Read all about it…

Two bits of news have jumped out at me over the past 48 hours – the death of peace activist Brian Haw (http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2011/06/20/brian-haw-the-ultimate-protester or any number of other news sites) and a missive from the Daily Express (http://www.express.co.uk/ourpaper/view/2011-06-20) about the lack of summer holidays that will be abound this year. The two items neatly bookend the past decade for me.

Ten years ago I was a raw recruit into the (un)glamourous,  highly paid world of journalism. In actual fact this was just before I started an to earn the princely sum of £10,500 in  my first reporter’s role. I was in the enviable position of having forked out some £5,000 to learn my trade.

One of the first assignments was a  trip to the big city where we were to wander the streets searching for scoops. We started off with a trip round the Houses of Parliament. As that ended we were told to head out in to the mean streets of London Town and not come back until we had two top quality stories – before being reminded that the coach was due to depart at 5pm sharp. As a journalist you are always up against deadlines.

Peace protester Brian Haw

Brian Haw during his decade-long protest.

So as my fellow trainee hacks made their way into central London to track down the latest news, I crossed the road to Parliament Square and asked the chap in the hat and tent if I could have a word or two. I told him I was a journalist and he said I was the first to journalist to talk to him since he’d arrived. A coup for me and presumably he hoped it would get him some much needed publicity – unfortunately my assignment was  read by precisely one person, my tutor.

Nevertheless we chatted about what he was doing and why he was doing it. (Camping and protesting for peace in the Middle East, in case you were wondering). He also told me about his family – a wife and seven children – whom he had left in Worcestershire to embark on his campaign (he was divorced in 2003). And when I asked how long he would be living in his tent on the doorstep of Parliament he told me “as long as it takes”. I doubt he expected it to take the rest of his life.

And in other news… This year we are a no longer going on vacation. Even staycations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staycation) are out according to the Daily Express as the Squeezed Middle continues to be squeezed. Yes, next to important breaking news about the marital status of ‘Friend’ Jennifer Aniston, The Express reveals that some 18 million people can not afford a holiday – that’s a third of us (more if you include the inevitable children who cannot swan off to the Algarve without an accompanying adult).

This news is relevant in my household because our own holiday is very much touch and go. And if it is ‘go’, then it is very much going to be in a tent and in this country. A family wedding means we will probably be able to tag on four days in the Lake District, surviving off bread and sniffit if we are lucky.

From a first interview to a (possibly) last holiday in the space of a decade – it’s at times like this I wish I’d invested more of the £200 a week pay check from my first job.

A definition

This morning’s Today programme had a definition of the squeezed middle from a shadow minister – in the fug of early morning I didn’t catch who it was, but needless to say he was one of Red Ed’s nearest and dearest. (Although not an actual blood relation.)

The last time the Squeezed Middle reared its head on Radio 4’s flagship morning news programme Ed Miliband found himself floundering for a definition. Now I’m no politician, but I know that if you are going to invent a new political bullseye to target, you should at least know what you are talking about. Ed’s efforts saw him define this new category of voters as pretty much everyone in the country – those earning over the national average wage as well as those earning less than the national average.

As an aim for a politician hoping to win the next election it shows ambition – “let’s get everyone to vote for us”. Unfortunately as a concept it lacked a certain amount of detail and Ed and his new old Labour colleagues seemed to go cold on the idea.

But it seems that it is about to make a resurgence – clearly this blog is largely responsible for the change in fortune in the Squeezed Middle concept. Literally tens of people a month are clicking on thesqueezedmiddleblog. Ed Balls and his team clearly know an opinion former when they see one and are not afraid of piggy backing on the wave of popularity already created by this blog.

Except I have been left slightly perturbed by today’s re-classification of The Squeezed Middle. I appears that under the new definition I might not be covered by the term – it now seems that The Squeezed Middle are those people who are having to struggle with inflation while their tight-fisted bosses refuse to hand over a pay rise.

Unfortunately for me and for this blog I was handed an increase just weeks after losing my job. The Job Seekers Allowance I am in receipt of was boosted by a couple of pounds in April. I now feel like a fraud.

However, having taken legal advice I am going to stick with this blog – whether anyone else does is a different matter. So until I am sued by Ed Miliband for flouting the terms and conditions of the Squeezed Middle I will continue to view myself as part of it. If nothing else, my decision to stick with the initial definition will teach Ed and his advisers an important lesson about clarity.

Nuts

Being in a consultation period was a pretty meaningless state for me to be in. My job was deleted in the re-org and my job description was clearly designed to be so specific to me that it would be impossible to move to another post – even if there were any available. This was, after all, a serious re-organisation designed to save hundreds of thousands of pounds (more on that later).

Now my job description and my job didn’t necessarily match up, but being new to the public sector I never realised how important this discrepancy could prove to be. So while I was never going to be able to save my job, it meant that I knew the outcome of the consultation period and could get on with planning for being part of the squeezed midddle.

It wasn’t that I was planning for an extended period of worklessness  unemployment. At the time I fully expected to waltz into a new and fulfilling career and be able to keep my dignity as I walked out shouting ‘nah, nah, nah, naaah, naaaaah.’

Despite my conviction that a new job was just round the corner there was nagging voice in my head that kept reminding me of some advice I had heard years ago.

It came from a fun-loving grasshopper who spent the bountiful summer enjoying himself. While others around him were busy making preparations for a harsh winter, Mr Grasshopper played with his fiddle and most definitely did not collect acorns to sustain him over the harsh British winter.

As this all happened some years ago the story has a happy ending. Despite failing to prepare (and therefore preparing to fail) Mr Grasshopper lived in a world where there was no need for a government sponsored Big Society. Instead, society looked after itself and even managed to care for those who had not made provision for times of hardship. (Check out the documentary here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAd0jOuQg8o)

I, however, do live in a world where we are increasingly expected to do the hard work of preparing for hard times on our own. Which is why I felt like I was in a slightly better position than some of my colleagues when the cuts were revealed.

Many were in a state limbo, but I knew I was a goner so was able to squirrel away some extra cash to help cover the mortgage in the unlikely event I wouldn’t get a job before the deadline rolled around.

It could be seen as an admission that, even back then I was preparing to fail (in my job hunt), but as I sit here playing with my fiddle I’m relieved that I have some funds to fall back on.