It’s the ‘squeeze’ not the ‘middle’ that matters

2 December 2010

New Statesman
Wednesday 1 December
It’s the ‘squeeze’ not the ‘middle’ that matters
Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos

The next election is going to be ‘the living standards’ election. This week’s forecasts from the Office of Budget Responsibility show that the Tory election strategy will be to offer the public the chance to have back £6bn of their money in tax cuts. The figure echoes the £6bn of efficiency savings that the Tories made the centre-piece of their last election campaign, allowing them to pledge an end to ‘Labour’s jobs tax’. In the end, they cancelled only the national insurance rise for employers, not employees but they look likely to offer tax cuts at the next election too.

Labour has to avoid fighting the last election again. In a speech to Demos this week, Labour’s last election coordinator expressed regret that the run up to Labour’s campaign was wasted on a refusal to acknowledge the need for cuts and the use of the “Mr 10%” dividing line that worked in 2001 and 2005 but lacked credibility by the last election. Douglas Alexander warned of a “jobless recovery” but was careful not to be seen to wish for one. The mistake the Tories made at the start of Labour’s first term was to predict “a down turn made in Downing Street” that never came. So it is vital that Labour avoids rubbing its hands at every bit of bad news and being seen to be willing a double dip recession.

In the past week, the right have sought to attack Ed Miliband’s focus on the ‘squeezed middle’ by attacking the definition of the ‘middle’. Labour need to ignore this and focus on policies to address the ‘squeeze’. There are plenty of different definitions of ‘the middle’, from John Healey’s essay for Demos back in the summer, to Liam Byrne’s article in the latest issue of Progress magazine. It really doesn’t matter if voters are earning up to £50,000 and it really doesn’t matter if voters earning up to £30,000 are suffering a ‘triple crunch’ or a double whammy. It’s the squeeze that matters, not the middle.

Across the country, there is a ‘squeezed generation’: those people paying for the social care of their elderly relatives while also trying to help their children through university or on to the property ladder. This generation is represented at the ‘bottom’, the ‘top’ and in the ‘middle’. Young families will be squeezed by cuts to childcare tax credits. Commuters will be squeezed by rising rail fairs. And if there is a jobless recovery or if living standards for Britain’s middle continue to stall, the squeezes will be cross cutting and socially pervasive. Across the board, there is going to be a squeeze.

If the Tories go into the next election offering tax cuts, Labour should seriously consider matching at least some of them. For now, Labour needs to keep focused on framing the next election as ‘the living standards election’ because it will connect with the contemporary reality that voters are going to live through. They must hope for a recovery that raises living standards and returns the country to full employment. Only when it fails to happen should they blame the Government, The squeeze is coming and every voter will experience it in a different way. What matters is whether Labour can convince voters that they understand their squeeze and have solutions to help voters feel better under Labour.

Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos

5 Responses to “It’s the ‘squeeze’ not the ‘middle’ that matters”

  1. Briar
    December 14th, 2010 @ 10:46 am

    The BBC, spreadheaded by Tory sympathiser Nick Robinson, seized on the word “middle” (borrowed by Miliband from the USA, like so much else of New Labour’s rhetoric) instantly in order to distract from the real debate. In subsequent interviews, trying to force Miliband to define “middle” became the sole substance of each session. Disgraceful, and blatant, reflecting the fact the mainstream media share our rulers’ contempt for the people’s voice.

  2. Robert
    February 7th, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

    But it is a problem for Newer Labour, it has to look at the middle England vote, since according to labour now we are paid the min wage, we are in fact Middle class. Labour moved retail workers to the middle class now, when asked why and how they stated because they are now on a min wage. so in other words since we are now paid £5.86 or £185 a week we are middle class.

    Once people stop laughing and think about it, the working class do not excised in labour.

  3. Noel Kendall
    January 14th, 2013 @ 2:34 am

    Left, right, middle… I don’t think we can move forward as a society until we have a major overhaul of the world’s financial systems. The banking oligarchs can corrupt leadership of any political stripe. We think we elect leadership, but in reality, the ‘leaders’ are puppets for those that manipulate the filthy lucre. Banks control the world, and we must put an end to that.

    In the meantime, I struggle every day here in Canada to feed myself. I’ve reduced my carbon footprint as low as I can go, and believe in the goodness of The People – there are those that will see how I am offsetting their carbon use, and will give me a little help along the way while they sit in their fine motorcars with engines idling in heavy traffic.

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    July 28th, 2015 @ 10:54 am

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