Saturday 27 April 2013

Why everyone needs the middle classes

I have now read through all the responses on Mumsnet to my blog about my book (Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes?).

I did so with some trepidation because there were 92 of them, and also because - well, how shall we put it - Mumsnet has developed something of a reputation for flame-throwing.  In fact, the worst response I got to my plea to save the middle classes was "aw, diddums".  Others were very supportive.

Though I have found a second stream of  comments on the same website about my Sunday Times article, which includes this rather wonderful condemnation:

"The article is a whinge from those picking lowish paid middle class careers and then not being happy with their choices and the low income that results."

Of course!  That's why I'm so impoverished!  We should have sold insurance.

Three issues have tended to come up:

1.  That I mention London too much.  This is probably true.  But London is simply where the trends are most extreme.  It is also the direction the rest of the country is rapidly going in.

2.  That I am somehow accusing the poor of being 'uncivilised'.  That is absolutely not the case.  I am defending the opportunity to have some space in our lives for education, culture or leisure, or to lead a civilised life.  Not just for the middle classes, but for everybody - and if the middle classes are losing this because they have to hold down three jobs (I know people in this situation) and are measured every second by their 'efficient' employers - then so will everyone else.

3.  That I am somehow claiming that there must still be poor people, because otherwise there can't be middle classes.  This is also nonsense.  It may be etymologically true that a middle requires a bottom (if you see what I mean), but it is not economically true.  There is no reason, except the way economics is currently organised, why everyone should not lead a more relaxed life.

What I am saying is that the middle classes are the front line against a tiny global elite.  If they are deemed 'inefficient' or 'overpaid', and are corroded into a new proletariat - dependent on the whims of landlords and employers - then what chance is there for anybody else?

There is also the usual accusation that I am pandering to people who look down their noses at the hoi polloi (as one critic told me on Radio 3) and who want to send their children to private schools.  In fact, only 7 per cent of UK pupils are being educated privately.  That is not the middle classes, the vast majority of which are fully committed to public education - not necessarily because they want to be but because they can't afford anything else.

So it is worth saying exactly why I believe the middle classes need to survive:
  • Because they provide political and economic stability.
  • Because their fierce determination to retain some independence, from landlords and bosses, is a vital underpinning for the liberties of everyone else.
  • Because the alternative is a kind of 'efficient' tyranny where a tiny elite dominates a vast proletariat, without assets or power.
And if you think that is impossible, have a look at these figures which show that a majority of UK children will soon be growing up below the breadline.

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