At a time when the coalition’s cuts are already beginning to bite, it’s hard to overstate how foolish Lord Young’s claim that the majority of Britons have “never had it so good” is. It’s true that many of those who have stayed in work and who have tracker rate mortgages have not suffered as much as in previous recessions. But with the coalition still planning to raise VAT to 20 per cent, cut 500,000 public sector jobs, slash benefits by £18bn, triple tuition fees and freeze public sector pay, Young’s remarks suggest he inhabits a different planet to the rest of us. When he casually describes the loss of 100,000 public sector jobs a year as being within “the margin of error”, he shows no awareness that he is talking about people’s lives, not numbers on a spreadsheet.
Young’s comments are an example of what the novelist Joyce Carey once described as a “tumbril remark” — the sort of thing French aristocrats used to say on their way to Robespierre’s guillotine. Conservative MP Anthony Steen’s claim, at the height of the expenses scandal, that voters were “jealous” because of his “very, very large house” is the best recent example. While Marie Antoinette’s infamous (and likely apocryphal) riposte to the news that the poor were suffering due to bread shortages (“let them eat cake”) is the most celebrated historical example.
Recall too, Barbara Bush’s claim that the Hurricane Katrina survivors being housed in the Houston Astrodome were “underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” My personal favourite is Lady Diana Cooper’s response to a ragged man who approached her outside the Dorchester hotel and announced that he had not eaten anything for three days. The outraged Lady Diana indignantly replied: “Foolish man that you are, you must try. If need be, you must force yourself.” Lord Young is the latest addition to this rogues’ gallery.