Class war: policy, not personal attacks

David Miliband heeds David Cameron's words and redefines Labour's class war strategy

Class, the elephant in the room for English society, seems sure to be a central dividing line in the upcoming election.

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, used his appearance on The Andrew Marr Show this morning to realign Labour's stance on class. Highlighting the "effective abolition" of inheritance tax proposed by the Tories, he said:

I don't care where Cameron went to school. I do care that he's bringing about the biggest redistribution of wealth to the wealthy in two generations.

This shift in emphasis from personal attack to policy is vital. The media outrage at Gordon Brown's "playing fields of Eton" gibe, and the oft-cited failure of the "toff" strategy in Crewe and Nantwich, demonstrate that this is a dangerous road to tread. David Cameron, in a BBC interview in December, branded the strategy "petty, spiteful and stupid".

Interestingly, Cameron continued:

My view is very simple . . . that what people are interested in is not where you come from but where you're going to, what you've got to offer, what you've got to offer the country.

Perhaps unwittingly, the Tory leader stumbled on some very good advice for Labour in this comment -- namely, that it is policies which entrench privilege or, as Miliband put it, "redistribute wealth to the wealthy", that will alienate the electorate. As Dominic Lawson points out, to most of society, personal attacks are meaningless, because the entire political class is elite.

Miliband came close to losing his cool when asked whether he knew about the failed plot to oust Gordon Brown. Steering the conversation back to questions of redistribution and fairness, he appeared to set the episode up as a rallying point for the beleaguered government:

We have one leader, we are one team, and we are absolutely unified.

A poll two weeks ago showed that 50 per cent of people thought that Cameron was on the side of the rich over ordinary people, with just 26 per cent saying the same of Brown. Yes, Cameron's personal approval ratings continue to sky-rocket over the Prime Minister's, but the poll proves that demonstrating unfairness in Tory policy, if employed effectively, could still be a useful strategy for Labour.


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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.