Meet the Jams: Britain’s new political target

Jam tomorrow: There are around six million ‘just about managing’ households in Britain.

Today the chancellor will deliver his first autumn statement. A lot of it will be about the ‘Jams’ — the ‘just about managing’. So who are they? And has marketing damaged real politics?

‘You have a job, but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.’

Theresa May said these words on the steps of Downing Street in her inaugural speech as prime minister.

They were a clear sign that May’s Conservative government is aiming itself squarely at that much-discussed figure: the ordinary British person. Later today, Philip Hammond’s autumn statement today will reinforce that notion.

The phrase — ‘just about managing’, shortened by the media to ‘Jams’ — is the latest attempt by a political party to define a huge slice of the population in one memorable soundbite.

There have been many, and all are subtly different: according to the Resolution Foundation think tank, the Jams are made up of six million working-age households on low-to-middle incomes. They are not unemployed, but two-thirds have less than a month’s income worth of savings. They probably voted for Brexit. As Philip Hammond puts it, ‘they work hard and by and large do not feel that they are sharing in the prosperity that economic growth is bringing to the country’.

Ed Miliband coined his own term. The ‘squeezed middle’ was a middle-class for whom life had become harder since the 2008 financial crisis. Nick Clegg came up with ‘alarm-clock Britain’ — the hordes of Britons dutifully waking up and going to work every day.

Nigel Farage prefers the term ‘the little people’. These are, according to Farage, the people who feel ideologically disconnected from the political elite and who rose up against them by voting for Brexit.

And then there’s ‘Mondeo Man’. This was Tony Blair’s term for the aspirational, Thatcher-voting working-class man who, in Blair’s view, summed up the Labour Party’s failure over the previous decade and a half. Are these labels good for politics?

All generalisations are false

These ghastly terms are a poor reflection on the state of modern politics, say some. They make politics seem like a branch of consumer capitalism, with parties targeting groups of people as if they were conducting a piece of market research. But politics is not about what you can ‘offer’ people, like selling car insurance; it is about values. And anyway, these labels are pointless: people from similar backgrounds can hold wildly different views.

Not true, say others. People do, broadly, have similar values, and it is right that politicians should target the people who need the most help. Whether you like it or not, society is divided into different groups, and it is up to politicians to do what they can to appeal to them.

You Decide

  1. Are you or your family Jams?
  2. Are terms like ‘Jams’ and ‘alarm-clock Britain’ helpful or patronising?

Activities

  1. Come up with your own catchy nickname for a section of the population.
  2. Design a political poster to appeal to one specific group in society.

Some People Say...

“There’s no such thing as a normal person.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not old enough to vote. Do any of these labels really matter to me?
When you are old enough to vote, you will find that political parties may specifically target people like you with their campaigning and their policy promises. It is always important to remember that many people are not like you, and that you should also judge politicians on their principles, not just what they say to people like you.
How will the autumn statement help the Jams?
We will have to wait and see. Ideas have included a freeze in fuel duty and reductions in air passenger duty, as well as support for childcare. But it has been reported that Brexit has left a ‘£100 billion black hole’ in the public finances since March, so it will be tough to help these people out.

Word Watch

Philip Hammond
The new chancellor of the exchequer is the 60 year-old MP for Runnymede and Weybridge in Surrey. He backed Remain in the EU referendum and is seen as a sobering voice of reason in Theresa May’s cabinet.
Autumn statement
The government is legally required each year to publish two financial reports (with forecasts) on the state of the economy, produced by the Treasury (whose head is the chancellor). The other is the Budget, in March at the start of the fiscal year, from which Parliament approves the government’s tax and spending plans.
Middle-class
Many experts think the 2008 financial crisis resulted in the upwardly-mobile middle-class shrinking, with jobs becoming more scarce and wages stagnating. Centrist politics generally needs a growing middle-class to succeed, and so the rise of right and left-wing populism may be part of the result of the decline of the middle-class.
Mondeo Man
Another term used by Blair was ‘Worcester Woman’ , stereotypically lower middle- or working-class, with two children, worried about quality of life and with little interest in politics.

Subjects

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