"It's not," said Colin, the pest control man on Wednesday, "hard-working people like you who are the problem." True, the sitting room looked like a paper recycling plant, dotted with drying knickers.
True, the hallway looked like the cosy burrow of a tramp. And true, the kitchen, with its scrambled-egg-encrusted pans and baking trays blackened with carbonised veg, provoked a sorrowful sigh. But Colin, in spite of all the empirical evidence about my housewifely skills, was trying to be nice.
As it happens, my "hard work" over the past few months has largely consisted of getting myself up, dressed, fed and to the doctor's. And it was quite hard, actually, Colin, but let me tell you this. When I work, when I don't work, when I work hard, when I don't work hard, when I clean the kitchen, and when I don't clean the kitchen, it makes no difference. Mice don't give a monkey's whether you work. But then mice don't watch election broadcasts.
For the past four weeks, we've undergone the gripping, and sometimes excruciating, spectacle of politicians trying to ingratiate themselves with the electorate. References to TV shows are tossed out, as if our leaders, too, spend four and a half hours every night watching TV talent shows, instead of preparing for them with special advisers. (Four and a half hours! No wonder we lost interest in the Big Society, when we discovered it wasn't the follow-up to Big Brother.) In the absence of any conspicuous talents of their own, the populace have been congratulated on their existence, their presence, their reproductive faculties -- and their jobs. If you're employed, then, like the clients of the sub-prime mortgage brokers, it's a case of no questions asked. Do you sit around all day chatting about EastEnders? Who gives a flying Farage? We're not debating your Stakhanovite credentials. If you've got a job, you're "hard-working."
David Cameron even spent a knackering night deferring to the proletariat, telling workers at Morrisons that they worked all night so he thought he should too (yes, Dave, but they don't work in the day as well) and handling halibut at Grimsby fish market, which had the unfortunate effect of highlighting the resemblance between the fish's thin lips, and cold, dead eyes, and his own. Throughout, he spoke to people as if their polite responses to his questions were insights of startling political acuity, as if, but for a quirk of fate, they too might be well on their way to show-downs with Angela Merkel. He even managed, in response to a question about inheritance tax during the second leaders' debate, to imply that if you work, you'll end up with a £2m mansion. Slumdog Millionaire for the British working classes.
(The truth, of course, is that you won't. The average wage in the UK is about £21,000. In the last quarter of last year, the average home cost about £220,000. Unless numerous adults decide to squash in together, as recommended by ballot papers in Tower Hamlets, you can probably kiss goodbye to the dream of owning your home.)
When Duffy the Vampire Slayer (as the right-wing press almost dubbed her, so vicious was their delight in the public crucifixion of poor, pale, haunted Brown) was beatified by the nation, it was partly for her incisive geographical probing, but partly because she had worked with "the handicapped," Most of "the handicapped," of course, don't have jobs. Neither do most people with a serious mental illness. Instead, as Mrs Duffy might say, they scrounge off the state. And there isn't even anywhere for them to "flock" back to.
You wouldn't know it from the current political rhetoric, but most people, given the choice between living on 65 quid a week (or 90 for a disability) with no status or self-respect, and a job, with both, would choose the job. But it's difficult and expensive to get people who are not used to working into work. It's difficult and expensive at the best of times, and these, clearly, are not the best of times. Cutting benefits doesn't cut it. Nor, I'm afraid, does the Tory promise of help from "private providers." One of these, quoted in the Tory manifesto, claims to offer "flexibility" and "innovation." I'm not sure that you can ever trust anyone who uses the word "innovation."
Being unemployed, as many ex-MPs are now discovering, is hard. Many public sector workers, who might not have realised that "efficiency savings" was a synonym for "job cuts," will soon discover it, too. They might be higher up the job queue than the long-term unemployed, the disabled, or the mentally ill, or they might not. But if you haven't got a job in this country, you'd better get one thing straight. You're scum. Even my pest controller thinks you're vermin.
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