John Denham backs TUC view of Middle Britain

Communities Secretary John Denham isn’t associated with the left wing of the Labour Party. But speaking at the Fabian Society’s new year conference today, Denham armed himself with a rhetorical weapon used by the unions: namely, that Middle Britain, those aspirational voters Margaret Thatcher won over in 1979, isn’t what you think it is.
“We are not in the middle of middle incomes,” the £140,000-a-year Secretary of State said. Middle income earners earned much less than him and his like, he explained. He’s right you know. Denham’s constituency home in Southampton is in a conservation area in the distinctly upper-middle class leafy district of Highfield, where he is a member of the residents’ association. A private residents’ garden with adjoining tennis courts completes the scene of domestic bliss. My parents moved there after eleven years in a middle-middle suburban street, patiently saving up. It’s a nice place to live if you can get it.
Anyway. The argument – which the TUC made out in a report last year – goes something like this. The median wage – the wage the person in the middle would earn if you lined up all the wage earners in the country in single file – is a little over £20,000. People who earn significantly more than this – £45,000 for example – are not the bulk of the population, they’re in a distinct minority. Earners over £50,000 make up less than 10 per cent of the population; earners over £118,000 a mere 1 per cent. Yet people in both income groups, when polled, often say they think they are in the middle income bracket, presumably because they see themselves as middle class.
So if Denham was setting himself against this view when he said “What we have to do is win the votes of people in the middle [income sector]… social class and being in the middle aren’t necessarily the same thing”, he was associating himself with a social democratic, redistributive strand of thinking in the Labour Party (and the union movement). Is there an opportunity for Labour to capitalise on this in the election campaign? The Fabians seem to think so.
More about Denham and his views on Lord Mandelson as a great leveller from Fabian boss Sunder Katwala here.


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