Casting my roving satirical eye over the week’s events, I’ve been catching up with the secret filming of the Mitt Romney speech. In politics you should assume everything is on the record. Romney forgot that Rule One when he wrote off half of America in front of Boca Raton Republican donors – and, it turns out, minimum-wage waiters and barmen with smartphones. You’ve probably seen it by now, but this is his campaign strategy:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what… These are people who pay no income tax.
It’s widely regarded that Romney threw away the election with that remark. It’s certainly the only thing that anyone will remember about the Republican 2012 campaign, apart from the bizarre convention speech where Clint Eastwood lost an argument to an empty chair.
The striking thing about this is that Romney is simply summarising what most politicians do. Everyone in politics says they will govern for the whole country but, come on, as they say on Red Dwarf, let’s flag down a cab and head for Reality Row. Politicians write off whole groups and areas because of rationalisations like ‘Oh, they don’t vote for us’ or ‘Oh, they don’t vote.’ General elections in this country are won and lost on a few key suburban battlegrounds.
In Britain some people are more important than others, and some votes are more important than others.
If we could make a hierarchy or ziggurat of voters in terms of political importance in 2010s Coalitionland, it would probably go something like this.
At the top are the Hard Working Families – Essex Man, Mondeo Man, middle rate taxpayers, school governors, office managers, family men, people who work hard, pay into the system, look after their children, take modest holidays in parts of Spain and lead lives of quiet patriotism. This is the political ideal of the great British public, lobbied in every conference speech, every interview, every manifesto by parties across the political spectrum.
Next up are the stockbrokers, traders, execs and hedgies (something like 50% of Tory donations come from the city) property developers, retail billionaires, newspaper barons, workfare tycoons. Obviously, these are powerful people who can make life easier for politicians, so they are aggressively courted. Conference season is basically a corporate networking weekend, it has nothing to do with policy. Everyone notices the comedians who are awarded in the honours list, no one notices the private equity bosses and arms dealers who also get gongs.
And let’s not forget the trade union bosses, civil servants, quangocrats and local government execs. The public sector management class is as bloated, dysfunctional and sclerotic as the City. It enjoys similar influence and rewards.
Following them are religious leaders of all monotheisms. They can deliver numbers, and their favours are competed for fiercely.
Then there are journalists, lobbyists, policy units, professional campaigners fighting for everything to anti fracking to tobacco control.
Then we have the small property owning classes: small businessmen, second home owners, landlords, middle class pensioners.
Frontline officers are a difficult one. Police, soldiers, nurses are rhapsodised by politicians, Heroes, Our Brave Boys, etc, but are treated like shit in policy terms. The murder of two police officers in Hyde is not going to stop the coalition’s assault on police pay and conditions. And Andrew Mitchell’s recent outburst demonstrates an Old Tory attitude to the police that sees them as mere thief-takers, servants in body armour.
Next one down is the small army of low paid, insecure private and public sector workers – barmen, waiters, call centre operatives, shop floor workers, admin assistants, childless couples, hipsters and artists, temping and living for the weekend, living out hard precarious lives. They represent more and more of the urban working/middle class, but they are unrecognised in politics and absent from the national conversation. And they tend to be under thirty.
Right at the bottom are benefit claimants, immigrants, prisoners, disabled people, carers and refugees. If you fall into this category it’s bad news, because the government can basically do anything it likes to you.
This isn’t exactly a forensic and comprehensive map of the nation but I think it gives us an insight into coalition thinking. They can hammer unemployed people with sanctions and coercive welfare reforms because the unemployed don’t vote. They can hammer people under thirty with tuition fees and workfare schemes because people under thirty don’t vote. They can slash sickness benefit, drive people into poverty and suicide because longterm sick people don’t vote.
I’ve always thought it’s dangerous to equate contributory worth with moral worth. It leads to arguments like this, from Ian Cowie of the Telegraph, who just comes out and says it and declares that we should take the vote from the unemployed.
But there is a political problem that the coalition is maybe only just getting to realise. In hard times, old categories and alliances break down. People are beginning to realise that the state’s not necessarily reward you just because you’ve worked all your life. In fact, it won’t even guarantee you’ll be able to feed your children. What that’s going to lead to in terms of political allegiances, who can say. The riots in 2011 may just be a glimpse of things to come.
The coalition goes on about its Great Reforms, but it will be remembered for food banks.
(Video via Mother Jones)