Here’s a little quiz for you, who said that people in Britain have never had it so good? If your answer was Harold Macmillan you’d be wrong, it was Lord Young, David Cameron’s enterprise advisor and it cost him his job this week.
What the no so noble lord said, over lunch whilst being secretly recorded by the sneaky journalists from the Daily Telegraph, was that ‘the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good ever since this recession, this so called recession, started.’
Then, just to add a insensitive cherry on top of an already pretty nasty cake he went on to say that the 100,000 public sector jobs set to be lost in each of the next four years thanks to the spending cuts were ‘within the margin of error;’ well that’s ok then, no need to worry our fluffy little heads about vanishing services then; what a relief.
Lord Young (78) is a former businessman turned life peer who served in the Thatcher government of the 1980’s and seems to have kept much of its attitudes ever since. He might have been praised by David Cameron for writing a report that advanced the claim that most health and safety legislation was nonsense, always a theme guaranteed to play well with the Tory grassroots, but he seems to have failed realize that the only sort of conservative who gets ahead these days is a compassionate one.
Within hours of his comments being made public lord Young was castigated by labour leader Ed Milliband for being insensitive and out of touch with the public mood. The job of the government in these austere times was he said to ‘demonstrate they do understand the consequences of the decisions they are making and the way people are struggling every day in our economy.’ Lord Young’s comments were, he said, indicative of ‘a government that doesn’t understand’ the day to day lives of voters.
Ever quick off the mark David Cameron told the press that from now on Lord Young would be doing ‘a bit less speaking’ for the government, making it plain that like a football manager who has been given the full backing of the board he would soon be on his way out of the door, which he duly was, pausing only to mumble something about his comments being ‘insensitive and inaccurate’ on his way back to the comfortable obscurity of life in the lords.
It was all too late though, the awkward truth that almost everyone has been trying to ignore was out in the open. Not that the Eton and Oxbridge educated types around the cabinet table were, in most cases, born to privilege, but that they don’t have much interest in the lives of the majority of people who weren’t.
David Cameron, George Osborne et al may be more circumspect about how they express it but they are still in thrall to the, as a spokesperson for UNITE described it this week, the ‘Thatcherite claptrap’ spouted by Lord Young. When the more unreconstructed Tory backbenchers cheered as George Osborne announced swingeing welfare cute their hard little hearts sang along like a chorus welcoming a particularly bleak new dawn; its just they knew how to do it without moving their lips.
Interest rates fixed at 0.5% do mean that a sizeable number of people have paid less on their mortgages in recent years, but that good news is blanked out by the fear of not having a job this time next month. There is also the small matter of the countless small businesses, people for whom Lord Young had been hired to speak, that have gone to the wall because the banks can’t, or won’t, lend them the money they need to survive.
None of those people feel that they have never had it so good, for them the bad times just keep on rolling. In fact the only people who can look to the future without fear are the lucky few living within the Westminster bubble, and when those same people tell us that we are ‘all in it together’ their words ring insultingly hollow.