[OPE-L] England's poor old middle classes

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Jun 25 2007 - 17:42:49 EDT

Never have the middle classes looked so rich on paper - house values topping a million - and felt so poor. As Lloyd Evans put it in a Spectator column last month after buying his first house: "In theory, we're halfway to being millionaires. Yet we don't have a car, we can barely afford a holiday, and when we go for a drink, we sit on the green outside the pub, quaffing Tesco 2.99 Frascati to save money." 

What's slowly dawning on middle England is that they've been duped: they were sold a line - a "fair deal for hard-working families"; meanwhile, another very different scenario was unfolding. Britain became the world's billionaire playground, attracting the super-rich with such a generous tax regime that in April the IMF went so far as to define the City of London as effectively a tax haven. The wealth of Britain's top 1,000 has quadrupled since 1997 and the rate of growth is now spiralling out of control - a massive 20% jump in the past year. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have happily presided over an unprecedented golden age of wealth accumulation in this country - on a par with the US in Gatsby's Roaring Twenties. 

Yet the protests have been oddly muted - until now. Except for complaints about soaring executive pay from dogged critics, there has been a peculiar tolerance of Britain's super-rich elite's mushrooming wealth. Why hasn't Brown had the roasting he deserves for being so pusillanimous about closing the tax loopholes that enable these billionaires to pay less tax than their cleaners? Why was it left to a fully paid-up member of the super-rich, Sir Ronald Cohen, to warn that the widening gulf of inequality could lead to riots in the streets? 

This bizarre tolerance is revealing: huge wealth is now regarded as a fabulous spectator sport and massively enviable. It is also, most importantly, regarded as legitimate - the global economy is akin to a vast lottery, some just get lucky. The "winner takes all" has become a respectable formula of economic life, not evidence of a systemic injustice. Any other view is dismissed, in that derogatory phrase, as the "politics of envy". Peter Mandelson summed it up in 1998 with a magnificent use of adjectives: "We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich." 

Complete story: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2110550,00.html

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