What about me! — David Cameron’s ‘Great Ignored’

Tory leader David Cameron says he’s "fighting this election for the great ignored":

Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight. They start our businesses, operate our factories, teach our children, clean our streets, grow our food, keep us safe. They work hard, pay their taxes, obey the law.

They’re good, decent people – they’re the people of Britain and they just want a reason to believe that anything is still possible in Britain.

With this catch-all description, commentators are wondering whether there’s anyone in Britain who isn’t part of "the great ignored". But look more closely and the rhetorical move makes more sense.

If the great ignored are those who "work hard, pay their taxes, obey the law" then the great un-ignored must be those who don’t work, who don’t pay taxes and who don’t obey the law. Without making it explicit, Cameron is tapping into voters’ anger about welfare recipients and those who aren’t taking responsibility for themselves and their families. Somewhere out there are people who sponge off others, refuse to take responsibility for their children, and who engage in antisocial behaviour. And the government is letting them get away with it.

In an interview for Sky News, Cameron spelled it out more clearly. He said that people who did the right thing were being punished and those who did the wrong thing were being rewarded:

I think there is a real problem with responsibility in this country. If you do the right thing, if you work hard, if you obey the law, if you try to do the right thing by your family, all too often you are punished for being responsible and we reward people who do all the irresponsible things. And that does need to change. And I think the ignored feel ignored and actually wants a government that stands up for them.

This is a populist appeal to social justice. While social justice is often defined in terms of equality of income or a distribution of resources according to need, it can also be understood as rewarding people according to what they contribute to the community.

At Beyond Intractability, Michelle Maiese writes: "When people have a sense that they are at an unfair disadvantage relative to others, or that they have not received their fair share, they may wish to challenge the system that has given rise to this state of affairs." And that’s just what the Cameron campaign is hoping for.

Bill Clinton made the same appeal in 1992 when he declared that he was "fighting for the forgotten middle class."

With the US in recession, Clinton claimed that the American ideal had been shattered: "The ideal that if you work hard and play by the rules you’ll be rewarded, you’ll do a little better next year than you did last year, your kids will do better than you. But that idea has been devastated for millions of Americans. "

Tony Blair liked the line so much that he adopted it as his own. He campaigned for "middle-income Britain" and promised to reward those "who work hard and do well". His successor, Gordon Brown also promised "to reach out to all those who work hard and play by the rules".

Some commentators like Hopi Sen hear echoes of Richard Nixon’s 1969 ‘silent majority’ speech. Nixon wanted to draw attention to the majority of voters who were not against the war in Vietnam. According to William Safire, the phrase ‘silent majority‘ was Nixon’s own invention.

Earlier, in 1968, Nixon spoke about a ‘silent center’ and a ‘new majority’ :

The silent center, the millions of people in the middle spectrum who do not demonstrate, who do not picket or protest loudly… We must remember that all the center is not silent, and all who are silent are not center. But a great many quiet Americans have become committed to social problems that preserve personal freedom (audio).

Political Analysts Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg continued the theme with their book The Real Majority. They argued that, unlike the activists attracting attention in the media, most voters were "un-young, un-poor, un-black, un-college and un-political." The typical voter, they said, is "the forty-seven-year-old wife of a machinist living in suburban Dayton, Ohio."

This typical voter worried about problems like crime, declining standards in education and welfare dependency. According to Wattenberg, there is a near consensus among voters that these problems are important. There is also a widespread belief that they are caused by bad government policy.

Reading between the lines, the culprits are likely to be young, poor, black, college educated and political. In other words, a dangerous alliance of an over-educated and politically engaged elite and an underclass of young, poor and un-white people.

In his later work Wattenberg blamed "liberal special interest groups" such as "civil rights, feminist, gay, environmental, consumer, civil libertarian, welfare, peace …" for many of America’s problems. He claimed that these groups portrayed special interest groups as victims and held ordinary Americans morally responsible. He dubbed it the "failure and guilt complex".

Wattenberg argued that it was these liberal special interest groups who were the cause of problems like welfare dependency. And this analysis was an invitation to politically organised anger. How dare these interest groups try to make us feel guilty!

In the Guardian, Libby Brooks worries about David Cameron’s appeal to the Great Ignored. She asks "in telling people they’ve been ignored, don’t you just invite them to respond with anger, frustration and distrust of their fellow citizens?"

Cameron has tried hard to avoid attacks on many of the groups Wattenberg grumbles about. For example, he’s made a serious effort to shore up the party’s environmental credentials. But this just focues attention more closely on ‘broken society‘ issues like welfare dependency, crime and drug abuse.

Perhaps the Tories should make What About Me, their new campaign theme tune:

What about me? It isn’t fair
I’ve had enough, now I want my share
Can’t you see, I wanna live
But you just take more than you give

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BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

“There is also a widespread belief that they are caused by bad government policy.”

Or is it that there are so many ways to exploit bad policy?
A hasty application of value-judgements by some influential societal sub-set might find another group condemned.

I note that the article refers to readily identifiable types that depending upon one’s prejudices could be labelled in a variety of ways –
“young, poor, black, college educated and political. In other words, a dangerous alliance of an over-educated and politically engaged elite and an underclass of young, poor and un-white people.”

In my view that alliance getting together with that underclass should be an ideal to which every society should aspire.
Hell. The risks are there for sure.
But then again its a good way of breeding out things like congenital haemophilia, for instance.

But what we’re really talking about politics wise is the exploitative providing a vehicle to sool the masses onto a minority.
Its not as if even the craziest redneck believes the minority needs to be liquidated.
Its just that while the show goes on their own crimes remain undetected.

reb of hobart
11 years ago

Well at least he acknowledged gay people – something the neither Rudd nor Abbott are yet to do.

Ken Parish
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Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
11 years ago

BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

“With this catch-all description, commentators are wondering whether there’s anyone in Britain who isn’t part of “the great ignored”. But look more closely and the rhetorical move makes more sense.”

How about shafting the rhetoric and ignoring the Brits for once?

“Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight. They start our businesses, operate our factories, teach our children, clean our streets, grow our food, keep us safe. They work hard, pay their taxes, obey the law.”
Another quote out of phase.

Britain had Blair, we had Howard and some believe they should be sent where Hitler would have been sent if we’d been able to apprehend him.

But of course Hitler allegedly topped himself after popping off Eva his new Lady Wife, and Blondie his beautiful Alsatian Bitch.
Both deserved it, by association, I’m sure.

Here we are in a conversation about a new age construct that could replicate similar stupidity.
Uncle Joe Stalin knew what I mean and I’ll not bother repeating his sentiment.

I’m talking here about the big difference between liars and psychopaths of the past – their ultimate fate – and what the recent crop get away with.

I’m absolutely sure that Dolfie would have liked to retire into state awarded comfort in about 1950.
I’m sure if history had been different that he’d be doing the gravy train speech circuit until he finally dropped off the perch.
After all, that sort of game did start in his part of the world – funnily enough encouraged and inspired by the impact of his own oratory.

But where does that leave the twitchy, sibillant Blair and the slurpy, droning Howard?
Both destroyed the last pretence of democracy that once held together the tattered dog-ends of our failing common law societies.
Both mangled beyond recall what was their duty to preserve.
Both drove false civil law constructs into a societal construct utterly unable to adapt.

Both now pretend to be world citizens – one out on some meantingless gravy train – the other hoping that he’ll get to promote cricket.

Both have simply walked away and left us with rheir vomit.

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

Perhaps the Tories should make What About Me, their new campaign theme tune…

And if things go against them, they can switch to this equally lachrymose little ditty as their new party theme song:

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

Dear BUNSEN.

Your ideas entertain me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. Especially if comes with bonus mp3 files.

Actually what is your favourite song? A question I feel is not asked enough when trying to gather perspective on someone else’s highly distinctive world view.

For example, Graeme Bird is lot more enjoyable, and perhaps more understandable, once you realise he’s a serious George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic fan.

As am I. Get up for the down stroke, acquababies.

Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
11 years ago

Nabs – please let sleeping birds keep sleeping around here. Please.

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

OK Nick. Am now going totally Blog 3.0 here.

As an amuse bouche apology, I link to the best ever latin version of an old favourite.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Puc0ZiVRESU

So now y’all know where I’m coming from.

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

Nabs,

Smokin’! Another latinisation of a great classic here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwfOdB8Dbgk

Time for someone to step in and salvage the serious discussion.

Geoff Robinson
11 years ago

It is a basic principle of electoral behavior that electoral swings are usually fairly uniform across different social groups. This is because parties are largely judged by their ability to provide consensual public goods: economic growth, public safety, national self-assertion etc. This is even more likely at an election devoid of big issues such as 1996 in Australia and Britain now. This as all Cameron’s rhetoric is saying rather than appealing to a silent majority it is trying to broaden the Conservatives base, remember that John Howard make big gains among NESB voters in 1996.

TimT
11 years ago

That first soundbite from Dave Cameron is very clever: it appeals to the ‘silent majority’ while deliberately including the minority groups that apparently this ‘silent majority’ rhetoric usually excludes. So it seems to be more inclusive and appealing than Gordon Brown’s bland ‘those who work hard and play by the rules’, and neatly sidesteps obvious lines of attack from the Tory Party’s opponents.

BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

Hello Nabakov,

In reply to yours @ # 6 above –

“Actually what is your favourite song? A question I feel is not asked enough when trying to gather perspective on someone else’s highly distinctive world view.”

To which I say –

Dear Boris,

For many years, boringly, I’ve been fond of Gustav Holz. Most would know his popular work – ‘The Planets’.

Like John Howard I’m also into Elgar.

Then for a bit of a singalong – ‘Spanish Ladies’ – ‘Hearts of Oak’ – ‘Jerusalem’ – ‘The Red Flag’ – Orbo’s ‘Pretty Woman’ – ‘Bomben auf England’ or even the ‘Good Ship Venus’ will do me fine so long as I can ‘Rant and Roar’ into the early hours on the one night a week they let me out of the cage.

I don’t care much, have reasonably catholic tastes, but my favourite instruments in accompaniment are the ‘Attack Harmonica’ and the ill tuned harpsichord.

There is a concert Kapps Grand piano stuck in the corner and a violin, P Maggini, Brescia 1617, just over there.

That violin is worth a fortune but presently can’t keep in perfect tune for some reason and I just don’t like the piano which to me has always sounded like a bag of assorted marbles rolling downhill.

The violin. Must be all that rain we’ve been having but on reflection, not too much different from Many Italian motorcycles I’ve known.

Back to your last after my having said all that –

What do you perhaps mean by alluding to the ‘highly distinctive world view’ bit?

The more I think about it I’m beginning to suspect that you’re insinuating my favourite tune may be the ‘Horst Vessel Leid’.

‘Fraid you’re wrong there Bucko.

This family are founding members of the save the Stephen Hawking fund and unfailingly feed injured backpackers over the back fence every Sunday morning between 10.00 and 10.05 Hrs, sharp.

So, since you ask I reveal a little of our private life here in Qld.

But be aware that even now is still dangerous to say too much.

BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

Oh Boris,

Before you ask who is my favourite Australian author this week?

Robert G Barrett is the boy!

Probably because he’s humble enough to admit that he’s fallible and arrogant enough to keep writing anyway.

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

That violin is worth a fortune but presently can’t keep in perfect tune for some reason…

Tuning problems on a fretless stringed instrument? Sounds like a fingering problem to me.

timothy watson
timothy watson
11 years ago

Wow

I wonder if Cameron has been swotting up on Robert Menzies.

“The Great ignored” sounds very much like a latter day appropriation of the “Forgotten people”.

Thinking back to a Guardian article that featured a (very brief) analysis of David Cameron’s book shelf- I doubt very much that he is that well read.

From memory he had about twenty books, of which half were Nigella Lawson cookbooks.

BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

Dear Mr. Gummo,
I say it again and quote myself with reference to Blair and Howard –
“Both have simply walked away and left us with their vomit.”
I’ve heard recently that some are out dealing with Mr Blair’s vomit.
Apparently takes a tribunal of some sort to determine who gets to clean it all up.

But by saying that I’m sticking to a thread that seems to have become unwound – a problem you may associate as being maybe contiguous with my pet violin.

You ask/declaim, whatever –
“Tuning problems on a fretless stringed instrument? Sounds like a fingering problem to me.”

And to me, without being in the least ‘vitriolic’ it sounds like you have decided to be the weeniest bit impertinent and completely off the plot.
But since you posit thus – I’ll inform you that despite being fretless violins do require careful, frequent tuning and a great deal of TLC.
I’d go so far as to say that like all worthy things of civilisation violins require love and care and constant practice to keep them ‘alive’.
In that regard I equate it to democracy.

Nobody much is bothered to tune either instrument or practice with them these days.
That’s why politics has gone off tune these days and when lifted to the parliamentary shoulder now – is so off key it produces such an assault to the ears.

Please chew on that idea and get back to me.

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