I suppose I am one of those many millions of people who might get lumped in with Ed Miliband's 'Squeezed Middle'. I've got a slightly below average income, I have a mortgage, I pay my taxes - whether I'm the 'hardworking taxpayer' or not isn't really my call to make, but I go to work every day - I stick diesel into my car once a week, and I buy stuff. I am one of The Squeezed Middle. The hardworking taxpayer. You know, a moron.
As I said the other day when discussing Howard Flight's depressingly nasty swipe at the poor, there's something artificial about the whole 'class war' business, regardless of who's doing the fighting. It suits our leaders to blame the poor for the fact that the middle classes and the rich have to pay taxes, but it's not quite the whole picture. If only these lazy so-and-sos got off their poor working-class arses and contributed their taxes, then we wouldn't have to spend so much out of our wage packets... if only so many horrible Europeans didn't come over here and steal jobs from Brits who could do them, then more people could work, and we wouldn't be paying so much... but it's a great deal more complicated than that. However, it suits a government of whatever colour to point the finger at those on benefits, and immigrants, and walk off whistling. While we're doing all the fighting, they're counting the spoils.
But here I am, one of the 'Squeezed Middle' (tm), having to see a large lump of money deducted from my wages before I even see it, and there it goes, to pay for hospitals, and schools, and roads, and poor people... I must be livid, mustn't I? Except... well, no. It would be wrong, of course, to say I've never had it so good; the threat of redundancy looms in my profession, as in many others, though I'm certainly not in as much peril as a lot of public sector workers. And yes, in my particular case, three years of not having a pay rise isn't spectacularly fun, when inflation has been there, doing its worst. Sure, the mortgage has come down a bit, but not an enormous amount.
But... things are not terrible. I have a job. I have a job, and I am very grateful for that. I might not have a wonderful job, and I may not find it the most fulfilling thing in the world, but so what? It's a job. I get to pay for things. I get to go on holidays, and go out every now and then. Having been unemployed in the past - though not for a long time - I remember the feeling of awfulness it brings, the feeling of pain. Call me a bleeding-heart left-liberal bastard if you like - I see it as a badge of honour - but I don't think most people who are without a job are jollying it up and having a whale of a time in a world of daytime telly and Tesco Value. Things might be a bit tougher for me than they were two or three years ago, but it could be a lot worse.
Tell you what I don't do though. I don't ring up radio phone-ins going "Cor, these bladdy public sector workers don't bladdy know they're born, they should all be sacked, I've not had a bleedin pay rise for three bleedin years!" because that would make me (a) the kind of tosser who phones up FiveLive or TalkSport in the first place, and (b) the kind of malicious toerag who wishes harm upon all others just because I've been having a bit of a rough trot. Sure, things might have not been spectacular for my personal circumstances recently, but I don't want everyone else to have it the same, or worse. If other people have better pay and conditions, good for them; that's what everyone should have. I don't want the public sector dragged down to the level of the worst private sector companies, just because that'll show them; that kind of attitude is deeply unpleasant, and makes it worse for everyone.
The Squeezed Middle? Spare me. Things are certainly a bit tougher for a lot of us, but I'd still rather be here, in a job and paying tax, than being out of work. Because that is where the struggle really is; that is where the pain is really being felt. We might feel we have it bad, having to cut back on this, that or the other, but I'd rather not swap with someone on Jobseekers. That's how good it is to have a job - no matter how much it gets irritating, annoying or upsetting to have one, it's still a hundred times better than not having one. The Squeezed Middle is still a much, much better place to be than the bottom. Trouble is, the Squeezed Middle is going to get smaller, and those even worse off than that are going to grow in number. That's where the real problems are coming.