“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
- Warren Buffett
David Cameron looked tired today. He was the future, once, but today he didn’t look like it. I said this morning that he needed to deliver a speech to inspire and unite the country behind his vision. He manifestly failed to do that, delivering a speech aimed squarely at his party, rather than the country. A few soundbites apart this was eminently forgettable fare.
The line that Cameron clearly wanted to get onto the news tonight is “Aspiration Nation”, which is so close to a Thick Of It catchphrase it surely will force the writing team to question whether or not their work in politics is done. (And the “yes-but-no” people was so close to “quiet batpeople” I winced). Seemingly the Aspiration Nation is where we now live. It’s easy to get confused of course, because it’s also a country with huge levels of youth unemployment, devalued qualifications and slashed pensions. But of course all of those suffering in the Aspiration Nation just aren’t aspiring hard enough…
Particularly galling was Cameron arguing, in the space of a few minutes, both that the Tory Party was on the side of those young people who were stuck in their parent’s homes but would also be cutting housing benefit for those under 25. Housing benefit is of course an in work benefit as well as an out of work benefit – so huge numbers of young people who have “done the right thing”, got a job against the odds and managed to get themselves a stable home of their own will now lose out. So much for sticking up for the “strivers”.
Similarly under attack for their lack of aspiration were teachers. Cameron lambasted those “so in hock to a culture of low expectations that they have forgotten what it’s like to be ambitious”. This made my blood boil. For me this point was personal. My partner is a primary school teacher. Each and every day (including weekends and holidays) I see her go above and beyond the call of duty for the kids she teaches because she cares about their futures. Long nights, early mornings and weekends hard at work. The life of a teacher that no-one sees. The same is true of teachers up and down the country in all manner of schools. Strivers? The aspirational? Those who work in their community? Teachers are exactly the kind of people you’re talking about Cameron – yet you choose to run them down. Shame on you.
But division and running down perceived opponents was the hallmark of this Cameron speech. He may have tried in vain to grasp elements of Miliband’s “One Nation” mantle, but this was nonetheless a divisive speech, peppered with references to “our people” – a phrase that of course suggests some people are not Cameron’s people after all. Teachers, the young, those who are out of work. Not Cameron’s people. And every moment spent dividing rather than uniting the UK merely served to show the widening gap between the visions of the two main party leaders. Cameron believes in the current system. His strategy is about nailing down the votes of the dwindling number of people who still vote, and seeks to capitalise on the public revulsion towards politics. Ed Miliband is trying something brave but almost unthinkably hard – to “grow the pie” of potential voters.
Cameron’s intention was never clearer than in the section of his speech where he – bafflingly – spent time focussing on and defending the 50p tax cut. A tax cut that impacts on a fraction of a fraction of society. An entire paragraph of speech for the 1%. Were that the unemployed were so lucky to have received such focus…. It was all about shoring up the Tory base, reassuring them that he was a Conservative – and damn the rest. If Miliband’s speech was in the clouds last week, this one was on the street corner, trying to kick Ed Miliband’s head in.
Tellingly, and most poigniantly, Cameron accused Miliband of waging “class war”. That’s a spectacular (mis)reading of last week’s speech, which Cameron surely knows. But listening to the PM’s speech today, it was hard not to recall the words of Warren Buffet – “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts for the poor, no jobs, no security, pensions slashed, attempts to turn parents against teachers, those in work against the unemployed, a false dividing line between aspirational strivers and the lazy benefit scrounger.
David Cameron needed to take the British public with him today. Instead he gave a nasty little speech. The hand of Lynton Crosby and his ugly style of politics looms large over the modern Conservative Party. They’re no longer the optimists, they’re the class warriors. And they couldn’t care less.