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Extreme, radical, utopian; these are a few terms that are often used pejoratively, when discussing concentrated efforts to improve the lives of the working class. In Britain today, there seems to be some form of covert war – whether conscious or subconscious – against the plight of the working class.
To put things into perspective, a recent report from the OECD revealed that the richest 10% of the UK have an average income 1000% higher than the poorest 10%. Whilst the average income of the poorest 10% has decreased, the richest 1% has increased. Changes in taxes and benefits have contributed to the reduction of the average household income, while at the same time the top rate tax has decreased from 60% in the 80s to 45% today, in line with the rising income of the richest 1%. What’s more, despite enjoying relatively high employment at the moment, the low productivity growth is reflected in low wage growth and the subsequent increased risk of poorer families falling into poverty.
This problem with an ever increasing wealth gap, and the increasingly desperate position of the working class, is exacerbated by the actions of three key elements of British society; the Government, the opposition and the media.
Balancing the books has been the party line for a pro-austerity Conservative led coalition and now Conservative government. However arguably the deepest cuts are inevitably felt by the working class. Recent cuts to welfare directly affect the working class and have had a serious impact on the lives of many. The bedroom tax too has been felt hardest by the working class and has become a hugely controversial topic. Moves to privatise the NHS will again inevitably hit the working class the hardest who not only constitute the majority of the population but rely on it the most. Finally the rise in tuition fees and axing of maintenance grants will overwhelmingly disadvantage working class youth aspiring to higher education.
The opposition’s lack of commitment to the plight of the working class is in itself a part of this ‘war’. The Labour party represent the biggest opposition in the UK and, at the moment, are in the midst of a leadership election with all candidates showing genuine signs of attempting to relieve the stress on the working class (well, some more than others).
However their failure in the recent election was partly due to what has been called a ‘Tory lite’ approach, with proposed reform not being distinct enough. The LibDems have completely fallen from grace, due to their failure to stop tuition fees rising and seeming complacency with Tory policy whilst in power. It seems that the opposition has apparently elected not to alter the wide gap between the rich and the poor.
This is not helped by the media’s approach to individuals who stylise themselves in language and policy as ‘champions of the working class’. Two individuals in the past year, Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn, whilst politically the two are polar opposites, their primary policies are chiefly aimed at alleviating the working class.
Nigel Farage enjoyed a barrage of criticism from the media, including personal attacks and accusations of racism occurring daily. There was a seemingly unanimous assault on UKIP and Nigel Farage as a leader, disproportionate to the opposition and government at the time. Jeremy Corbyn now enjoys such media attention. From being declared a ‘dangerous Marxist ‘ to having past statements completely manipulated, and even his relationship with his first wife of over two decades ago used as fuel in this character assassination.
I’m not suggesting that politicians should not be criticised; I for one am highly critical of Nigel Farage and find many faults in Jeremy Corbyn. But what occurred and is occurring in these two examples is a complete imbalance in critique. Other political leaders – from previous Labour leadership to David Cameron – rarely have had their past so thoroughly and intensely mined for any incriminating evidence to distort their image and discredit them. The fact that this type of media assault has occurred on both the far right and the far left suggest it’s not merely circumstantial. The media is trying to discredit and destroy politicians who are fighting for the working class.
What’s more the main tabloid press’ readership are the working class. Therefore it is interesting to note how aggressively radical leaders, who base their campaigns on working class issues, are so hounded by publications widely read by those who would benefit the most from these politician’s policies.
At a first glance it seems conspiracy theory-esque; however the growing wealth gap combined with punishing policy, lack of representation and almost universal attack on working class champions becomes suspicious. It may be then that there is not a conscious effort to derail moves to alter the balance between the lower and upper classes but a reflex action against any attempt to make significant change. It’s almost as if the British establishment has evolved to protect the status quo.
Regardless if this comes off as paranoid antagonism, it is hard to argue that the future of the working class doesn’t look bleak. With continued austerity hitting those in the lower end of the scale, the working class are losing.