I believe this phrase is used by at least one of the two main political parties to identify its key demographic. Frankly, there is no easy way to guess which one it might be (and I’m certainly not going to look it up) as they are virtually indistinguishable and I’m sure their main competitor is targeting exactly the same group, albeit using a slightly different buzz phrase.
I have a number of problems with the phrase, not least my own disenfranchisement. There can certainly be a discussion about whether I am hard-working or not, but as a single chap I definitely fail to qualify as a family (either nuclear or conventionally-fired). My belief is that, as a “single”, I am surfing the current demographic zeitgeist – with an ever growing number of single-person households. We, the lone wolves of society, have been discriminated against for years with more expensive holidays and passed over for 2-for-1 offers (to give but two examples – grrr!) – but now it seems we are being deliberately ignored by the world of politics too. Perhaps it is time we banded together – though I suppose we may find this difficult, which might explain why politicians believe we can be easily marginalised.
I feel the phrase “hard working” might also be a mistake. Going back to demographics, an every growing proportion of the population is retired – and these people tend to vote – and so are no longer hard working in the traditional sense.
In its entirety, the whole phrase does make me wonder if Lord Shaftesbury worked in vain. Somehow “hard working families” makes me think of small children up chimneys or down mines – otherwise, the little nippers are just loafing around in full-time education (which may not be their first choice activity, but is hardly economically productive). Perhaps the need to get children back into work is one of the motivations behind the current opposition to human rights within the government. It is perhaps worth warning our political masters – many of whom seem to be resident in some fictional past – that chimney sweeping is not quite the industry it once was. Fun as Mary Poppins was, it should not be considered a documentary.
Anyway, let us assume (for the sake of what I will call “this argument”) that hard working families are indeed a good thing. I would imagine that such mythical folk would like a decently paid job (at which to work hard), affordable housing (in which to live), decent public services (to make life liveable, educate their offspring and in case of illness), decent public transport (to get to and from work) etc. Oddly, none of these areas seem to appear anywhere on the agenda of either of the political parties which claim to be focused on helping the hard working family. Not even a promise to abolish central heating and get Britain’s neglected chimneys back into use.
No, instead there seem to be two big policy initiatives this week:
1. An oath for teachers: where does one begin? I am rather fond of Tristam Hunt, he writes a very good history book, but really – is this the best he and his colleagues could come up with? I suppose at least it should (but probably won’t) be cheap – and I’m sure has already generated many an oath from the teaching profession.
2. Reducing Inheritance Tax: so, ignore hard work altogether and just inherit money from your relatives (which ticks the family box, I suppose). I realise this approach has worked very well for much of the cabinet, but not everyone is descended from millionaires. I, at least, have spent several years trying to encourage my parents to spend their money rather than passing it on to undeserving-me in the (hopefully) distant future.
Senior figures in all political parties seem very keen to bang-on about any incident where they meet a “real” person – I seem to recall Gareth from IT completely trumped the economy in a recent speech – but really seem to have only a very vague idea about what we are actually like. After the excitement surrounding possible Scottish secession, there seem a vocal group of parliamentary numbskulls who feel that only English MPs should be allowed to vote on issues affecting England. Obviously, this idea could be extended further, so only female MPs can vote on women’s issues and only disabled MPs on issues affecting the disabled (which should lead to some very small votes indeed). Perhaps (idiotic though the original idea is) we should go further, and most MPs will only be allowed to vote on issues affecting PR, PPE at Oxbridge and a few other areas of special interest – with only the very few “real” people in parliament (the splendid Alan Johnson is the only example that springs to mind, though surely he cannot be alone) able to vote on issues which affect real people. It would certainly be a novelty with people voting on things for which they have some relevant experience.
Failing such a major shake-up in the political landscape, it is time for the indolent loners in society (I know you must be out there) to start fighting for our political rights. It’s going to be tough for us – involving as it will both work and meeting other people – but our voice needs to be heard!