When new(ish) Labour Party leader Ed Miliband first dreamt up the idea of The Squeezed Middle I imagine he was pretty pleased with himself – or at least pleased with the advisers who came up with the idea.
It’s a catch all, The Squeezed Middle, you see. Much like James Randi debunked horoscopes with this experiment http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Dp2Zqk8vHw, Ed Miliband had tapped into the middle class’s shared fears and experiences of Austerity Britain. Namely that they would be worse off.
It didn’t matter whether that meant the price of bread going up or the cost of motoring increasing through petrol rises. If it had a negative impact on the middle classes, then it could be used to provide evidence of this new breed of Middle Englander – the Squeezed variety.
Randi’s experiment shows that human nature will pick up on the things that affect us directly and ignore the ones that don’t. So his horoscope contained a few generalisations that could be true of anyone. People read the horoscopes, picked up on the “facts” that fit and ignored the other 90 per cent of the reading and came out of it thinking they had got a perfect match.
Ed Miliband and co are hoping that Middle Englanders will be doing much the same in Austerity Britain. Every time they notice some new price rise or a perceived drop in their standard of living – that’s another tick against The Squeezed Middle check list. It’s easy to ignore the fact that mortgages are as low as they have been in living memory or that the actual cost of motoring is cheaper than it was ten years ago.(http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~ijackson/2008/real-cost-of-motoring/)
So The Squeezed Middle is a great political confidence trick by the Labour Party. Impossible to define and yet so easy to relate to.
Even Ed himself struggles – this from the Today programme last November; Mr Miliband told Today presenter John Humphrys: ‘I define them as people around the average income, both below and above, not people on six-figure salaries. I’m talking about about the broad middle classes in this country who find themselves actually hard-pressed.’
Asked if he meant the median income of £26,000, he said: ‘Well, I’m a bit confused now. I’m saying it’s above £26,000 and below and you’re talking about the poor.’ – as the Times pointed out, Ed’s definition of The Squeezed Middle includes everyone who earns less than £26,000 and everyone who earns more than £26,000 – up to £99,999.
Well I certainly fit into that definition, as do the majority of adults in the UK, but I never considered myself to be part of The Squeezed Middle. If I’m honest my (joint) income meant I actually felt pretty comfortable.
However just a few months after Mr Miliband invented the term, I fear I may now fit the bill perfectly. George Osborne’s Austerity budget piled on the pressure for local authority budgets, which meant local authority workers found themselves in the firing line – literally.
The managers and middle managers at my London Borough who were in charge of hiring were also in charge of the firing, so it was no surprise when a restructure left my team with surplus of managers with not a lot to manage. A team of 40 odd was cut down to nearer 20, and well over half of the remaining team was made up of managers.
Unfortunately for me, I was not one of the chosen few. And so I went from comfortable middle class media-type to a slightly uncomfortable middle class media-type – A Freshly Squeezed Middle Englander, if you will?