Jonah, our indestructible blogsworth, is sitting in The Catherine Wheel, the charming Wetherspoon in Henley-on-Thames, on a bright autumn afternoon. He’s just had a brisk stroll down by the river. Trees turning to gold and brown and copper; seen a few herons, some geese, and more swans than he could shake a stick at; then a quick gander at the grave of poor old Dusty Springfield and he’s popped into the pub to kill the massive appetite he’s been carrying around all morning.
So he’s ordered his meal deal: a pint of what he likes and the fish and chips with mushy peas. Now he’s sitting there, sipping his drink, waiting for his grub to arrive, looking around the gaff and generally minding everyone’s business till he catches the drift of two old codgers lunching at an adjacent table:
Tom More: You been reading about tax credit cuts?
Erasmus: Alice in Wonderland?
Tom More: Just about. Only worse. No laughs in this one; plenty of mad hatters, though.
Erasmus: You British, I dunno. You have an uncanny talent for political disasters. There’s gonna be trouble over this, mark my words.
Tom More: Whatcha mean?
Erasmus: Poll tax and now tax credit cuts. Political bloody disaster. You people vote in these governments that then proceed to clobber part of the population to death. It don’t add up, sunshine. On the one hand it’s sadism and on the other its masochism. Fifty bloody shades of I dunno what.
Tom More: But the deficit, the national debt. Something’s gotta be done.
Erasmus: But at whose expense, laddee? Not the working poor, surely?
Tom More puts down his knife and fork, wipes his lips with his serviette, coughs to clear his throat and looks Erasmus in the eye.
Tom More: No, you’re right. Makes my blood boil.
Erasmus: What sort of a country is this? I mean the very notion of working poor is an abomination. It’s a bad joke. Who does these jobs? Teaching assistants, social workers, so I’ve been told, but loads of other keyworkers too.
Tom More: Keyworkers.
Erasmus: So what does that mean, keyworkers? Key to what? Key to whom, if you don’t mind my pompous grammar? Are these jobs not important enough to deserve a living wage?
Tom More: Yeah, you’re right. It’s all wrong. Millions of families on or just below the breadline. . .
Erasmus: About to be clobbered. So many of this once proud nation’s kids growing up in poverty.
It goes quiet as the two old men take a breather and dip into their drinks. And Jonah’s meal arrives. Lovely golden batter on the fish, and the taste, so fresh.
Erasmus: You know, a country that doesn’t care for its young doesn’t deserve to be called a country. It’s a bloody disgrace. Children in need! It’s a bad joke! No wonder the Scots want out.
Tom More: You’re right, you’re dead right, mate.
Erasmus: Poverty is a social construct, you know that. Nobody’s born poor, it’s not genetic. People are born into poverty or they fall into poverty, but it’s not in their DNA. It’s structured. You take the total wealth of a country, or the total wealth earned by a country in one year and you parcel it up, you decide who gets lucky and who has to struggle. I’m all for the ‘work should pay’ philosophy, but work should pay. These tax credits they want to cut, they’re not charity, they’re really nothing more than subsidies to the employers of the working poor. So to cut them is more than a bit like Alice in bloody Wonderland, “Off with their heads”.
Tom More has a faraway look in his eyes; maybe the beer has gone to his head which he now begins to shake slowly.
Tom More: One nation. . . The party of the family. . . Jesus wept.
Erasmus: Exactly! Suffer little children. . . !