Our newspapers aren't there to tell us what is happening. They're there to repeat a set of familiar stories to spark outrage, fear and anger.
Every Labour budget comes with the same narratives from certain quarters. It is, inevitably, a 'war on the middle classes' or a 'tax raid on the middle classes'. It doesn't matter if it is or not. That's what it becomes because that is the tramline the story is set to run along.
So today we have
A 'tax raid on the middle class' in the Telegraph, and
a 'stealth tax raid on the middle-classes' in the Mail.
Great minds, and all that. I'll leave it to others who are brighter than me to go through the details. Perhaps it is a tax raid on the middle class(es) this time. I don't rule that out. But all I will say is that it's the very familiarity of the story that makes me a bit suspicious. Let me give you some examples.
March 2008: 'WAR ON THE MIDDLE CLASS' said the Mail. What was the evidence?
Gordon Brown was facing a twin backlash last night over Budget plans to raises taxes on alcohol and motoring which are clearly aimed at the middle classes.
Because only the middle classes drink or drive. Obviously! You thought everyone did. But no.
March 2008: The Telegraph worries about 'a clampdown on middle class motorists' using figures from the Taxpayers Alliance. Apparently a Saab is a 'run of the mill car' for which families are being 'clobbered'.
June 2008: The Telegraph frets about how the 'middle class' are suffering most. How did they define 'middle class'? Well, they worried about the £20,000 school fees. As I'm sure we all are. It's about how you define middle class, I suppose. If you mean 'all top rate tax payers' then fine. But I don't see it that way.
January 2009: The Mail says 'Harriet Harperson' (sic) is declaring 'WAR ON THE MIDDLE CLASSES' by offering incentives to teachers to stay at less well performing schools. Incentives for teachers? WAR!
And so on, and so on. They drag up CLASS WAR every now and then - keeps it fresh, doesn't it? You never know which you'll get: will it be LABOUR'S CLASS WAR or LABOUR WAR ON MIDDLE CLASSES, or the 2010 vintage, TAX RAID ON MIDDLE CLASSES? I did see our old friend CLASS WAR as the main headline on the Mail website yesterday, so they'll keep juggling them around I guess.
Is it true? It might be. Depends on who you think these war-ravaged middle classes are. People who drive Saabs and pay £20,000-a-year school fees, who have £1million homes? Maybe I wouldn't quite say that's the entirety of the middle class, but there you are. What do I know? I'll give them this though: they're remarkably resilient, these poor folk, despite constantly being raided for taxes and having war declared on them; they just keep going. How do they do it?
PS I couldn't go without letting you have a laugh at the Express. In many ways I see my job here as facilitating people's laughing and pointing at the Express. So here you are:
They want to tax your car? Jesus. Imagine that! What will they call such a nasty tax? I imagine it'll be called something like 'vehicle excise duty' or something like that, and we'll all have to pay it. Yeah, it'll be really nasty. Luckily we don't pay that at the moment, though. Good of David Cameron to warn us.
Anyway, if Labour is taking 'revenge on Britain's hard workers' then I guess Express workers have nothing to fear, having already run the 'NOW A TAX ON HARD WORK!" rubbish back in 2008 for that Budget and simply having done the same story again. Ah well, plus ca change, as they say. They write the same stuff; I write the same stuff attacking it. My only comfort is not having to worry about the £20k-a-year school fees that middle class people do...