“Rich” is always somebody elseby Sam Leith / May 16, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
There are two things, it is said, that an Englishman will never admit to: being drunk and being rich. So it is small wonder that John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, fell into an elephant trap when he defined the “rich” as those earning more than about £70,000 a year. For a Labour politician—particularly a Corbynite one—to suggest that only those earning in the top 5 per cent of taxpayers could be considered a bit rich was considered, well, a bit rich by a large and vocal number of the 95 per cent, who noted that an MP’s starting salary is £74,000. Yet it was also greeted with almost equal horror by those in the 5 per cent who very much don’t like to think of themselves as rich.
I don’t ride around in a Rolls-Royce, they howled. I work jolly hard for what I have, they harrumphed. Children don’t feed themselves, they moaned. McDonnell’s problem, I’d submit, was not so much with how he sliced the statistics, as with his choice of word. “Rich” is, so to speak, loaded. It carries with it a connotation of unearned excess. And so those who see the cut-off as being well before £70,000 were angry, at root, for a similar reason to those who see the cut-off as being well above it.