We will remember yesterday for some time to come. We constantly hear ministers banging on about all being in it together, about this country or that being in an even more parlous state than us. And of course we know that there is no ‘us’, ours has become a deeply divided society, split into segments by enormous differences in wealth – or lack of it -and by race. Yesterday we suddenly experienced a total ‘usness’. It appeared at Lords.
The scenes at the home of cricket were almost unique. I say almost, having in mind similar scenes some years ago at Old Trafford when the last day of a Test match against the Aussies drew a similar response. At Lords the authorities for once deserve a pat on the back for setting low prices (plus free entry for kids), and opening those hallowed gates to all prepared to turn up. In the event 25,227 did, some queuing through the night.
There were no elitist corporate groups, no mob of obscene singers, no activities other than watching an enthralling day’s play. Here was living proof of two things. Those who say that Test cricket is dying are totally wrong, those who say that ‘ordinary’ folk have fallen out of love with the great game even more so. The packed house represented a total cross-section of society and, although loyalties were divided (but despite that everyone wanted to see Tendulkar), it responded to all that happened as one. Just for a day the old days in which sport brought together people from all walks of life and race returned. And by way of a bonus England performed magnificently. At the end the crowd as one saluted both teams.
Sadly it was a mere oasis in a desert of division which grows by the day. Today we learn that the Osborne plan for growth isn’t working, today we hear more exhortations to pull in our belts. Benchmark GDP statistics which compare us with other economies say nothing useful about ‘us’ because ‘we’ are not all in this together. In fact some are swelling like pumpkins, others shrivel, especially the ever growing number of young unemployed. Last week’s 2010 ONS figures show that the City paid £14 billion in bonuses. Bob Diamond of Barclays received £6.5 million, Stuart Gulliver of HSBC took £9 million. In fact, wherever you look, the richest became even richer last year.
A well timed report from the Resolution Foundation yesterday laid bare the raw figures. Of every £100 rise in national income since 1977, the half of the population on average or below average income received just £12. For much of the past 30 years the bottom half did see their income rise slightly, so they didn’t notice they were falling badly behind the rest. Now the cuts are leading to near-crisis financial conditions for many families, and the signs are that the now apparent inequality is creating a politically unsustainable situation. Our social elastic is heading for breaking point.
More and more ‘ordinary’ people are becoming aware of the huge differences in reward, in fact many are already in punishment mode. Jonathan Portes, head of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has underlined where we are; “The top 1% has taken a hugely disproportionate share of growth while the middle and below have stagnated or fallen”.
Osborne’s purloining of “We’re all in this together”seems to recognise the political embarrassment of a future where half the population falls further behind while the top tenth vanishes into a realm unrecognisable to the 90% of basic-rate taxpayers. Yet he simply doesn’t seem to grasp where he is leading us. In fact he is now talking of the abolition of the 50% tax rate, only paid by the already very rich.
If he makes that move at a time when food, gas, electricity and petrol prices are rising, pay frozen, cuts in benefits, high inflation, he may well find that for the first time in decades half of the population will cry enough is enough. At the very least that one act will make people more aware than they have ever been of the fact that ‘us’ has become ‘them and us’. And even in a pragmatic society like ours it may prove the final straw. Ever the opportunist, Ed Milband is talking of the ‘squeezed middle’. He is right although why he fails to mention those at the bottom is hard to fathom.
To an extent we have always been a divided society but it is only now, as the cuts begin to bite hard, that people bother about it. Lying awake worrying about mortgages, jobs , bills greater than income and a sharp fall in living standards whilst knowing that the rich are getting richer by the day does funny things to people!
But it was good to recapture the feeling of oneness, if only for a day!
TODAY’S SPECIAL QUIZ ON THE SUBJECT OF FESTIVALS; 1. What type of festival has become associated with Reading? 2. In which country is an Eisteddfod celebrated? 3. What is the season leading up to Christmas known as? 4. Which Scottish city hosts what is claimed to be the world’s largest arts festival? 5. Yom Kippur is the Day of what? 6. Which Hall is the centre for the BBC Proms? 7. Which religion celebrates the festival of Passover? 8. Since the 1940s, Cannes has hosted what type of Festival? 9. The Buddhist festival of Parinirvana is also kmown as which Day? 10. The celebrated Spalding Flower Festival takes place in which county?