DCSIMG

Bill Jamieson: Fair to middling? Not on your life

Politicians should prepare for a furious backlash from those sick of being ignored and exploited

A WHOPPING rise in rail fares is just the latest hit that those who work, pay their tax and save for their pensions are being asked to take on the chin, without a word of complaint Picture:Phil Wilkinson

Something's going to give: not the feral inner city youth, the black dispossessed, the working class white neglected, or the kids who loot for kicks.

The angriest people in Britain today are not the rioters and looters. The dangerous sulphurous rage across this country - Scotland as much as the rest of the UK - is in its battered and cash-strapped middle, the passive-till-now milch cow for everything.

We've had giant electricity price rises, surging petrol prices, raging food price inflation and now well above inflation rail fare increases. How much more can we take before the bursting of a dam of rage?

It was the battered middle that had to fork out for the big increases in public spending before the balloon went up. Now we're having to pay - and how - for the debt and deficit reduction.

This is the group that has every reason to feel forgotten, overlooked, put-upon and taken-for-granted in Britain today. Conventional politics has abandoned them as one impost after another - from the crazy wedding cake of four tiers of government to the farcical economics of wind farms driving up our energy bills - is heaped upon it. All this in the blind expectation of an inexhaustible ability to pay up while our incomes shrink.

Something's got to give because our ability to keep paying more has run out. Listening to Rail Minister Theresa Villiers telling us how "difficult" a decision it was to allow annual rail fares to rise by RPI plus 3 per cent was an insult of explanation. It only adds to a growing pyre of last straws.

And this on the day when NPower became the latest of the "Big Six" to announce eye-watering increases in household energy bills of 15.7 per cent for gas and 7.2 per cent for electricity. How can we be expected to keep paying? We can't.

The central bank governor tells us of five years of austerity and low growth ahead. What he said was a forecast for an economy in distress. What we heard was a prison sentence.

The battered middle - those who do not qualify for government welfare support and who are not in the top 50 per cent of "high earners" - are having their living standards stripped to the core.

And it is the vanguard of this group - those aged 50 plus trying to save for retirement or already in it - voluntarily or otherwise - who are suffering the most.

Over the past few weeks their pension savings have been savaged by huge stock market falls, ranging up to 4 per cent a day. This volatility has become the playground of High Frequency Traders who make their money in milliseconds and to Hell with others left with the wreckage. Even for those scared out of their wits and who limp out of this financial madhouse, there is no comfort. A bank deposit account will fail to protect your life savings from the ravages of inflation. "Bank with us. We'll lose your money slower than the other lot" is the best that the banking barons can offer.

Yet it is the older generation - those aged between 65 and 74 - who are being hardest hit with an inflation rate of 5.1 per cent as proportionately more of their incomes are accounted for by petrol, electricity and food prices.

Who speaks up for their needs as areas hit by rioting make their pitch for yet more public funds?

This battered middle - reckoned on some estimates at 11 million - seems to have fallen off the political radar. No group of hand-wringing social workers speaks for them, or earnest policy analysts while they urge yet more resources for a system that bred the looters and schooled them in their violent, "grab-what-you-can" ways.

Little wonder the battered middle is angry. It has lost faith with a generation of politicians whose solutions are either smooth PR soundbite (Cameron), repetitious and clichd (Miliband), hopelessly glib (Clegg) or pure buffoon (Boris). And who are they, really, these so-called leaders? They have neither had experience in the school of real life nor felt the hard smack of adversity. They have neither the age nor experience to connect to the massive problems we face. In leadership terms they are pygmies. And we've heard their "solutions" before. Few of them ever survive into action - and when they do they don't work.

This growing rage is as keenly felt on the Left as it is on the Right. The Left rages - with good cause - against an austerity in which high-flying bankers, bailed out by taxpayers, continue to enjoy massive salaries. And the pay and perks of FTSE100 chiefs simply defy gravity. The gap between the top pay in these companies and the median has never been greater.

Add to this the 120,000 "non-dom" tax avoiders who are, by the frenzied stamps on their passports, definitely not "all in this together" and you have an elite of mega-rich with no appreciation whatever of the condition in which the mass of people live. Still less has it shown any concern to halt the accelerating drain of trust in the private enterprise system. For the Right, the slow motion decline of this country, evident for decades, is now turning into a rout.

It looks back in anger - and forward with rage. It despairs as yet more taxpayer money is shovelled into the areas wrecked by rioters, into a welfare system that breeds dependence and into schools nurturing an under-class of petty criminals and no-hopers. The collapse of basic literacy and numeracy is the truth that skulks behind exam grade inflation and the designer dazzle of spanking new schools. The ones with the top marks are the PFI builders - guffawing all the way to the bank. We are urged to put our faith in renewable energy. But its cost is pushing millions into fuel poverty. Indeed, there is no more pernicious transfer of wealth in Britain today from the poor to the rich than the vast subsidies paid to landowners for a deeply flawed wind energy system.

Chief cheerleader in this is an energy minister who not long ago wanted to bundle us into the euro. And have we had one word of retraction or apology for that advice to commit national suicide? Not a peep.

I do not know which way this anger will go, or who can harness this cross-party rage. The battered middle is not the type to take it out in street riots or a Help Yourself Day at PC World. But "Can't Pay, Won't Pay" is a slogan that may come to have a broad appeal. And it could come to have a profound influence on politics in the period ahead.

The battered middle is going to look for protection that is not on offer from the current lot. A voice to this anger cannot come too soon. Because when pressure builds like this, I do warn - something's got to give.

 
 
 

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