Who won this election..? The Middle-Class of Course
The peace. Perhaps it is just me but suddenly the world seems a lot quieter. Even Twitter, consumed as it is with castigating Theresa May, seems a calmer place. Perhap it's vindication.
Shaken as we are and wan with care, we have found a time for frighted peace to pant.
And that’s the trouble with UK general election campaigns, especially unexpected ones: voters are expected to make profound decisions but the campaign does not allow any space for reflection.
In the frighted peace, one thing we can know for sure: Theresa May did not win, nor did Jeremy Corbyn. There was only one true winner. They seem to win every time. You would get poor odds on them at Paddy Power.
They are the British middle-class.
Hours after her manifesto launch, Theresa May faced a backlash. Already she had been criticised for downgrading the “triple lock” guarantee on pensions, despite the fact that pensioner income has outstripped earner income for years. She was vilified for means-testing the winter fuel allowance - a benefit that currently goes to all 11m pensioners, only 1.2m of whom are living in fuel poverty.
Finally, May was torn to shreds for proposing a change to social care funding. The idea was progressive: by rejecting a cap but also ensuring that payment would be taken after death, she proposed that the wealthiest would pay. Even then she upped the allowance to £100,000 but it was a “death tax” in all but name.
No other politician is going to take on the grey vote again
As a generation those born in the post-war years will do better from the Welfare State than successor generations. Many own their own homes and benefitted from rising property prices. While income for young earners has not returned to pre-crash levels, pensioner income has risen by 9% in real terms. Far from waging a “generational war” May’s policy was correcting an imbalance. But, faced with Daily Mail hysteria, she cowardly committed policy infanticide as brutally as any Medea.
It is a foolish politician who dares to take away middle-class goodies because these pampered pensioners won’t use their free travel cards to get to the polling stations - even if you claim your opponent wants to rename Buckingham Palace after Joseph Stalin. No other politician is going to take on the grey vote again. The unfairness will remain.
In normal circumstance, one would then turn to the Labour for some sanity, or even fairness. Of course, in our bizarre topsy-turvy world this is not possible. In fact, it was the Labour party that most vigorously attacked what they termed the “dementia tax”: the party of Keir Hardy defending plutocracy, great huh?
The Conservative manifesto was not exactly Das Kapital but don’t expect any politician to do anything like that - honestly - for a long time.
Pre-campaign Labour raised its game by promising to restore universal free school meals by putting VAT on private school fees. They could have used the money to improve learning for those from the most deprived backgrounds, such as white, working-class pupils who are falling behind. Hell, they could have tackled the stigma associated with free meals and ensured those who needed them most ate even better. Instead, they chose a middle-class benefit.
Universalism is not necessarily the best way to help the poorest. As students of Marx (no insinuation intended), Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell understand the bourgeois.
Don’t fuck with the middle classes
Even worse though, Labour’s manifesto was committed to keeping the Conservatives’ working-age benefit cuts which would affect the least well-off in society. In their manifesto there was no mention of reversing the benefits freeze, little about cut housing benefits. McDonnell did, on the other hand, commit the party to abolishing tuition fees.
There is a principled argument against the marketisation of higher education but policy has to exist in the practical world of priorities. In that world, Labour put helping the better off over early learning.
The average graduate earns £500,000 more than a non-graduate over their working lifetime. The system in place has been described as a “graduate tax in all but name”. Although the vast number of undergraduates come from wealthier backgrounds, there is no evidence to suggest working-class students are put off by fees - the reverse in fact: applications by the poorest groups have increased every year since 2006.
It was a key Labour pledge. So important that Labour promised to bring forward the policy by a year if they won. Canny politics. All credit to Corbyn as the youth vote reportedly soared in defiance of expectations. (Humble pie. Humble pie.) But let’s not pretend it’s Che Guevara. It’s not even Clement Attlee.
Yes, Labour promised to raise the minimum wage to £10 per hour and increased spending on health and education is clearly a public good, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that Labour’s spending plans had only the smallest redistributional impact upon the poorest.
The IFS damned both parties for their dishonesty. But in the hurly-burly of the campaign, who noticed?
What are we left with? Two defining policies. One successful. One failed. And the lesson future leaders will draw? Don’t fuck with the middle classes. They vote to win.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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