Monday 2 February 2015

When are the middle classes allowed to speak up?

I am pleased, not to say excited, to announce that I'm taking to the airwaves tomorrow (Tues) in the Radio 4 documentary Clinging On: The Decline of the Middle Classes.

As I explained in the Guardian on Friday, I don't quite understand why it is that admitting you are middle class in public should be such a difficult thing to do - but it is difficult, as you may have heard me saying on the various trailers for the programme.

It is even more difficult to admit it and then to complain the the middle classes are getting a raw deal.  We generally speaking prefer to suffer in silence, behind drawn blinds, assuming it was somehow our fault and our shame - not seeing that there's any kind of pattern.

And the reason is that, it doesn't matter how many times you assure people that you are not saying that the middle classes have it worse than anyone else - quite the reverse - and that this isn't about starvation exactly, you will still have people accusing you of whingeing, or re-opening the class war, and of a range of rather less flattering things.  These have been popping into my email in-box since my Sunday Times article about the programme yesterday.

Even so, Nick Curtis is a splendid writer and it almost feels a privilege to be beaten up in print by him in the Evening Standard.

Under a large picture of John Prescott, looking seriously constipated, this is how he caricatures what I say on the programme:

"Only a tiny few working in the financial sector can now afford the appurtenances many took for granted, like a home of their own or a chance to save little Sophia and Oliver from the horrors of (cringe) state education. Because the cost of living is accelerating like a Bugatti Veyron with a hedge-fund manager stamping on the accelerator as he snorts ketamine off a Ukrainian glamazon’s bum-cleft..."

Quite so.  But look.  What do Curtis and the other critics want the middle classes to do?  Shut up entirely about the economic mega-trends that are seeing them squeezed by the ultra-rich?  Wait until their children can afford nowhere to live in south east England - rented or bought - unless they embrace financial service careers?  Or is it somehow impolite to point out that the interests of the working classes and the middle classes - in fact nearly everybody - are now largely aligned?

Or do we just shut up, keep quiet, and continue with the idea derived from the twentieth century - that the interests of the two classes are fundamentally opposed?

Because this isn't just to do with rising prices.  It is about a future society that consists just of a hugely wealthy, tiny class of ubermenschen - in finance or the beneficial owners of the internet platforms - and a vast sprawling proletariat, timed when they go to the loo at work, in indentured servitude to Big Landlord plc.

Or do Curtis and friends feel rather like Hyacinth Bucket, that it isn't quite the done thing to point it out?

Find out more by reading my book Broke - or tuning in at 8pm on Tuesday night on Radio 4.

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1 comment:

Eddie Sammon said...

The super rich do need to be challenged, but I have zero confidence in any class based left wing struggle to succeed in it or conduct it fairly.

The left is largely ignorant about the concerns of the self-employed and middle class private sector workers and I can't see them challenging this soon, because it smells of standing up for business and scares off activists.

The only people who can challenge the super rich are centrists.