“Squeezed middle” vs “Squeezed middle class” (or how to make the middle- and working-classes one)

There is a difference you know between the “squeezed middle” and the “squeezed middle class”.  President Obama preferred sticking with the latter recently:

President Obama vowed on Monday to “reverse the overall erosion in middle class security” as he stepped up his efforts to reconnect with Americans suffering from a weak economy and high unemployment.

Compare that with this from Ed Miliband this morning:

My aim is to show that our party is on the side of the squeezed middle in our country and everyone who has worked hard and wants to get on. My aim is to return our party to power. This is a tough challenge. It is a long journey. But our party has made the first step in electing a leader from a new generation.

Yet reporting by the mainstream media has consistently chosen to use the extra word “class” in headlines – even where the word has not been reported in the main body of the articles themselves.  (Check out the web address to see how the articles were originally headlined, for that information often gives the game away.)

Here we have the Daily Mail from as long ago as August this year.  Whilst here we even have the Telegraph, publishers of this morning’s article from Miliband, also using the extension “squeezed middle class” instead of the more inclusive “squeezed middle”.  The BBC currently read the language more accurately, although Google’s search pages would indicate that journalistic shorthand and general conceptual carelessness did initially intervene just as much here as is clearly the case elsewhere.

As Paul quite rightly points out:

squeezed middle is not just middle class middle incomes in UK are £13k – £30k #lab10

Interestingly, and to be fair to Sky, they would appear – at least online – to be reporting Miliband to the letter.  Lord knows, they should do, mind: the message has been out there for four months at least.

And we pay journalists to get these things so inexactly inaccurate, do we?

So what conclusions can we draw from all this?  Well.  Firstly, as I said yesterday – don’t underestimate Ed Miliband.  He is hungry to right wrongs.  He is far cleverer than he would appear.  And he is aware of how to play the media game like perhaps no other leading Labourite.  I was proud to vote for Ed Balls because he took the fight to the enemy.  But in doing so, he painted himself into a number of corners of sorts because he was so upfront about his policy-making objectives.  Ed Miliband has made no such mistake.  He has been far more generalist.  If he’d been more specific, he might have won more handsomely – but then he would now have far less room for manoeuvre.

He is, in fact, a populist – and populists are unpredictable.  Populists are unknown quantities.  Populists can change the lie of the playing-field overnight.

What’s more, he’s a populist who believes in his own destiny.  Or, at least, he is beginning to believe.

Ed Miliband has also carefully identified a way of making the middle classes and the working-classes one.  His carefully wrought “squeezed middle” covers us all.  We all feel squeezed.  We all feel in the middle of the pincer grip the Coalition’s partners have set up for us.

That we can all identify with the “squeezed middle” is probably why some of the right-wing media are loosely interpreting it as the “squeezed middle class”.  They know there are votes to be eked out of those hills – and they know Ed Miliband knows how to do it.

“A future fair for all” was the Labour Party’s slogan at the last general election – and it was probably the very best bit of Labour’s campaign.

In the hands of Miliband, that idea and that message may very well come back to haunt the Coalition partners.

The “squeezed middle” has only just been identified.  Now it is our job to ensure everyone knows – we all know – how to belong.

Update to this post: via a tweet just now from Paul Evans, further background to the “squeezed middle” concept can be found here in an article by John Healey.  Whilst a much more comprehensive exploration of the idea from a number of political thinkers, including Healey, can be found in this useful .pdf file from the Open Left project at Demos.


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