OPINION - Are you 'working people'? The answer may determine your tax liability

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves will outline how Labour’s energy policies will aim to save £300 for families (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves will outline how Labour’s energy policies will aim to save £300 for families (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)

I like words. I can't always spell them correctly, and for years misused "redounds to" and "demur" until an intervention by my colleague, Robbie Smith. But there are few greater pleasures in life than nailing the adverb. Words, when said right, can induce loud snorts and draw tears, raise heart rates and inspire great feats.

So why is it that, in the hands of politicians, the English language sounds so tortured? How come, in the words of that great philosopher, Eric Morecambe, Keir Starmer often appears to be playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order? I guess what I'm really getting at is: who the heck are "working people"?

The Labour leader gave something of answer to that question yesterday. Pushed for a definition by LBC's Nick Ferrari, Starmer said:

“The person I have in my mind when I say working people is people who earn their living, rely on our services, and don’t really have the ability to write a cheque when they get into trouble.”

To be fair, this isn't a terrible answer by someone two weeks out from polling day and still hoping to keep things as vague as possible. Of course, the Tories seized on it, suggesting this meant that Labour was planning a raid on pensioners as well as others who rely on savings for their income, a charge Rachel Reeves today denied.

The reason I don't think Starmer's definition of "working people" is all that bad is because there is quite a large group of people, many of whom in work, who could not afford to pay an unexpected bill. Indeed, 26 per cent of adults report that their household would be unable to afford an unexpected – but necessary – expense of £850, according to the Office for National Statistics. This isn't just an issue for those in low-paid work. This report by the Resolution Foundation shows that even a fair chunk of middle-income families don't have much of a buffer in terms of savings.

Voters are wise to be wary of politicians bearing specific sentence constructions. Take Labour's promise to ban "exploitative zero hours contracts".  This raises a question: is the party proposing to ban all zero hour contracts because they are inherently exploitative, or only the zero hour contracts that are exploitative by a certain measure? Labour has since clarified that the policy is intended to protect those who work regular hours each week over a prolonged period, rather than act as an outright ban. Still, worth checking.

Ultimately, I take comfort from the fact that our leaders still go in for these sometimes painful verbal contortions. No doubt, they can be exasperating, and require interviewers to repeatedly ask the same question. But I see it as evidence that outright lies remain taboo in this country. A political norm worth holding onto.

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