Monday, January 26, 2009

New Labour, 1995 - 2008

This is the single best piece I have read on the impact of New Labour and its economics on 'people like us'

Key quote:

"The astonished children of Britain's upper-middle class started to talk about the vertiginous gap between the "haves and the have yachts". It was not only that they could no longer keep up with the Joneses - or the Abramoviches or Mittals, as their more successful neighbours were more likely to be called - they could no longer keep up with their parents.
Unless they were working in the City, they could not think of living in the type of homes their parents had brought them up in, or sending their children to the type of schools their parents sent them to. As one complained: "A generation ago it didn't make much difference what one's chums did, whether they went into the army or the City or publishing or whatever; but now it's a make-or-break decision."
Couples from the old bourgeoisie worried about how much they needed to earn to become like their parents - an ambition which would have appalled them when they were teenagers but was now looking more desirable by the day. What was the cost of a house in a plush area, a manageable mortgage, regular foreign holidays and places in smart schools for their children? The breathtaking annual income of at least £250,000, and preferably £500,000, the Sunday Times told them in early 2007. If they wanted to be truly rich and afford the central London townhouse with Brit Art bric-a-brac on the walls, holiday homes in exotic resorts, access to a private jet and accounts at the chi-chi stores, they would need to make at least £2.5m - preferably £10m. Rachel Johnson, who reported the findings, wasn't exactly a poor little match girl. She was the sister of Boris Johnson, who became the first Tory mayor of London in 2008, but she concluded: "When I look around my normal, as in non-City, contemporaries they are all working their socks off, hamster-wheeling, both the husband and the wife (only one in 10 women of working age can now afford the luxury of staying home unwaged to raise her children). They are raiding their parents' nest eggs to keep their heads above water, remortgaging their houses to pay the school fees and, if they go abroad at all, they head off to eco-turismo communities in Sicily where several families share a swimming pool (if there is one) and all eat pasta together. As the super-rich are getting richer all the time, they are driving up the prices of the things that we middle classes used to be able to afford on one income, but now can't manage with two."
In a wicked world full of suffering, the complaints of the shabby genteel were not pressing concerns for busy people with limited supplies of compassion. Nevertheless, I thought them worth listening to because I have found as a journalist that spectators on the edges provide the best descriptions. They have the access to a privileged milieu, and can see what outsiders cannot; but unlike the truly privileged, who socialise only with fellow insiders, they are not lulled by routine into thinking that the freakish is normal. In the case of the bubble world of 2007, the dazzled and envious commentaries of those on its margins also performed the essential public service of blowing away consoling illusions. "

The bit that he missed is that it is these guys who will, through the raised taxation of their incomes (as compared to the capital-rich have yachts) bear much of the pain of fixing the problem.


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