Are we going to sit back while Tories tell us low earners are ‘low achievers’ and the UK stands for ‘wealth creation’?
Conservative MP Sir Alan Duncan thinks he’s got it all worked out. Politicians shouldn’t have to publish their tax returns, he announced yesterday, because wealthy people would then be put off going into politics. And what fresh hell that would be!
The richer among us, those who have been carefully raised to be the leaders of tomorrow, would abandon the public to a rabble of comprehensive-educated oiks if they had to openly admit where all their money came from. The House of Commons would end up, in Duncan’s words, “stuffed full of low achievers”.
That phrase truly is the perfect complement to David Cameron’s pronouncement that Labour is “the enemy of aspiration” because Jeremy Corbyn thinks inheritance tax is a good idea. “This is a country and a government that believes in aspiration and wealth creation,” he said this week, in an attempt to quell a raging tax row. “Aspiration and wealth creation are not dirty words.”
What does it mean to “believe in” wealth creation? I’m not entirely sure it’s the same thing as the notion that people should be free to aspire to whichever life they choose.
Believing in wealth creation for its own sake means believing in loopholes, in back-handers, in friends who’ll scratch your back for you if you scratch theirs, in deals made behind closed doors, in turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and unsavoury attitudes and discriminatory practices when it’s “necessary”. It means valuing the wealthy over the poor, categorising the wealthy as worthy of celebration and the poor as Alan Duncan’s “low achievers”.
If wealth creation is the linchpin of your government’s belief system, then those who aren’t wealthy have failed.
Believing in aspiration didn’t used to go hand-in-hand with believing in wealth creation. Collective aspiration was a cornerstone of the working class identity. Manual labourers led the way in voting for pay cuts to avoid compulsory redundancies; as recently as 2008, JCB workers voted to eschew £50 per week in pay in order to protect 350 jobs. This sort of aspiration looks to the success of a community as a whole, and takes protective measures to prevent it from descending into chaos during financial hard times. It’s the same mentality, of course, that powers workers’ unions.
Aspiration, our Prime Minister tells us, should mean parents helping out their kids. It’s a leg-up if you need it, just to start you off. And if your father has some offshore dealings which ended up making a bit of money for his son, well, so what? You shouldn’t drag that father’s name through the mud. The sins of the father shouldn’t be visited upon the son.
I think I’d find that line easier to buy if it applied equally to people whose fathers weren’t wealthy businessmen with offshore accounts, but lorry drivers or dustbin men or, hell, even alcoholic layabouts, instead. The sins of the father shouldn’t be visited on the son, after all. If the gifted, ambitious child of an alcoholic layabout needs a bit of a leg-up, just to start him off, then so what? That’s what the benefits system is there for. Except that Tory Britain doesn’t support that sort of aspiration at all.
I used to have a hold on what aspiration meant. Aspiration meant building familial security, holding down a job doing something you loved, contributing positively to your community and standing in solidarity beside the people within it.
Aspiration was solid, wholesome and meaningful. It was never supposed to be tied to the numbers in your bank account.
Because – and I know this may be hard to believe for Cameron – some people don’t want to be middle class. Some people don’t want to up sticks and buy shares on the stock market, send their children to private school and work nine-to-five in an office with Bupa benefits. Some people want to live comfortably in an area – yes, even a council estate – they contribute to and enjoy living in. Some people don’t think that counts as “low achievement” at all.
If you create a society where there’s no room for those people, where wealth creation is the only barometer of achievement, where you alienate and ignore and insult and fragment the working class until they have no cultural identity besides shame, then eventually you’ll have a problem. One day you’ll wake up and find there’s no space for people like you either.