Anger in Acacia Avenue

Is an English Tea Party on the way to exploit middle-class discontent?

Gavin Kelly's cover story in this week's New Statesman on the intensifying squeeze on the living standards of ordinary working Britons has been attracting attention across the Atlantic, where the discontent of the "middle class" (in the American sense) has been politically salient for some time, in the form of the Tea Party and other emanations of inchoate suburban rage.

Reporting from London for the New York Times, Alan Cowell introduces American readers to the discourse of the "squeezed middle", which ought to sound rather familiar to them. He observes that Ed Miliband borrowed the phrase from Bill Clinton in order to "denote what was once called the lower middle class – which feels singularly threatened by the coalition's contentious plans to reduce Britain's crippling deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts". And he cites Kelly's claim, in the NS, that the "typical working household is now poorer in real terms than it was a year ago. Millions of families are living through a prolonged, personal recession."

Cowell wonders where middle-class anger will go and quotes the prognosis of the former Daily Telegraph editor Max Hastings:

The rich have always been with us. But for decades, the rest of society saw its own circumstances improving in step. That is no longer so. The Tea Party has not yet crossed the Atlantic, but suburban anger in Britain is real enough.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.