Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

It's a little bit rich of Dave to say he understands how the rest of us live

Has there been a more badly conceived, ill-fated mantra in modern British politics than 'We're all in this together?' The phrase - unveiled at a black tie ceremony in 2010 to a round of applause, a clink of champagne glasses and a parade of dancing thoroughbreds - will surely haunt David Cameron with more ferocity than Oscar Wilde's famously persistent Canterville Ghost.

I'm not just referring to Rebekah Brooks' crass appropriation of the line which was supposed to herald a new dawn of compassion and support between the classes to emphasise her country supper clique friendship with the Prime Minister. But as the dust settles on the media glee which greeted the publishing of her exuberant text, the significance of its cosy language has become apparent.

The Leveson Inquiry will never find a smoking gun revealing overt or covert deals between the then chief exec of News International and her rosy-cheeked chum. There was clearly no need for one. There was something much stronger in place; a deep, unspoken understanding that 'people like us' believe in the same things and expect one another to do what we can to ensure our shared values prevail.

When people tell me it doesn't matter that the vast majority of the Tory cabinet are millionaires who went to public school, that it's inverse snobbery to suggest such details imply they won't act in the best interests of the many, I know they're idiots. (I prefer to make my kneejerk assumptions on the basis of logic and intelligence, rather than class.)

The problem isn't that David Cameron and co hate poorer or less privileged people, it's that the closest they've come to them is in a Charles Dickens novel (and even the message of those seem to have been water off a duck's back.)

It's tough but necessary, they bravely tell themselves when they slash family tax credits for working people just about managing to feed their families.

And take away the right to claim disability allowance from thousands of honest, entitled sufferers. And end funding for services making life tolerable for children with learning disabilities.

And announce an intention (as Iain Duncan Smith did this week) to cut the meagre benefits nurses and cleaners can claim if they protest against being treated like expendable minions through industrial action.

The death of hope is a sorrowful and frightening thing, not just for the victim but for everyone whose life rubs along beside theirs.

But failing to scrape by is not a situation Dave or George, or the top company bosses whose pay packages went up by an average 12% last year, will ever encounter, so they'll never understand it.

Most worrying of all is the creeping return of cultural ruthlessness and the two-tier attitudes which characterised Thatcherism in the 1980s, as those who are keeping their heads nicely above water begin to lose patience with the losers who look like they're drowning.

Just this week we've discovered that hate crimes against disabled people have risen to record levels, and that nearly half of school pupils have been bullied for not matching up to perceived notions of cool and attractive.

The more desperate and weak those struggling at the bottom appear to those sailing across the top - and nothing weakens a 24/7 carer like killing off her respite lifeline - the more despised they become.

It's dog eat dog, the winners tell each other, and we're the pure breeds.

As they sing at the Bullingdon Club, baby we were born this way.