Melanie Phillips

18 January 2010

The Labour wolf in middle-class clothing

Published in: Daily Mail

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There's been nothing like it since the wolf dressed up as grandma in order to turn Little Red Riding Hood into pot-roast.

Gordon Brown now claims to be a champion of the middle classes. Apparently, only he can be trusted to look after their interests.

And there were millions of us thinking that he was, in fact, the unreconstructed arch-enemy of the middle classes and of everything they hold dear.

For sheer unadulterated brazen gall, his pretence surely takes the latest of many mouldy digestive biscuits.

Of course, we can all see the reason for this play-acting.

After the recent failed coup against Brown, Lord Mandelson won his strategic battle to fight the election campaign on New Labour's territory of aspiration rather than as another front in Old Labour's failed class war.

In the circumstances, Brown had no alternative but to agree. Yet this is the man whose entire political persona rests upon constraining, punishing and extorting from the middle classes.

Even as Brown proclaims he is their true and only friend, his chief lieutenants are currently putting forward one proposal after another to do them down.

In a speech, Brown told the Fabian Society that he was brought up to believe in the middle-class ethic that hard work, effort and responsibility were what you needed to make your way in the world.

True enough; but he systematically undermines that ethic by treating poverty and disadvantage as if these are solely the responsibility of the better-off, and that the 'have-nots' can make progress only if 'privileges' are taken away from the 'haves'.

He's at it again today as the Government will unveil plans to pressure the professions to discriminate against entrants from independent schools.

So once again, his government will be punishing middle-class people for the hard work, effort and responsibility that he claims to endorse. This has been, in fact, the most conspicuous hallmark of Gordon Brown's policy making even during the Blair years.

It is the middle classes who have borne the brunt of Brown's punitive stealth taxes.

It is the middle classes who, deprived of the grammar schools, were forced to beggar themselves by sending their children to independent schools to ensure a decent education.

And then those students from fee-paying and other middle- class schools, who achieve academic excellence through merit and hard work, find themselves discriminated against by universities which have been pressured by Brown's government to allocate places on the basis of social disadvantage.

Brown's key ally, the Schools Secretary Ed Balls, has consistently abused his office to use education to ramp up the war on the middle classes. Recently, he brazenly claimed he was 'totally against a class war strategy'.

But it seems he is merely playing with words by redefining 'class' to mean not social background but money -- thus enabling him to bash anyone who is better-off.

Similarly, the Government seems to have redefined 'middle income' to mean people on very modest means who aren't actually on the breadline -- while the actual middle classes have been rebranded as the ' privileged', who can therefore be clobbered.

Meanwhile, Labour's answer to Madame Mao, Harriet Harman, is engaged in a permanent culture war against the middle classes and their values.

Her monstrously unjust Equalities Bill will force public bodies, from Whitehall to parish councils, to skew their funding to help 'deprived' people and thus discriminate against the better-off.

She has suggested that bus services should be targeted at poorer areas and away from middle-class suburbs where people can afford cars; and she has instructed her department to stop Londoners and other Southerners -- aka the 'privileged' -- from 'lording it' over the rest of the country.

In 2008, she said what mattered most of all in determining whether people were successful or not was 'where you live, your family background, your wealth and social class'.

But this derives from a wholly mistaken Marxist analysis which holds that people are the passive victims of economic circumstances. In fact, this country is full of people who have moved upwards through the class system.

With the right incentives from a meritocratic culture -- and perhaps most crucially of all, from strong family backgrounds based on monogamous marriage, which has been shown to be the best means of creating resilient, independent-minded individuals -- people can and do rise out of disadvantage.

But both marriage and a meritocratic education system are the very things this zealot government has been systematically attacking and undermining.

Instead, it has tried to impose 'equality' -- which is actually an attempt to impose identical outcomes by penalising merit and achievement to produce an equality of mediocrity.

Perniciously, it regards social mobility as a one-way street. It says it wants to lever the poor upwards -- but it promptly hammers them once they have made it into the ranks of the better-off.

The result has been that Brown's government has kept the poor locked in disadvantage -- fewer young people from the poorest backgrounds now go to good universities than when Labour came to power -- while the middle classes are subjected to systematic bullying, undermining and extortion.

In the face of such an onslaught, one might think the Tories would naturally assume the mantle of champions of the aspiring classes. But, in fact, the Cameroons are terrified of doing anything which might paint them as the party of wealthy, Old Etonian toffs.

Seeking to neutralise the Guardian and the BBC by signing up to the equality agenda, the Tories are now wandering confusedly around a political no man's land. They can't seem to make up their minds over whether they really want to promote marriage or not.

Their refusal to undertake to abolish the 50p tax rate means they are similarly equivocal in support of wealth -- and have now even been outflanked by Lord Mandelson, who has said the 50p rate should be scrapped as soon as possible.

They are also talking of scrapping tax credits for households earning £50,000 or more and child trust funds for all except the poorest third of families and those with disabled children.

Of course, the spending spree has to stop. But the crude political fact is that, while vast amounts are poured into unproductive sectors such as welfare or public service non-jobs, the sheer number of middle-class people means they are seen as the cash cow to be milked whenever a government is in trouble.

If the Tories cannot unambiguously commit themselves to reversing this politics of spite and envy and becoming the party of aspiration, what is the point of them at all?

People's deepest desire is to better themselves. Politicians who offer this optimistic prospect win people's trust and votes. Those who offer the stifling of aspiration and enslavement to dependency deserve only contempt.

In 1999, Tony Blair told the Labour Party conference: 'The class war is over.' Before the 1997 election, John Prescott, then Labour's deputy leader, said: 'We are all middle class now.'

Thirteen years of middle-class pain down the road, it's the same old class war and the same Old Labour lies.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie