Friday, 16 August 2013

'Posh Britain', consumerism and inequality

So last weekend was spent at the Wilderness Festival (above) - dubbed 'Poshstock' by the press, for which title it's looked in a constant upper-middle-class battle with the nearby Cornbury Festival.

It was posh. It had saunas and hot tubs. It had nice showers - with hot water. The toilets were spotless. You could pay for an organic composting loo, if you so chose. The food outlets were cut-down versions of fashionable chains such as Moro. At one point I queued up next to the new Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney (I declined to jab my finger in his chest and argue with him about the rights and wrongs of Funding for Lending and Help to Buy, you'll be pleased to hear). At one point Samantha Cameron was rumoured to be on site.

You get the picture.

To be honest, your correspondent is not getting any younger. It was nice to be able to sleep at night. It felt good to take a shower in the morning. The food was nice. There was real ale. There was folk music. I enjoyed it - I'm a little ashamed to say.

But if we zoom back and look at the macroeconomic picture of what I was looking it, it's all a bit more discomforting. Organisers are using price and less obvious social makers to say 'okay, the great unwashed, this is not for you, this event'. That might be an un- or subconscious reflect, but it's there.

The major thing any social observer would have said, looking around at the green wellies and the expensive clothes, would have been: where has all this cash come from? It was £4.50 for a can of Grolsch Lager. Haven't we just been through the worst economic crisis since the 1880s?

Well, we have, but it has touched these people - roughly the top ten per cent of earners - much less deeply than it has everyone else. You can look at some nice graphs on this, if you want. In fact, what's happened since the early 2000s, in a process that was in train long before the acute phase of the crisis opened in 2007. Higher-level and managerial jobs are still being created hand over fist, but mid-ranking administrative roles are being killed off at an alarming rate. During the last analogous economic disaster, in the 1930s, white-collar clerking jobs were two-a-penny, at least in the south - allowing a consumer and housing boom to pull us out of the Depression.

Now there are a lot more pretty wealthy people in managerial roles, and they've got away with some flesh wounds. They're in charge. Now they're spending, and if they want to do it in a field full of hay bails and flowery tablecloths, that's the way it's going to be.

Posh Britain? Get used to it.

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