Of all of this era’s grim political soundbites, is the worst “the squeezed middle”? This Miliband coinage takes a real problem (yes, middle-class incomes are rising less quickly than costs, privatised utilities are gouging their customers etc) and applies a subtle and divisive dogwhistle to it.
The problem isn’t just that the bottom, the poorest, get neglected every time the focus is on the “squeezed middle”, although that is true. A living wage is a great policy, for example, but it does nothing for you if you don’t get a wage. Similarly, the Lib Dems redistributed upwards with their increase in personal allowances, all the while waving the policy in the air as a supposedly progressive figleaf over the ugly assaults on the poor they have perpetrated with the Tories. A higher personal allowance would be a fine thing, as would a restoration of the 10p tax rate.. if there was any effort to make the poorest, those out of work, significantly better off (which doesn’t mean threatening to take their benefits away unless they find non-existent suitable work), and also to tax the rich a bit more.
No, the worse problem is hidden in the physics. If the middle is being squeezed, logically it’s being squeezed between what’s below it as well as what’s above. This metaphor implies that the poorest are part of the problem, part of the squeeze put on the middle. Presumably this is meant to provide a deniable echo for Labour’s long-standing distaste for those right at the bottom of society, the “scroungers” and the like.
The reality is that every time benefits are cut or things like the bedroom tax imposed, that’s a squeeze on the bottom, and it’s accompanied by bungs for the better-off: cheap housing to restart the bubble, boosts to personal allowances, and on top of it all, fiddles like non-dom status for the top. The middle may be under pressure, but it’s all from the top. And the bottom bears the weight of both.