Comment: Fairness for the middle classes but not for you

“Fair”, as the advert for a well known building society says, is a nice word. We all like a “fair deal”, we all want to be treated “fairly” and we all want a “fair crack of the whip”.

The Lib Dems talked about nothing else last week.

They wanted to be fair to the hard working families of Britain and they made various pronouncements about how it wasn’t fair that the rich got away with not paying taxes while those on middle or low incomes were the ones that shouldered the tax burden.

The “fair redistribution of taxes” was the main theme of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s policy shift at last week’s conference – something that was largely viewed as a right-wing policy by the media, albeit rather confusingly.

So should we be surprised that this week Labour are talking about being fair and their ‘fairness agenda’, whatever that is?

Probably not and unfortunately by virtue of going first the poor old Lib Dems have had their clothes nicked by their fellow progressives again. Poor lambs.

According to Labour, the Conservatives will be anything but fair.

The idea that David Cameron would give the majority of us living in the UK a fair deal is a nonsense, they say.

Personally I’m getting a bit fed up with all this talk about being ‘fair’, a ‘fairness agenda’ and a ‘fair deal’ for families.

Not that I’m against such things per se. That would be unfair. But there’s nothing substantive in all this talk about being fair.

It’s fair to say, in fact, that it’s generally a lot of useless posturing around the idea that the electorate feel they have been hard done by in some way.

There’s no doubt voters are feeling a bit more miserable than they were a year ago, but then it depends which voters you’re talking about.

If you’re poor – or just plain working class – and a Labour voter then the party isn’t fussed about you. When they talk about being “fair” you’re on the list, but actually a fair way down and you’re certainly not the target of the message.

It is, as Labour’s housing minister Caroline Flint put it yesterday, “the 60 per cent of (middle class?) voters who don’t see themselves as left wing who voted for us in the last three elections” that Labour is targeting with this message and this, now, is where the election battle lines are being drawn already.

Ms Flint described those that Labour needed to win back as families where both parents are probably working, they might have two cars, a mortgage, pensions to pay and perhaps an individual savings account. That’s not your common working class family.

There is nothing new in Labour going after the middle class vote and it’s true it is this group that Labour needs to win back. It’s also this group which, more than any other, is willing to say it as they see it when it comes to something like an economic recession or City boys being paid exorbitant salaries to package up dodgy mortgages and sell them on the international money markets. And they have more to lose.

But what about Labour’s core vote? What about the working classes? What’s fair for them? We’re unlikely to find out from this conference. Labour MPs are running around so clearly frightened of offending the middle classes that they’re in danger of ignoring their core voters and Glasgow East should surely have served as some reminder of how foolish that can be. Using a ‘fairness’ agenda to satisfy the better-off doesn’t really seem fair at all.