In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

What does “hard-working people” mean ?


There is clearly merit to be earned by any politician who uses the term “hard-working people.” It seems to be this group of people the politicians of all parties want on their side, this group they want to seem to stand for and to be talking to and to please.

Perhaps the word has gone out in Westminster that “hard-working” is a phrase we all now feel should apply to us, when we get up in the mornings, or go to sleep at night, or queue in the supermarket, or head for the pub, or watch TV – like “Mister” or “Mrs” or “You Guys.”  Once it was “gentle” as a compliment, as a sign of respect, a necessary soubriquet. Gentle woman. Gentle sir. Gentle folk. Gentil. Now it is “hard-working.”

But is it really true that this phrase works as a sweetener ? Who of us needs to hear this as a description of ourselves, as a social nicety, like “Sir” or “Madam” ? The radio or TV interviewer groans and begs to be spared yet another repetition of the phrase, but out it comes again and again, and yet again, from the politicians they interview. The latter believe it still pays.

The politicians know that they have never been less respected or trusted, yet still they think this stock phrase goes down, that it is necessary, that it will press our buttons.

But how and why and when did our buttons start being susceptible to it (in someone’s view) ? Is it Georgie-boy, Deputy Head Rude-boy of Blingland, who cast this shadow and injected this futile little phrase into our systems, when he started peddling the Striver/Skiver lie for Tory gain and our nation’s shame and pain ?

And that leads to the point I want to make here. The word “shadow.”

When I get up and go outside, it is not just my conscious self that appears in the street, above my feet. My shadow comes too, with whatever my shadow contains. Do I know what is hidden there ? Do I know what I bring with me in my slipstream, in my wake ?

Just so, words have shadows and we should think of that when we speak them. Not just the face of the word, its presenting frontage, above its feet, but what it carries behind it and beneath, unsaid but perhaps implied and almost certainly heard, and understood, and taken in.

“Hard-working” on its own means virtually nothing, but it is used as an implied compliment and statement and distinction. A distinction from something.    But what ? “Hard-working” – whatever that means –  is obviously a “good thing.” It implies “worthy” in some way.

In its wake, its shadow, it also implies an opposite, of course. That not “working hard” is a bad thing. So who doesn’t “work hard” ? Presumably people on Benefits. Who else ?

People on Benefits are slackers. They are parasites on the State. Hard working people like us, we tax-payers, should not have to keep them going.

None of that is true, of course. A very large proportion of people on Benefits are in low-paid work, often doing several jobs. A very large proportion of people on Benefits are long-term disabled in some way. A lot of unpaid work, done by people on Benefits, is of enormous social value, often greater than many a paid job.

But what do people on Benefits hear when someone who purports to represent them in Westminster starts mouthing the phrase “hard-working,” and claiming that territory, that group, as his or her constituency ?

“Hard-working” as used by the politicians is a meaningless phrase and an irresponsible abuse of language, insulting and divisive. It is a word of no meaning but of great harm. How do they justify their use of it to themselves ?