Wednesday 17 April 2013

Whose side is Toby Young on?

Well, I enjoyed being on the receiving end of a Toby Young review on Sunday.  Kind of.

Of course, I realise he is busy - probably too busy to take in everything he reads in all the books he reviews.  But I'm absolutely sure he has taken in the back cover, perhaps some of the first chapter.  And he definitely took in part of the last chapter, too, of my new book Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes?  What more can you ask of a busy man?

You can see for yourself in last Sunday's Mail on Sunday, but it isn't online or I would link to it.  It was called 'Time up for Mr and Mrs Average'.

What is more, I absolutely agree with him.  The middle classes ought to survive because of their thrift, public-spiritedness and reverence for education.

What was a bit peculiar is that he hadn't taken in enough of what he read to discover that we are of one mind on the subject.  He seemed to think otherwise.

It is true that I'm not absolutely sure about thrift - I'm not convinced it survived the invention of the credit card.  But, as he should have discovered, I have a whole chapter on the reverence the middle classes have for education.  As for public-spiritedness, it is precisely the ability and willingness of the middle classes to make things happen that makes them so important, as I say many times.  This is what the book says:

"Despite their reputation, the middle classes have actually presided over a period of unprecedented tolerance in British life, embracing a society that – despite the difficulties – is more and more diverse and multiracial, more and more tolerant of the peculiar way that people live, if they are not harming anyone else. And if this was not led by the middle classes, who was it led by?"

I have always rather admired Toby Young, so I was glad to have him onside (even if he wasn't sure if he was).  I am a lonely supporter of free schools in the Lib Dems.  I endlessly applaud his efforts to kick-start a movement of experimental school plantations.

Where I take issue with him is that, instead of ploughing on through the book - and, hey, he's a got a school to run - he decided that, because I had some kind of link to the party, my argument must be typically Lib Dem.  I only wish it was - but tackling monopolies, starting an entrepreneurial revolution, rolling out free schools and creating debt-free money have yet to come within a whiff of the last Lib Dem manifesto, despite my best efforts.

So it is a pity Toby read without inhaling because we need to have this debate, and the future of the middle class seems to me to depend on it.

And there are a whole range of other reasons - political and economic stability, cultural underpinning and much else besides - why it would matter very much if the middle classes began to disappear into a proletarian struggle for survival.

So, here's the question, Toby.  Do you agree with me that the middle classes are vital to save?  Do you agree they are under intense pressure, maybe not uniquely, but still having an increasingly difficult time?  Do you agree that the next middle class generation will struggle to afford a roof over their heads?  Or is everything fine?

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