Christina Patterson: It's looking grim - unless, like Cameron, your talent is PR

They work in factories or construction or in shops and you'd have thought they'd be getting angry

Share

They tittered. They nodded. They smiled. They listened to this son of a stockbroker, who went to Eton, and married an aristocrat, and spent £25,000 on doing up a kitchen, and when he finished talking, they clapped. When David Cameron finished talking, about the 5,000 jobs that their employer was creating, and about how it wasn't fair that people who weren't working should get more than £26,000 in benefits, the Asda employees clapped. The Asda employees, who earn £6.50 an hour for scanning barcodes, or stacking shelves, clapped the multi-millionaire.

They liked him. But then lots of people like him. So many people like him that the Tories are now more popular than they've been for nearly two years. They are, according to a new poll, five points ahead of Labour. They would, if an election was held now, win it outright.

You might think this was a bit strange. You might wonder if the people who say they like David Cameron have noticed that he said he would do all kinds of things he hasn't. You might wonder, for example, if they noticed that he said he would sell off forests, and then changed his mind, and said he'd stop weekly bin collections, and then changed his mind, and said he'd have the greenest government ever, which he hasn't. You might wonder if these people had noticed that he said he wouldn't do anything to harm the NHS, and then announced changes to it which most people who work in it seem to think will. Or if they'd noticed that the financial forecasting body his chancellor had created had almost halved his predictions for growth.

You might wonder if these were the same people as the ones talked about in a report that came out yesterday, which said that households with an average income of £25,600 are going to carry on seeing it fall. By 2020, according to the report, their disposable income will be about £1,700 lower than it was before the recession. They are, in other words, getting poorer all the time.

These people – about 10 million, apparently, which is a big chunk of the population – have watched energy prices go up, and transport prices go up, and food prices go up, and council tax go up, and inflation go up, but their pay has remained the same. They work, according to the report, in things like manufacturing or construction, and in healthcare, and in shops. And you'd have thought they'd be getting angry.

You'd have thought that they might want to attack whoever was in charge. You'd have thought they'd think that they'd messed up. You'd imagine they'd be saying that they'd never vote for them again. But if the latest polls are right, they're not.

People, or at least 46 per cent of people, which is the highest number since this Government came into power, think that David Cameron and George Osborne are the people "best placed to manage the economy". Only 28 per cent of people think Labour would do better. And it isn't just the professional middle classes, who think Labour's wrong, and the Tories are right. It's also the "C1s" and "C2s", which is what sociologists like to call the lower middle and skilled working class. And which everyone else, including the report which was all about it, now calls the "squeezed middle".

 

If you were the Labour leader, and had been the first person to talk about the "squeezed middle", which you first did in an interview more than a year ago, you might be feeling rather cross. You might think that you'd been the person who had coined the phrase, or at least nicked it from the thinktank who also wrote this report, and the first person to identify it as what politicians (and particularly politicians who have never been anywhere near a war) like to call a "battle ground".

You might feel your cheeks go red when you remembered that particular interview, and how you came up with six different definitions of what the "squeezed middle" was, but you might think you'd come a long way since then. You might think, for example, of how you'd been really tough with the unions last week, and how you didn't mind that they'd been pissed off with you, because you knew that the "squeezed middle" was pissed off with them. And you might want to remind those colleagues who seemed to think that getting rid of you would solve all the Labour party's problems, that voters didn't seem to think any of your rivals in the party would do better. That they seemed to think, according to another new poll, that all of them, except, unfortunately, the brother you ousted, would do worse.

But what you might not realise was that the reason your party wasn't doing well in the polls, and the party in government was, even though it had made lots of U-turns, and seemed to be making quite a mess of the economy, wasn't because you didn't have a "vision", which is a word that politicians like to use at party political conferences, or because you didn't have a "narrative", which is a word that special advisers think means something to other people, but because you were very, very, very bad at tone. And because the party that was in power, and particularly the leader of the party that was in power, was very, very, very good at it. Was, in fact, much better at tone than anything else.

The leader of the party in power knows that life for the "squeezed middle" is looking pretty grim, but he also knows he can't do much about it. He can't, when everyone's economy is in a mess, wave a magic wand to make sure ours isn't. He can't suddenly revive a manufacturing sector that's in terminal decline. He can't, unless he changes his mind on the deficit, which seems to be the only thing he doesn't think he can change his mind about, create lots of jobs. What he can do, as he did in Asda on Monday, is tell the "squeezed middle" that people who don't work will no longer be better off than them. He can't spend more money, so he can only cheer people up by giving other people less.

When Labour came to power, after 18 years out of it, people believed them when they said things could only get better. Now, most people know they're quite likely to get worse. They don't want promises because they don't believe them. They prefer the even keel of quiet resignation to the roller coaster of false hope. What they seem to want, instead of people who might do some serious strategic thinking or long-term planning, which neither of the main parties seems to be offering, is a simple message, plainly delivered. What they seem to want, in other words, is someone who's good at PR. Which, rather depressingly, and perhaps for a while, they've got.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

twitter.com/queenchristina_

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
UK Border Control  

Do you think I'm feckless? I worked for two years in the Netherlands

David Ryan
Bob Geldof  

Ebola is a political AND a medical disease

Paul Vallely
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin