the “middle-class” are susceptible to this raving lunacy and that is where Labour have failed.

  7. Ah, Hitchens. Having stormed the citadel, he will not rest until he’s barricaded the door shut behind him.

  8. richard

    “Far from hating the middle class, the government wants to expand it – not by redefining it, but by raising our poorer citizens up, by getting them off benefit and into work, by helping them to realise their ambitions, to aspire.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. Labour’s modus operandi over the past decade has been to push more and more people (including those on middle incomes) into “benefit dependency” by introducing tax credits instead of lowering the levels of progressive taxation.

    What really sickened me about Gordon’s decision to abolish the 10% income tax band was that the government’s own figures show that ‘takeup’ (i.e. the number of people who apply correctly) for tax credits is only about 80-90%.

    The stated rationale for removing the band was that no-one on low income would lose out because tax credits would take up the slack but it’s pretty clear that 10-20% of those on lower incomes don’t claim the money to which they’re entitled.

    (http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/personal-tax-credits/cwtc-take-up2005-06.pdf)

  9. Brian Hall

    I believe that although many in Labour believe as you say Tom, the execution has been lacking.

    This ideology has yet to deliver decreased social dependency; primarily as the benefits of poverty have increased while the state burden on middle classes has also increased.

    Labour must create more intelligent mechanisms to encourage people to think and, more importantly, act as if it is easier to work and that contributing to society is essential; not optional.

  10. Red Mist

    “He uses language that is unavoidable for a tabloid columnist: extreme, uncompromising and shocking in equal measure.”

    But enough about Tom Harris…

  11. Brian Hall

    Tom,

    p.s to my earlier post and after reading a few newspapers, I note that Harriet ‘Headline Grabbing’ Harman has been at it again, introducing a law that forces business to ‘narrow the gap between the rich and the poor’. This is typically ineffective New Labour policy

    This fundamentally does not make sense. Firstly it stops the poor ever wishing to become middle class ; after all, why invest the time if there is no reward?

    I went to university for 5 years to get my degree and now earn damn good money. Would I even bother doing my job or just work as a trolley man at the supermarket if the pay is the same? Isn’t the result that we all just end up with mediocrity and the lowest common denominator?

    To be frank effective social mobility is successfully infusing spirit to achieve into those who underachieve by creating mechanisms that make this desirable and supporting them to keep them on the opportune path as it were.

    Not to ensure that they can afford 5% additional nicotine sticks and 10% more canned lager. Endlessly supporting poverty will not eradicate it; it will simply make poverty the most desirable option.

  12. richard

    @ Brian Hall.

    Never a truer word. In the past decade public sector employment and the number of people who receive state benefits has doubled and yet Labour MP’s continue to spin the idea that they are the party of business and the party of the middle classes.

    Luckily, no-one seems to believe them any more…

  13. I am intrigued by your definition of the middle classes and the aspirational slant you have place upon it.

    Is this what you really want? Everyone to have two cars and a credit card? Is that the purpose?

    I of course know that you also mean educational opportunities and the right to self-determination as well, but you only hint at the means to that, or rather, by antithesis, not the Michael Foot method. And also, you clearly believe that the purpose of this release from poverty is to become a consumer.

    As some one said of “Brave New World”, it depicts “a sterile, productivist utopia geared to the consumption of mass-produced goods”. (The VAT cut, etc. springs to mind, as does the current Government proposal to finance new car sales.)

    Indeed I might be wrong in casually equating what we have now with violently oppressive regime in “1984” and instead suggest that the problem with your prospectus is that you want to be more like “Brave New World”, in which the masses are entertained into submission.

    New Labour is not fighting poverty, it is waging a war against individuality and it is doing this by giving the poor what they want, not what they need.

  14. Brian Hall

    @wrinkled weasel

    You’ve also spotted the other gaping flaw in the New Labour thesis.

    True the opportunities and motivators must be there to allow those who are capable and willing to progress upwards in the social ladder.

    But it must also be accepted that there will be those who will do the least possible and that there is still a requirement for menial labour. These people must be encouraged to takes these jobs by making it more rewarding to take the jobs than to be unemployed.

  15. Well Brian, if the sum total of the New Labour Odyssey is that the poor can buy the latest flat screen TV, then we are all rogered.

    Command economies are redundant. Poverty emanates from perception and spirit, not from lack of money.

    I have been re-reading Oscar Wilde’s “The Soul of Man under Socialism” and while the definitions and parameters of what is Socialism have changed during the last hundred years since he wrote it, never a truer word was said (in the context of poverty):

    “I confess that many of the
    socialistic views that I have come across seem to me to be tainted
    with ideas of authority, if not of actual compulsion”.

    There has to be another way, and I think it must be education.

  16. Auntie Flo'

    “bigger home..better school…better (or even a second!) car…better and more frequent holidays…earn more – that it was positively desirable.”

    You forgot a wide screen telly.

    These aspirations are surely largely those of the aspiratioal working class?

    And all the middle class people I know aspire to what Blair and nulab destroyed in order to win votes with the above phoney carrots: the quality of life we had a decade ago.

    Democracy, Countryside, privacy, civil liberties, freedom of speech, good health and education systems, peace, no wars, a country that’s not overcrowded, reasonably low crime rates, the right to live a non Pc life, government non-interference in our lives, freedom fom the fear of govenment dictatorship.

  17. Simon

    The truth is, after 11 years in Government, Labour have failed to close the gap between rich and poor.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/apr/03/socialexclusion.labour

    So while Tony Blair is earning £15 million a year, he left the poor in this country no better than when he found them in 1997.

    Knowing that, I certainly wouldn’t be proud to call myself a Blairite.

  18. labourboy

    “notlabourboy” – Have I got a stalker? 😉

  19. Matt

    “Rbrto – Does anyone like Hitchens? left or right?”

    I doubt it. But then, Hitchens isn’t left or right wing. He’s just unremittingly negative about everything and everyone. Nothing is as good as it used to be at some dim point in the past. No-one is doing anything to make it better. He taps in to the psyche of the middle-aged failures who read the Mail. People who haven’t got anywhere in life and want someone to blame for their own inabilities.

    Politicians and people involved in politics, whether left or right wing, want to change things and make them better (although we disagree on how to do this and where we’re going). Hitchens just wants to bitch and moan.

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