Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Middle-class self pity, it's the angst of our age

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Watch out. Middle-class self-pity is at an all-time high as recession is anticipated by the "hardworking" folk who own nice homes and dependable, large cars and holiday many times a year. All too soon, such well-earned luxuries have turned to essential entitlements. Those now accustomed to these extras are restive, expecting the worst, almost as panicky as those across the Atlantic awaiting hurricanes. And of course when this downturn hits, some will have to decide to sell up that abode in Andalusia and go sometimes to Asda, instead of M&S or Waitrose.

I would count my family among these newly anxious. Even though we own only the flat we live in, we have two cars, too much stuff and a growing, disproportionate sense of doom. At dinner parties now I notice, organic one-upmanship is pushed out by Prudence and Parsimony, the new guests at the table. Highly paid journalists are penning advice on thrift (how to knit your own blankets and resuscitate dead oranges) and the joys of Lidl and Aldi. Many of the same people who rejected the idea of relative poverty when applied to those in the bottom strata of our society, now shamelessly claim relative poverty for themselves. It is all awfully unbecoming, this collective self-obsession; this playing at poverty.

It is an affront too to the really deprived and indigent – who got more and more so under Blair's New Labour because that son of Thatcher believed his mission was pleasing the rich. Gordon Brown has meekly carried on the same punitive polices. Harriet Harman's speech last week on persistent, generational inequality could be seen as a tacit admission of this sorry truth. What's more the idea has been fostered that the needy in our midst are wilfully down and out, and bestial. An excellent new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reveals how this stereotype has been manufactured by the mass media.

The report describes programmes like The Jeremy Kyle Show as "a brutal form of entertainment based on derision of the lower working-class populations" which persuades middle-class Britons that these verbally incontinent mobs are not deserving of respect. Policies to empower these fellow citizens thereby fail to get support. So true. Donkey charities raise more cash today than do voluntary projects reaching out to the most dispossessed.

These attitudes are hardening. Only one TV series currently portrays the socially and economically excluded with humanity – Secret Millionaire. Well–selected men and women with too much dosh spend some days incognito in localities with multiple deprivation. They witness the extraordinary interventions that make a difference, often by determined individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Then all is revealed and cheques are handed out to specific projects, by Mr or Mrs Bountiful. Yes, it is poverty tourism and the conceit feels distasteful, but the poor are not all hapless. This isn't a showcase for the "tolerant" privileged. It turns the skint into role models with guts, unlike the millions snivelling over the falling prices of their properties, and the agony of having to line up with the riff-raff in Aldi.

Want Sharia law? Tough, you've got it

Through the back door, this government's band of holy ministers have quietly institutionalised Sharia law, much to the chagrin of British Muslims, who know what this means – the drift towards Islamic law, separation, inequality; the injustice of religious justice.

Five Sharia courts are enforcing rulings in family and monetary disputes, and inevitably women come out much worse than they would under our national legislation. Domestic violence cases are "settled" in good Islamic ways, so the wife goes back into the marriage and presumably happily accepts chastisement. Inheritance decisions favour boys over girls.

Many European Muslim exiles from Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan fled these laws and sought safety and protection in the West. Most are devout Muslims, but do not want state-approved parallel moral, educational and judicial systems.

Separatists argue they are only claiming the same rights, which are legally recognised in Britain. So abolish both. Jewish and Muslim Britons should expect to be treated exactly like all other nationals and accept common principles of conduct and rights.

What makes me most sore is that these vital decisions on religious courts were taken without any democratic vote or referendum among believers.

And they call this a democracy.

* A scene in our local Specsavers: A thirtysomething, smart-suited woman asks the salesman: "Have you got Sarah Palin frames?" "Sorry, who?," asks the man, who sounds Middle Eastern. They struggle to understand each other, and the woman gets shrill. How can he not know those spectacles, and the fact that in the US they have sold out? "Stupid man," she mutters, as she strides out of the shop, the woman who so well demonstrated the bewildering stupidity of my gender when it comes to sartorial trends.

Look at the platforms and high heels clicking on pavements, their owners teetering and falling all over the place. And Victoria Beckham's austere new haircut framing her joyless face, celebrated and coveted across the land. Bet these devotees can't wait to get their hands on copies of the dull, beigey dresses she has launched in New York, to unnatural acclaim. Or maybe not. Fashion Fascistas have just decreed that frocks are out this season, we must wear skirts.

Feel the pain of dedicated followers of fashion's whims. Should I wear a Posh dress or will that consign me to the dustbin in this season of skirts and mellow blousiness? Would men let themselves be pushed this way and that by style manipulators? No, because most aren't that dumb. Ergo...

* Breweries, blaming costs, raise the price of a pint to £4. Great news, I think, selfishly, perhaps. My mum once told me beer was elephant piss, hence the colour and foam, and that did it for me, for ever. We have too many drunken, 12 pints a night, slobs. If some can't afford to tank up, is it not reason to be cheerful?

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