Alarm clock heroes to keep Britain ticking, eh Nick? It has had opprobium heaped upon it by lefties. The piece by the Deputy Prime Minister explaining it in the Sun has caused folk to guffaw or fulminate or both.
But I kind of think we are all missing the point. Because we weren’t supposed to like it. It’s not aimed at us, and our reaction backs that up. In fact, Nick’s team can be pretty pleased with themselves in having secured the very reaction they anticipated.
It’s an extremely crude piece of political messaging but it is designed to be. And we should not allow our inner prejudices to cloud us to its purpose.
For the whole gimmick does have a purpose: it is designed to speak to C2s in particular. The classic voting switchers, the skilled manual working class who once voted Thatcher, who have aspirations but also an authoritative streak. And the nasty undertone to the messaging – that the UK government’s cuts are designed to flush out the feckless and the lazy ie lone parents, disabled people, families with disabled children who refuse to get out of bed to go to work as you do – will appeal to them. Sadly.
These are the same people whose votes Labour once counted, nay weighed in elections. Especially in Scotland. But as their brief flirtation with the BNP in towns and cities like Oldham, Bury, Stoke and Dagenham shows, they have long felt abandoned by the left. You can see why the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are making a pitch for them in such crude terms.
The Labour party hierarchy has been eerily silent on it. Which means they are either ignoring it and hoping it goes away – bad move. Or concentrating on the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election – possible and entirely understandable. Or working out how to ambush it – I hope so. But they will have to come up with a clever alternative to do so and stop the Liberal Democrats – the Lib Dems for goodness sake! – from stealing a march on voting territory that they need to hold on to or in many constituencies, win back if they are to have a chance of regaining power.
Here in Scotland, we might see it as irrelevant but I don’t think so. I’ve met voters like these, countless times, who have agonised about the impact of immigration on their jobs, yet live in towns where not a single immigrant could be found. Who condemn the benefit cheats and junkies, blithely ignoring the fact that some of their family members would qualify for such an epithet.
But I’ve also met genuinely aspirational, hard working individuals upon whom so much of our daily life depends – absolutely alarm clock heroes – who get out of bed way before the rest of us to clean, to make, to serve, to open and close, to stack, to sweep, to empty, to care and to do it all for a pittance. They are as angry at the bankers as the rest of us. But they are also angry at the bloated public sector, at those who earn a comfortable living and have a decent pension to look forward to. Their anger has been stoked, wrongly and callously, against those that they see – erroneously – as having a feather bedded life at their expense. Newspapers like the Sun, and in Scotland, the Daily Record, have played their part.
Indeed, there are some in Scottish Labour who play to these galleries, acting tough on young people, lone parents, drug addicts and people on disability benefits, particularly when they were in power at Holyrood and Westminster. Let’s hope no one seizes on this initiative as something worth replicating for the forthcoming Scottish election campaign.
Nick Clegg’s attempt to tap into working class voters’ anger, and to get them on side in the months and years to come, might involve politics at its nastiest but don’t be surprised if it works. Which it will, unless the left gets its act together and offers a credible alternative.
And no, the irony of a wealthy, privately educated, upper class bloke who will enjoy a gold plated pension and whose whole career has been paid for by exactly these kind of voters is not lost on the burd. Let’s hope it’s not lost on some of our alarm clock heroes either.
(For a superlative piss-take on how ridiculous a proposition Alarm Clock Heroes is, visit the very excellent Chicken Yoghurt blog).