Thursday 13 January 2011

The battle for middle Britain

Nick Clegg's new psephological coinage "alarm clock Britain" has not been universally acclaimed.

“Today, I’ll be meeting some of the hardworking heroes of Alarm Clock Britain. They, like many of you, had to set the alarm incredibly early this morning. Rain, wind or shine, they are busy making this country tick.”

My colleague Tim Horton has, however, sought to take this argument seriously, in his Guardian commentary today looking at the battle of the middle - and this Clegg response to Ed Miliband's "squeezed middle".

Horton concludes:

Of course, the language of the middle must eventually collide with real policies, focused on real people. Miliband recently highlighted the pressures on those in the £12,000-£30,000 earnings range: stagnant wages, rising prices and benefit cuts; Clegg spoke this week about those on less than £35,000. Refreshingly, it seems as if political debate may be starting to focus on those in the actual middle of the income spectrum. If Miliband can force the government further on to this territory, he will have won a major tactical advantage.

Ultimately in the battle for the middle a lot will depend on the perception of fairness at the top. Despite tough talk from ministers, by 2014 the bank levy will contribute just £2bn each year to reducing the deficit, while families with children will be facing well over £6bn of cuts in financial support. If alarm clock Britain thinks the government was never serious about the banks, it might be Clegg that gets the wake-up call.

The piece draws on the Fabian Society's original research into public attitudes on inequality and fairness, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and developed in the Fabian Society/Webb Memorial Trust book The Solidarity Society - the full text of the book is now available online.


"A piece of rhetoric as embarrassing as any of the all-time turkeys of political history", blogged John Rentoul, who demonstrated even greater heroism than those who get up in the morning in putting in the work to count up the cliches.

David Aaronovitch in The Times (£) is even offering cash prizes (though he also argues more sympathetically that Clegg's merits are disguised by such nonsense).

If anyone can find a worse written, more cliché-ridden, more meaningless, more patronising, more tin-eared collection of absurd propositions paraded as common sense, then I will give them £50. You can go as far back in history as you like.

Others were less kind.

David Aaronovitch's money is probably safe.

But perhaps there is something about new year frazzling the political brain, as I would give at least a meaningless cliche no-score-draw to David Cameron's new year speech last year - "we can't go on like this". His comment that "We can’t go on with an old-fashioned left-wing class war on aspiration from a government that has seen the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" almost outplayed Clegg in the nonsense stakes.

For matching that standard, Clegg has, within the first fortnight of this year, closed out the 2011 competition for this blog's Steve Hilton Award for Progressive Gobbledegook.

And so the deputy Prime Minister wins a copy of George Orwell's Politics and the English Language for this effort in being "almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not".

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