It was last night, as I watched a friend discard the top slice of a loaf of fancy sourdough, that I realised I will never be rich. That rich is an attitude; not a figure or a percentage, but an attitude to other people and your own money.
I am often accused of being a champagne socialist by my friends because, in the words of the FT, I know how to spend it. Because I have it in the first place, even. This same friend from last night has vocally disagreed with all of my politics, normally with the words “but that’s not fair” to argue with policies that would deprive him of nothing but what he might have, one day, to pull up those who would never have it otherwise. Although I buy ‘stuff’ and ‘things’ and have a good job and am white and middle-class it makes no discernible difference to my political views. I worked hard in my life, and so did my parents and my grandparents, but I check my privilege every day, and I know that I haven’t had to struggle like people of colour or people who are even one generation closer to working-class than myself.
My parents both come from incredibly working-class backgrounds and their attitudes to money couldn’t be more different. My dad loves the ‘stuff’ lifestyle: he drives a vintage Jaguar and has Bang and Olufsen everything and buys CDs to add to his collection whenever nobody is looking. But it means nothing to him. They’re just comforts. He wanted to spend the money my parents bought their first house with on a CD player, and just go on living like they were living. My dad doesn’t understand saving for rainy days because the day will never be as rainy as being an impoverished teenager whose future looks like a factory in Staffordshire; he will never again need a government grant to save him from that kind of life. And he supports governments that give grants to kids like him, because he knows that although he was intelligent and hardworking and he earned it there would have been no point in trying if he hadn’t had that support.
My mum, in contrast, worries about money, even though by her own admission she never needs to. She has savings (as long as she keeps an eye on my dad), she has out-earned her husband for most of their married life and her parents for almost all her professional life – she certainly isn’t going back to Bradford, ever. She is a magpie for those yellow reduced stickers in supermarkets and is generous with everyone except herself. She has thrown herself into middle-class life, baking artisan breads and being a responsible cyclist. Without any Joneses to keep up with or measure herself by she considers the money less important than the values she has got from being working class, and values the theatre and holidays and the freedom to do charity work.
I have working class attitudes.
- If I have leftovers, I can’t throw them away – they will be refrigerated and cooked again or, if they won’t last another day, given to the homeless near my house or whatever friend I can persuade to come over. I eat things well after the recommended sell-by date.
- I mend things. I fix everything. Laugh at the mental image of me darning black opaque tights alone in my room and going out for overpriced London cocktails in them later that day all you like, but I do it.
- I look after my things. My granddad told me to polish my shoes every day, and I respect the pride he told me to take and the lessons that he gave me. The first time I out-earned my granddad was at the age of 15, and since then I have paid more heed to his advice than anyone else’s.
- I am miserly when I shop: I eat cooking apples and reduced products as a matter of course. I wouldn’t buy anything before waiting a few months to see if it goes on sale. Often I won’t buy it until it is on sale.
- I do not love money and I do not love to accrue money, although I am proud of myself when I manage to save and of my odd expensive possession.
I am lucky to have the money to do what I want – be it engaging in ‘stuff’ culture, buying gifts for friends or eating out too much – and I do it. This is a mix between the attitudes of my parents, and I live within my means and I practise what I preach.
I am a socialist, and a radical one. I couldn’t be anything else. Whilst I believe in the establishment and have faith in the BBC and law enforcement officers and Hansard and all the silly things that make us British, I expect better of all of them, and of myself. The politics I favour would not make my life harder, it would merely make it less superior and myself more equal to all the common people – the people who I count myself one of, the people who struggle
My values are working-class, and I work for the best life not just I can live.