The Tories still have the best tunes

by Peter Watt

Back to school this week; families are struggling and life is hard. Kitting out one child is expensive, and we have more than one. Shoes £30 – £40, skirts £15 each and you need several, white shirts £6 each and at least two school sweat shirts at £15 per pop. Then there’s the PE kit. And pressure to buy a new school bag and pencil case. So not much change from £150 there then. More than one and the price goes up. And of course, all of this comes at the end of a long summer, with the inevitable costs of entertaining the kids with or without the cost of the annual holiday.

Over the last few years fuel price rises mean that it costs at least £70 per week to fill the car, parking charges have been raised and the gas and electric just keep going up. You try and cut down on usage, you get your cavity walls filled, your “units used” drops; but the bill still rises. Your weekly shop costs more and you seem to be getting less. Train and bus fares are higher this year as well and they’ll probably go up again next year. So there really is no slack in the budget to pay for the back to school purchases – credit card it is then. Assuming there’s still some credit left. And there’s a pretty good chance that over the next few weeks there will be a series of letters from the school asking for money for trips, photographs and commemorative school tea-towels.

What is worse, is that many are also worried about their job. So they are working longer hours in order to impress the boss just in case. And maybe there is a second job just to help make ends meet.  There’s not much, if anything, left at the end of the month. The TV is full of news of more economic woes to come. It just doesn’t seem fair.

But don’t worry. Those out of touch Tories are in for a deserved kicking. “We’re all in this together”. My arse. What do they know, those Bullingdon boys, wrapped up in their privilege and inherited wealth? Too right it’s not fair.

Well at least that is the fantasy world that many on the left still indulge in. It is, of course, a very dangerous fantasy.

People may think that it is unfair that bankers seem to “get away with it” but then they think the same thing about politicians. And they also think that neither bankers nor politicians live in the same world that they do. They think that journalists are dodgy and some police are bent. But they’ve kind of assumed that for years. But what really annoys them is that it is also the people on “welfare” that don’t seem to be affected by the tough times in the same way that they are. And far from being remote and other worldly they live in their street, go to their town centres and their pubs. They don’t work, but never seem to be short of a bob. Everything seems to be paid for. And if you want to see the latest phone just ask to see theirs. We’re not talking people who can’t work here, those with a disability or illness. We’re talking about those who can’t be bothered. It just doesn’t seem fair.

Labour might not like it, and of course the truth is more nuanced than that, but many people think that the welfare system became out of control on their watch. They think that, no, more importantly, they feel strongly that, the cards are stacked against people who work hard and play by the rules.  They feel that if you work hard life is harder than if you don’t. They feel that Labour stopped worrying about people like them, and instead just cared about people who didn’t work and didn’t pay their taxes. And worse, Labour borrowed and borrowed and borrowed so that we could pay other people not to work. Now they are having to pay more and more and more and get less and less and less in order to pay for it. It just doesn’t seem fair.

And over the coming weeks the parties will all be off to their conferences. The media will be full of sound bites and speech clips from Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. For most people of course the whole conference season will pass them by as an irrelevance. They’re just getting on with their lives. The extent to which they even notice will be determined by how successfully the sound bites and speech clips resonate.

There will be stories of splits and rows, as always, but what will we hear on balance? From Labour in Liverpool we will hear about the horrific impact of the Government’s cuts on communities across the country. Of cuts being made too quickly, the unfair attacks on Labour’s economic record and the risk of a double dip recession. You will hear about the out of touch Tories and hypocritical Liberal Democrats. Of course you will also rightly hear about the struggling squeezed middle by comparison to those rich Tories and bankers with their bonuses.

From Birmingham and Manchester you will hear lots of talk of the deficit being brought under control. Of ending spending more than we can afford, of making work pay and not rewarding idleness. You will hear about the welfare reform legislation and moves to curb Labour’s Whitehall excess after years of waste.

Labour’s problem is that the sound bites and clips from Birmingham and Manchester are likely to play better with hard working and struggling families than those coming from Liverpool. Labour might not like it, but then life’s not fair.

Peter Watt is a former general secretary of the Labour party.

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15 Responses to “The Tories still have the best tunes”

  1. swatantra says:

    Peter tells it as it is, which only an outsider looking in can.
    After working in the Party machine for most of his life, and dreaming up those very same soundbites and not living in the real world, the blinkers have fallen from his eyes and he sees it as it really is.
    The moral being: a spell in the wilderness, especially if it has been enforced, can be quite rewarding as it helps you reassess your values and priorities.
    Peter has described the outcomes of Conference so well that there is no point in my going.
    Only one thing: We mustn’t always assume that anyone sitting on a £1m has not worked hard for their money.

  2. Ben Cobley says:

    Uncomfortable truths.

  3. Nick says:

    You’ve forgotten the really big expense. Funding the state and all its debt.

    When 40-50-60% of your income goes to the state, is it any surprise you can’t afford new shoes?

  4. Nick says:

    As for cuts, the inconvient truth is that spending was up last year. There are no cuts in total spending, just increases.

    Hence the deficit is there.

    So that’s more debts, and the problem is bigger.

  5. aragon says:

    Yes, In some ways the recession has less impact on the poor, although price inflation in food etc affects them more.

    If it is always recession then little ever changes, no prospect of a job, you just have to continue to get by.

    Petrol/Train/Bus fares – Never go (travel) anywhere, no inflation here.
    Energy, if you already go cold, then even energy inflation has a reduced impact. 50% of the country are in energy poverty, and some people just don’t turn on the heating. Go hungry to feed the kids. Credit Card, you must me the door step lender with three figure interest rates, and eternal debt.

    Food this impacts people on benefits more than most, after all you have to eat (at least some of the time).

    Latest mobile phone, well the latest cheap deal from Tesco, a blackberry at £10 pcm, and only for the Youth, for whom like clothes it is a status symbol.

    Repeat Micheal Portillo experience of walking (sorry they don’t go anywhere) for a week on the in the shoes of the unemployed.

    It is a middle class myth about benefits, driven by a right wing press, and out outrageous exceptions, especially if you don’t have kid’s, as the state attempts to keep children above the poverty line.

    Struggling in a nice house (while been paid to borrow money, to buy an asset that is subject to huge inflation (in asset values)), car or two, child care, nice school for the kid’s, family holidays and activities for the kids, branded food etc.

    If you are feeling squeezed because you have, a nice life, so many liabilities, alternatively an existence not life, fewer liabilities, no travel or holidays, less impacted by some inflation, but devastated by food and fuel inflation and no prospect of change, even if the economy recovers.
    It’s enough to drive you to drink (only strong beer or cheap cider).

    Nuanced is not the word. Want to swap ?

    It is hard to get a cigarette paper between Labour and the Tories. And the Tories have the better stories, because the Tories write the stories. The Labour Party follow behind, with more insincerity.


    Peter just repeats the prejudice of the rich, and the Tory press.


    Uncomfortable Truths, no comforting myths.

    The undeserving Poor, and Middle Classes:
    The Middle classes, merit a better lifestyle, are more moral, more hard working and more hard done by. They work, Give to Charity, they are pillars of the community.

    They deserve better than the lazy, feckless poor, while ignoring how much more they have, and attributing to the poor far more than they have.

    The poor, we let them eat (sometimes) drink themselves in oblivion, and breed, what more do they want !

    John Cleese, and the two Ronnie’s on class: I look down on him, because …

    No wonder many people feel abandoned by the Labour Party (aka Tory Lite). They are completely detached from reality.

  6. Peter Watt says:

    aragon – you say ‘Peter repeats the prejudices of the rich and the Tory press’. No, I am repeating what people feel irrespective of their income bracket. When it comes to prejudice you may want to look in the mirror.

  7. aragon says:


    “I am repeating what people feel irrespective of their income bracket.”

    What people feel, or the metropolitan elite ? People who have been influenced by the repeated stories in the Tory press ?

    The poor have a different perspective, the rioters who do not vote, expressed their view forcefully.

    It’s not what the poor think, they know what the reality of the situation…

    We have the ridiculous spectacle of a senior politician (Sir Menzies Campbell) during the expenses scandal (on BBC Question Time) asking if we knew the price of food in London, this from someone putting food on the tax payers funded expense account while having a six figure equivalent income.

    Not to mention those MP’s and others who have gone to jail for fraud, or should have.

    I mean have you seen the price of hay, keeping a pony is becoming prohibitively expensive. The Gypsies don’t have a problem keeping Ponies, it must be the welfare state.

    I am just aware of how dysfunctional society is, especially when it only works for the Super Rich who are looting it.

    I have no problem in looking in the mirror, unfortunately I have no illusions either.

  8. Ben Cobley says:

    Aragon – don’t put words into people’s mouths or write letters on their behalf.

    To expand on my comment the best thing is to direct you towards the poor themselves. Those that work and do their best often feel an incredible resentment towards those that don’t and live nicely on state benefits. According to the surveys, Labour got more votes last time from ‘middle class’ than ‘working class’ voters.

    Since you were being presumptuous towards me I’ll do the same back towards you and your ilk, since my feeling is that many of the people who expound the sort of knee-jerk denial that you do have no idea what they are talking about because you do not get out on the streets and talk to people. Certainly, and it may not be the case with you, there is a strain of liberal-leftism that prefers to sit comfortably in the pub telling everyone what they should and shouldn’t say without actually confronting the reality.

    Just read Chris Mullin’s diaries for an example of a thoughtful lefty who is prepared to confront these truths and in, some cases, change his mind.

  9. donpaskini says:

    “I am repeating what people feel irrespective of their income bracket.”

    Just to get an idea here, how many “hard working and struggling families” have you spoken to in forming your conclusions that this is “what people feel irrespective of their income bracket”?

  10. aragon says:


    “and live nicely on state benefits”

    No one who has come in to contact with the benefits system could write that phrase.

    Blaming the poor a traditional Tory line of attack

    See: World In Action: 1984 with Micheal Portillo.

    “I had run out of funds before my week was up, and been left shivering in the dark without the 50p I needed to work the electricity meter. ”


    “I could show them that their argument — that life on the dole was well-nigh impossible — was wrong”

    Unemployment Benefit over 27 years; 1984: £26.80 2011: £60.50

    UK Inflation calculator:

    £26.80 in 1984 should be £64.00 in 2010 (Benefits have not kept pace with UK inflation).

  11. Matty says:

    Peter, have you ever claimed job seekers allowance and if so when? £65 a week is hardly living the life of Riley.

  12. Peter Watt says:

    Matty – I’m not saying it is the life of Riley. I am saying that some people feel that those on welfare have it easier than they do. Even if it’s not true it’s how they feel. And people don’t live off £65 pw alone. They get help with rent and council tax for instance. I would suspect that plenty of working people don’t have much more left after they’ve paid those.

  13. AmberStar says:

    The same people who are angry about folks on benefits, they are the people who get angry about the bankers’ huge salaries & bonuses; & they’re the same people who are angry about public sector workers with ‘non-jobs’; & about MP’s expenses; & about foreigners coming here; & about jobs being out-sourced & off-shored. They are angry people.

    But they aren’t attracted to the Tories, despite what Peter says. Out-sourcing & off-shoring & businesses preferring to hire European workers is as awkward for the Tories as benefit scroungers & bank bail-outs are for Labour.

  14. aragon says:

    I left out the best Michael Portillo quotes:

    “I had been genuinely knocked back on my heels by the bitterness and sense of persecution I encountered among families in Scotswood who were obviously doing their best”


    “I had learnt that the psychological and spiritual damage inflicted on chronically jobless communities was crueller and went deeper than I had realised”

    [20 years later – no change]

    “Some of my old friends — people I had met in Scotswood the first time round — depressed me, in a couple of cases almost unbearably. Drugs emerged as a major and unexpected theme — and no, I do not mean Ecstasy, cannabis, crack cocaine or heroin. ” [Valium (diazipam), Prozac and other prescription drugs.]

    And in work benefits – A subsidy to employers, and the housing benefit a subsidiary to landlords in a housing market with inflated rents and inflated house values, but interest rates are at an all time low, for the benefit of the Middle classes and the bankers.

    You can’t expect people with no income to pay taxes.

    People on benefits get to exist, they are warehoused by society. Unless you want them starving on the streets. Social unrest and crime would follow. Benefits are a small price to pay for the catastrophic failure of Government to manage society in the public interest.

    The growing social security bill, reflects the continuing and accelerating failure of Government.

    “Academics found that Labour’s working tax credit (WTC) and its projected Conservative replacement in the universal credit system are poorly understood and often psychologically hurtful to the people who receive them.”


    “”Our findings suggest that wage top-up schemes may not always be conducive to sustaining a morally meaningful work ethic among those workers who are systematically confined to the low-paid periphery of a polarised labour market,” Mr Dean said.”

    Yes the working poor have it tough too.

    Society is indeed sick, and the discharges flood down from the top to the bottom where it pools. And the poor drowned in it.

  15. aragon says:


    The Tories have the best tunes, because we only hear the tunes from the Conservative Party and the me too Labour Party with fake sympathy (we feel your pain, we care!) and the mini-me Liberals.

    You can only choose from the tunes you hear, some of us, know how to write our own tunes and have a different world view.

    People just don’t have the opportunity to listen.

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