On Reverence and Aspiration

27 05 2015

Aspiration: As an ex-scientist aspiration to me is drawing something, particularly bodily fluids, in or out using a sucking motion. I suspect that this isn’t the definition used by politicians.

Over the past several months politicians from all parties have spoken about the aspirations of hard-working people. The Labour Party collectively, and those individuals standing for election as leader, have put their catastrophic defeat at the general election down to their inability to appeal to the aspirational classes. What they mean by aspiration isn’t at all clear.

It seems to me that aspirational could simply refer to those folk who want to aquire more stuff; a bigger TV, the latest gadget, a flashier car. Aspiration as a synonym for covetous.

Or maybe by aspirational they mean ambitious; ambitious for a better job or a house in a trendier part of town perhaps. In this context it is even less clear why this type of aspiration is considered as universally a good thing. Blind ambition is not a thing to be encouraged, surely.

In most contexts, ambition is an entirely individual pursuit and speaks nothing of the need for a more inclusive society. In Scotland the SNP showed that it was possible to get elected by offering people the chance to vote for a better society. A society which puts all of us first and doesn’t focus on the ambition or covetousness of a few individuals.

And an aspirational class? We live in a country where the status of your parents, more than any other factor, dictates your own success or failure. Those born poor are overwhelmingly going to stay poor. Those born into privilege will prosper and pass on those advantages to their offspring. We live in a country where the gap between rich and poor is huge and growing. The Labour Party did not and will not promise to reverse the austerity measures introduced by the ConLib administration. A Labour government, had one been elected, would not have reversed any of George Osborne’s cuts to social security. It would have kept the cap on total household benefits, kept a limit on total welfare spend, introduced means testing for child benefit payments and retained the full raft of anti trade union laws.

In essence a labour government would have done little, token mansion tax aside, to improve the condition of those suffering on the poor side of the rich-poor divide. It would have done little to close the gap. So what is the point of aspiration in those circumstances?

Reverence: Another component of election rhetoric was the reverence shown toward small business owners. I saw this first hand as I chaired the hustings in my own constituency where the, ultimately successful, SNP candidate prefaced most responses with, “as a small business owner”. Why is owning a small business seen as an completely good thing? Owning, or better still running, a small business may give the speaker some authority when talking about small businesses but, having run several myself, it doesn’t give any clearer insights into broader, global, economic issues than, say, being a teacher or a labourer. And if that small business was a law firm or a massage therapist how can that automatically lead to a better understanding of our manufacturing base and industrial heartlands?

And small businesses are not all good. Some are, but if the owner of the garage that has failed to repair my vehicle, and charged a fortune in the process, ever stands for parliament I can assure you, small business owner or not, that his only grasp of economics is how to add zeros to an invoice. Anyway, I do not really want to be governed by folk who always put the interest of businesses first. The phrase “as a small business owner” is gaining as much currency as the equally noxious preface, “as a mother”, and both should be challenged whenever they are uttered.