Ah, the worthy poor – those who ‘aspire’, those who make the already-rich, the inherited-rich, the born-rich, (and no, I don’t just mean rich in actual money, but that too, of course) the LUCKY who did nothing but get born into an already-lucky family, feel better about themselves. Feel like they have a right to pontificate about those who don’t already have their good fortune, feel like they can tell us what we ought to do, what we ought to be.
If ever anything was designed to remind us that the Tories have never dropped their overwheening Victorian paternalism, their certainty that they know what’s best for the rest of us (which interestingly, could not be further from the US version of right wing, basically leaving people to get on with it) David Cameron’s ‘Aspiration Nation’ speech ought to do it.
I listened to it and all I could think was that he hates us.
Hates my sister living in a council house.
Hates my parents for having seven children when yes, they were already struggling (financially) with six – but my dad had had cancer at 36, and that 7th baby, a kind of way of proving he had stayed alive, was something they had no intention of not keeping (yes, me).
What I heard was that Cameron, and his ilk, hate people who aren’t also go-getting and ambitious and desiring of more, more, more in their lives.
Hates my sister who needed benefits while she looked after her four children under 8 when her husband left.
Would have hated my mother who worked from the age of 14, but could only get an almshouse flat in her old age, because DESPITE working all her life, she had never had the kind of work that gave bonuses, or large chunks of money to use as a house deposit. She had nothing to inherit that would pay off a mortgage.
Hates people who aren’t all about more, more, more.
But the thing is, not everyone does want more. They just don’t. Some people are happy with what they’ve got. Some people are happy not being rich (financially), not having huge houses, not having a vast shares portfolio, not making it all about money.
Some people are OK with a small life, centred on family and friends.
And it really sounded to me like David Cameron, OUR Prime Minister, actually doesn’t – at all – like people who aren’t like him.
I’m not sure it’s very useful for our Prime Minister not to LIKE the people he serves. (That’s his job, not to lead us wherever he will, but to serve US.)
Dave would probably approve of me. Born in a council flat, grew up in small timber town when family moved to my father’s native NZ, both parents worked in the timber mill, the first in my family to go to university, the one who ‘made it’ in Tory eyes – has a home, an income, works for myself etc etc.
And that’s kind of what my parents wanted for me (though the only time my dad was ever truly disappointed with me was when I said I didn’t want to be a teacher – all he wanted was a safe job for me, with a pension). They were that ‘worthy working class’ the Tories seem to like so much. They both had to leave school at 14, they didn’t buy their home until their late 40s (a little mill house in Tokoroa, like all the other little houses, where I grew up), they both believed in education as a way to better oneself and for them it was all about reading, encouraging us to read.
BUT they weren’t the same in aspiration. Not at all. While my Mum might have liked a larger home, more money, to be able to do more with her life that their combined income could afford for them – my Dad didn’t.
He was OK with his shift work job as a boilerman (which he didn’t much like but did as a means to an end, ie the mortgage) and that end was this – having a drink with his mates in the RSA (NZ equivalent of the British Legion, of which he was local President for years), gardening, sitting with the dog, doing the crossword, watching the rugby. He was FINE with a little home. He was FINE with the little town we lived in. He was CONTENT to be what he was, as he was.
I think one of the reasons he was OK with what he had is that he’d had so much less during the war as a PoW and that aspiring to simply stay alive during those four and a half years was enough aspiration for a lifetime for him, and then post-war in London bringing up the 5 older kids in my family when accomodation was so scarce, and things were so hard, before we got the council flat in Woolwich. After all that, was fine with just enough. My Mum wanted more, I know that. Not a lot more, but some more, yes. But my Dad looked at people with big flash cars and (having whispered “Tory swine’ under his breath), he’d then wonder why they needed it. He did the same with big flash houses. He did the same with the two-house people.
He was OK with what he had. He wanted more for me, more for all us kids, but he was happy enough with a beer (or 8) and the dog and a sunset.
He wasn’t ambitious.
And what I heard Cameron say yesterday is that people who aren’t ambitious are wrong.
That it’s not OK to not want to have more and more and more.
And not only does that not make any economic sense – someone has to do the shitty shift work jobs my dad did – but it also shows no understanding of human nature. Not everyone wants to be PM.
But people shouldn’t be penalised for that.
The people who are happy enough have a right to be protected and cared for by their government, just as much as those who are all ambition.
They are just as valuable, and just as deserving of a government that is there for them too. A government that takes care of them in bad times too – you know, the way we took care of the broken banks.
They just think about life differently to Dave. Which isn’t, at the moment, a crime.