From Tuesday’s Standard
While he was writing The French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1969, John Fowles came up with the line “the middle class is the only true revolutionary class in English history”.
For most of my life, it has been anything but. Petrified by Seventies’ union militancy, the middle class made a bargain. They did not mind the rich getting richer, as long as they and their children could make money too. The banking collapse has broken the deal. For the first time in a generation – perhaps for the first time since the post-war electorate decided to punish the “guilty men” who had brought mass unemployment and the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s – the middle class is directing its fury at the rich.
To pick a for instance at random, Sky called me in to talk about the astonishing failure of a Labour government to stick by its best traditions and regulate the bankers. I was fired up, but I was nowhere near as animated as the woman next to me in make-up. “Let them have it with both barrels,” she cried. What made me take notice was that the woman in question was Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris. She was so sick of hearing the wives of West London bankers boast about their new yacht/pool/moated castle that she sounded ready to direct the tumbrels to Notting Hill Gate and take-up knitting by the guillotine.
An Essex boy, who works in the telecoms business, tells me that his whole team are ready to leave because the management has sneakily cut their commissions on sales. A friend phones to say that she and her colleagues are ready to form lynching parties after hearing that managers had imposed a pay freeze on them then awarded themselves a bonus.
In general, anger is at its most intense among young workers, who have never known a recession, students who realise that they will leave university with nothing but debts to look forward to, and parents who know that Brown will raise their taxes to pay for this mess, refuse to institute thorough-going reform then leave them with shrivelled pensions.
Naturally, the over-rewarded managers and speculators of my acquaintance are more complacent. But the government ought to learn that they are the few not the many, and accept that Labour is making an election-losing mistake by putting itself on their side.
When the Met said yesterday that middle-class anger could erupt, I am sure ministers found the warning ridiculous. Eruptions? How un-English? They should heed Fowles’ warning and remember that there is no sight on earth as peculiarly terrifying as the English middle class at the end of its tether.