And then perhaps this misery of class-prejudice will fade away, and we of the sinking middle class – the private schoolmaster, the half-starved free-lance journalist, the colonel’s spinster daughter with £75 a year, the jobless Cambridge graduate, the ship’s officer without a ship, the clerks, the civil servants, the commercial travellers and the thrice-bankrupt drapers in the country towns – may sink without further struggles into the working class where we belong, and probably when we get there it will not be so dreadful as we feared, for, after all, we have nothing to lose but our aitches.
The Road to Wigan Pier
In 1937, Orwell’s basic premise was that society was divided into two parts: the few, who own and employ others, and the many who rent and are employed. It, therefore, seemed logical in a democracy where each man’s vote is of equal weight, that the political party offering most good for the majority of people would inevitably take power. Nevertheless, Socialism had failed to cut through. Orwell suggests an important reason was class prejudice. The bank clerk and the commercial traveller considered themselves a cut above the mill worker or road mender and to join together in a common cause would be to act below their carefully nurtured station.
The second World War brought about such a cause. Most people realised they had more in common than they thought and, much to the surprise of the ruling classes, the Labour Party swept into power. According to Orwell’s logic that should have meant a Socialist government running the country for the majority of the next eighty years. So what happened? Right wing politicians always agree on one thing. They do not feel that there is any principle that is worth dying for. The over-riding ambition is the capture and retention of power and the easiest way to do this is to park your tanks on the enemy’s lawn. The central tenet of Socialism was the redistribution of wealth, so the Tory party did, or appeared to do, just that. Initially, under the slogan of ‘You’ve never had it so good’, it encouraged the hire-purchase of luxury goods like washing machines and television, then eased banking regulations so people could get more easily into debt. Secondly, it trumpeted the idea of home ownership, culminating in the sale of council houses at knock down prices. Of course, in reality people didn’t own their property in the way the Duke of Westminster owned his, they merely rented it from the money lender over a considerable period of time. Eventually they might pay the debt off and, if they were lucky, be in a position to sell the house to cover the care home fees. To camouflage the scam, successive capitalist governments thought of ways to increase house prices way above inflation making the thoughtless believe they were making a profit and indulge in a further orgy of debt-ridden spending. To put matters into perspective, in the 1960s a house was valued at three times the average salary, today the same property costs eleven times the amount an average individual earns.
So that was it – loadsamoney for everyone. But in the end the capitalists bit off more than they could chew and constructed a housing market that like the child’s game of Jenga collapsed when the wrong brick was removed, Suddenly, for some, the dream turned sour as the bailiffs repossessed the tele and ‘owners’ discovered their house was worth less than the amount they owed. No one, it seemed, in this brave Never Never Land had bothered to mention the possibility of negative equity.