This is a message to any politician out there thinking of using the phrase ‘hardworking families’ or ‘hardworking people’ – I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
A day does not go by without a Tory politician using this highly irritating slogan, especially in the regular spam emails I get from the party. The latest occurrence happened today with the energy minister telling WATO that ‘We are determined to protect hard-working families from fuel bill rises’.
I must be out of touch with public opinion, as usual, and this idea must resonate with people in general, because otherwise the media-obsessed Tories wouldn’t repeat it like a mantra.
It mainly annoys me because, although Britain has a problem with unemployment, it also has a problem with over-employment; lots of people work too much and live too little, and I don’t see why this should be glorified. Partly this is cultural, as the British world of work has been Americanised, so that we’re supposed to put in longer hours and not get drunk at work anymore. Partly it’s economic, due to the cost of living, especially the house prices that Osborne and the rest of the Tories seem to think is a splendid idea.
People often snipe at the Bullingdon clique as being a sort of lazy, privileged elite from the 18th century, but they’re in fact part of a very hardworking, privileged elite, and that extreme work ethic filters down.
Personally I’d like an economic system that helped moderately working families; those families that wanted to spend a reasonable time with their kids, volunteering, learning an instrument or another language; all those things I probably wouldn’t do if I found the time. Not racking up 60 hours a week in the office just to pay off the mortgage, because we’ve based our entire economic model on a housing bubble.
One of the interesting suggestions made by Christopher Clarke in his First World War book The Sleepwalkers is that so many of the politicians and diplomats were tired and wired because the culture of the fin de siècle saw extreme hard work as an essential component of masculinity; this may have affected their judgment when the crisis began in June 1914. In contrast spending a day in the sun and watching cricket never killed anyone.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.