Wednesday 24 April 2013

When I became the squeezed middle myself

Well, now I really know what it's like to be the squeezed middle.  There I was last night on Night Waves on Radio 3, squeezed between Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the historian of the working class Selina Todd, being battered about the middle classes

But it was worth it because they were both very kind about the book (Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes? is out tomorrow).  They just didn't agree with me.

Mark thinks things will get better and better for the middle classes, if only it wasn't for taxes and planning regulations (I caricature his position slightly).

Selina took that classic middle class position - that really I shouldn't be writing about them at all, I should be writing about the plight of the poor (again, I caricature).

I have said the following throughout:

1.  I'm not saying the middle classes are suffering more than anybody else - quite the reverse - but there is still something to write about.  Other people have written about the working classes (Owen Jones for example).  I'm writing about the middle classes.

2.  This isn't just about the current downturn: the trends were there before, collapsing pensions, rampaging house prices, and the moral corrosion that followed Big Bang.

3.  This is not an issue about independent schooling - only seven per cent of UK pupils are educated privately, but well over 60 per cent are still home owners.

But Selina caught me out in one area that I've been thinking about since.  I say that there needs to be a healthy middle class.  It provides political and economic stability.  She said that implies that there has to be bottom; there have to be poor people if there are middle people.  Etymologically, she is quite right - but I don't think she is right economically.

All I am saying is this.  It matters that there should continue to be the possibility of space in people's lives, that they should not need to be dependent on the whims of landlords or bosses, or measured every time they go to the loo, call centre-style.  I am not saying the poor should stay poor.  I am saying that there needs to be the chance of a civilised life.

I am saying that the future looks like a great division between the proletarian, controlled, monitored masses, and the tiny elite.  I am also saying that would be a disaster - but nothing I say implies that people should stay poor.

"All the world over I will back the masses against the classes," said Gladstone.  I've never been absolutely sure what he meant, but I think he meant this.


Andy Mayer said...

I think you should change the name of the blog to 'Middle-Class Warrior'

David Boyle said...

Thank you, Andy. My mind is boggling.

jock gallmstem ordinumagher said...

As an emigre from the Working Class now living in Middle England, I can assert that the squeeze on the Middle Classes is seriously hurting. Every day I find another white-collared friend desperately trying to disguise unemployment as early retirement and enforced down-sizing of their comfortable home as the sensible thing to do! If you take up the Middle Class Warrior banner, there will be hordes waiting to follow your lead.