A tattered England flag still hangs above Albert’s hen-run, a reminder of the World Cup that, he once insisted, we were odds-on to win. So familiar has it become that we had forgotten it was there. This morning we warned him that he had been within a hairs breath of featuring on Emily Thornberry’s Twitter account. Proud to be working class was his response. There was no great reaction to that since none of us any longer know what that is.
Some years ago ‘two-Jags’ Prescott announced that we are “all middle class now”. Given that the factory gates through which most of us scuttled each evening have long since been padlocked, it sounded right at the time. But according to the new breed of marketing gurus, despite an economic shift from manual to intellectual labour, quite a lot of the population can still be described as working class: around 40 per cent. About a third of those are, say the statisticians, skilled manual workers. They are plumbers, scaffolders, electricians, plasterers and roofers. They drive vans – white vans. According to a recent Lord Ashcroft poll, only 10 per cent of the White Van Men ( now classified as C2s) now vote Tory, and 23 per cent Labour. So what does White Van Man do with his vote? It seems that the majority now vote for Ukip, the party once characterised as disaffected Tories from the Home Counties.
We cleaned out the hens in the rain before retiring to the hut looking like drowned rats. As the steam rose and the doughnut jam revealed itself we had to confess that the apparent redefinition of the working class bewilders us, not least because we codgers are neither working or classy. But it seems that we are of a different category – the elderly. When our arthritis allows us to get to the polling station it seems that we tend to vote as we always did. Sadly for the Labour Party it appears that they assumed the same for our White Van successors.
Opening Britain’s borders in 2004 to new EU members meant competition for work from equally qualified but significantly cheaper eastern Europeans. But it was only after the 2007 financial crisis that the C2s started to feel the pinch. Politicians did not, as some suggest, ignore growing concerns about immigration. Michael Howard led the Conservatives into the 2005 election telling voters: “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration”. Gordon Brown promised “British jobs for British workers”. David Cameron pledged in 2010 to cut net immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Yet immigration kept rising, not least because if the arrival of EU nationals whose home economies were struggling.
Ukip’s analysis of Britain – a country exposed to unlimited immigration by an untrustworthy political elite that keeps us in the EU – started to resonate. And the response from C2s was not confined to immigration. The flags on Dan Ware’s house were of England, not the UK. Scotland and Wales both enjoy devolved powers and higher public spending. In 2012-13, spending was £8,529 per head in England. In Scotland it was £10,152, and in Wales, £9,709. During the Scottish referendum campaign the main parties promised Scotland more power and public money.
But how can it be that politicians in Westminster were so seemingly unaware of the growing alienation of the ‘new’ working class? Look at the imagery of the dashing Farage and all is clear. It is no coincidence that his every TV appearance is based in a pub. Trust me, I’m and ordinary geezer prepared to speak up, and act, for the hard-working English families rings a chord with those who see Westminster as another planet. And he is planting in fertile soil. According to the House of Commons Library, in 1979 98 MPs were former manual workers. By 2010 the number was 24.
All three main parties are led by Oxbridge graduates whose working lives have been spent in career politics. 54 per cent of Conservative MPs and 40 per cent of Lib Dems attended fee-paying schools, and Labour were not far behind. Of the population at large only 6 per cent enjoyed this privilege, and none of those drive White vans. Bluntly today’s politicians are not the sort of people who drive vans or fly flags. Emily Thornberry took a picture of a man’s house. Mark Reckless suggested the Europeans might be expelled. Ms Thornberry lost her job. Mr Reckless won re-election.
Traditional older supporters will not be sufficient to ensure an overall majority for either Dave or Ed. But they inhabit a different world to White Van man. If they continue to patronise or ignore him they must expect to see a great deal more of his supposed saviour. ‘Onest Nigel has demonstrated that being posh is no barrier, being remote most certainly is.
if the antics of some of their MPs is any criteria they will struggle. Geoffrey Cox, the Tory MP for Torridge and West Devon, is one such. At the same time as earning £67,000 per year plus expenses as an MP, he has made nearly £500,000 after spending more than a thousand hours working as a barrister. Mr Cox’s earnings average at almost £35,000 per month on top of his MP’s salary. He is far from alone in representing people who are still seeing no benefit from the much lauded economic recovery.
Never mind, the health promotion brigade have just performed their latest about-face. Today they have announced that saturated fat in meat, butter and cheese is not dangerous after all. We disciples of the Eric Pickles school of nourishment are vindicated!
QUOTES FOR TODAY: ” One can never be too thin or too rich”….Wallis Simpson/ “I’m filthy stinking rich – well, two out of three ain’t bad”…..James Baldwin.