In recent years the expression ‘out of touch’ has one of the more meaningless clichés of modern politics. It’s generally used as an indictment of governments and powerful institutions, as the following random headlines illustrate:
Rail fare rises show Government is out of touch, says Labour, (Telegraph 2/1/13)
Welsh Government ‘out of touch’ with rural affairs, (Farmer’s Guardian, 23/1/13)
Damian Green: ‘Coalition government not out of touch’, (ITV News, 22/11/12)
Lord Snooty and his pals have often been the object of such accusations. Last year, a poll by the Sunday Mirror and The Independent in March found that 72 percent of the population agreed with the proposition ‘This Government is out of touch with ordinary voters.’
And the following month, another poll found that ‘David Cameron’s government is viewed as out of touch with the worries of ordinary people by 82 per cent of voters.’
The notion of an ‘out of touch government’ has become an obsessive theme in the Labour Party’s critique of the Coalition. Thus Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary declared in January that
‘This Tory-led Government are out of touch with North West families feeling the squeeze from higher food bills and struggling to make ends meet. It is an utter disgrace that even though we are the seventh richest country in the world we face an epidemic of hidden hunger, particularly in children.’
And earlier this month Ed Miliband accused Cameron in Parliament of ‘ being “totally out of touch” for attempting to protect bankers’ bonuses while disabled people with spare rooms were being hit by the Government’s “bedroom tax”.’
Now TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has responded to the announcement that Barclays’ nine bosses have copped £40 million worth of shares, declaring:
‘While millions struggle to make ends meet, the banks and the Chancellor – who only a few weeks ago was so desperately keen to stop Europe capping City bonuses – seem wildly out of touch with what is going on in the real world.’
The accusation of being ‘out of touch’ is clearly intended to be a stinging indictment, with its suggestion of tone-deafness and unresponsiveness on the part of powerful political and financial institutions that are ‘not listening’ to ‘ordinary people’ and ‘hard-pressed working families’.
But they are in fact politically weak, misleading and generally fall well short of the mark. The Government is listening – to the people it wants to hear. These are politicians who are consciously engaged in a massive redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich, using the deficit as a pretext.
They know perfectly well their policies will have dire social consequences – they just don’t give a damn. Nor are the Barclays bonuses due to a failure of communication.
Does Frances O’Grady seriously believe that if Barclays – and other banks who behave the same way – knew what was happening in the ‘real world’, they would be chastened enough to stop paying their directors huge bonuses, perhaps even go out and do a little social work?
I seriously doubt it. I suspect that the banks know perfectly well the price that is being paid by the population for the ‘bailout’ which essentially rewarded them for their own malpractices. From their point of view, it’s perfectly logical that the public should bear the cost, and that they should now reap the rewards to which they consider themselves entitled.
That’s what socialism for the rich means. And to accuse these people and institutions of being out of touch, is like saying that the Louis XVI of France was out of touch with his subjects before they chopped his head off, or that Imelda Marcos was out of touch with ‘hard-pressed’ Filipinos because she bought lots of shoes, or Donald Trump is out of touch with the ordinary Americans because he spent millions on Fabergé eggs.
Of course you might think I’m just nit-picking here, but language is important, and clichés are not conducive to clear thinking about the mess we’re in.
So we really ought to stop saying that the governments and financial institutions that have wreaked such havoc in recent years are ‘out of touch’ – and stop imagining that such accusations are likely to make them change their behaviour.