Someone rid us of the awful slogan: ‘hardworking families’

2 December 2013

This is a message to any politician out there thinking of using the phrase ‘hardworking families’ or ‘hardworking people’ – I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

A day does not go by without a Tory politician using this highly irritating slogan, especially in the regular spam emails I get from the party. The latest occurrence happened today with the energy minister telling WATO that ‘We are determined to protect hard-working families from fuel bill rises’.

I must be out of touch with public opinion, as usual, and this idea must resonate with people in general, because otherwise the media-obsessed Tories wouldn’t repeat it like a mantra.


It mainly annoys me because, although Britain has a problem with unemployment, it also has a problem with over-employment; lots of people work too much and live too little, and I don’t see why this should be glorified. Partly this is cultural, as the British world of work has been Americanised, so that we’re supposed to put in longer hours and not get drunk at work anymore. Partly it’s economic, due to the cost of living, especially the house prices that Osborne and the rest of the Tories seem to think is a splendid idea.

People often snipe at the Bullingdon clique as being a sort of lazy, privileged elite from the 18th century, but they’re in fact part of a very hardworking, privileged elite, and that extreme work ethic filters down.

Personally I’d like an economic system that helped moderately working families; those families that wanted to spend a reasonable time with their kids, volunteering, learning an instrument or another language; all those things I probably wouldn’t do if I found the time. Not racking up 60 hours a week in the office just to pay off the mortgage, because we’ve based our entire economic model on a housing bubble.

One of the interesting suggestions made by Christopher Clarke in his First World War book The Sleepwalkers is that so many of the politicians and diplomats were tired and wired because the culture of the fin de siècle saw extreme hard work as an essential component of masculinity; this may have affected their judgment when the crisis began in June 1914. In contrast spending a day in the sun and watching cricket never killed anyone.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • Michael Byrne

    A better system is a co operative people working together, everyone having a say in ideas (if they want) and working to collective goals,respected. Each providing their various skills and abilities to contributing to the whole as opposed to this mad hierarchical society with massive wealth variations and people not communicating with people not like them

  • teigitur

    I could not agree more.

  • Daniel Maris

    Great article. It’s an irritating phrase because it makes no distinction between useful work and pointless work, between hard working surgeons and hard working OK Magazine editors. It also is a bit of a joke when around the globe there are millions of people (including millions of children) engaged in really hard work.

  • Jim Baron

    There is a country out there which take long lunch breaks, work the bare minimum hours a week and have a relaxed work ethic. It’s called mainland Europe with the exception of the fatherland, the netherlands, switzerland and Norway.

    • Daniel Maris

      Yes. I was impressed when I read that the average Roman worked for 6 hours a day – that’s back in the first century AD. What’s gone wrong in the intervening 2000 years?

      From 1800 to 1970 we went from a 72 hour working week to a 40 hour week. And then progress seemed to stop.

      The sooner we move to a 4 day week the better – for our personal lives, for our children and for our economy.

      • Jim Baron

        We didn’t work 4 days a week during our finest hour

      • Alexsandr

        we already work a 4 day week. the other day is spent on face book, twitter, spectator, ebay etc etc.
        And ogling the new staff in the canteen.

  • GeeBee36_6

    ‘so many of the politicians and diplomats were tired and wired because the culture of the fin de siècle saw extreme hard work as an essential component of masculinity; this may have affected their judgment when the crisis began in June 1914′

    Quite so. In fact, as this extract from Volume I of Graham Booth’s ‘A History of Pike Fishing’ makes clear, Sir Edward Grey (Foreign Secretary in August 1914, and the man essentially resposnsible for declaring war on Germany) might well have been so affected:

    ‘It seems oddly apt that it should have been not merely an angler, but such a sensitive and thoughtful one as Sir Edward Grey (whose charming yet authoritative ‘Fly Fishing’ must be a candidate for one of the best books on angling ever written) whose words so memorably and accurately summed up the impact the coming conflict would have on the European world. His remark quoted above [‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’] was made as he looked out from his window in the Foreign Office, at
    dawn on 4th August 1914, as he saw the gas-lights being extinguished in
    Whitehall. He had worked through the night, after the Cabinet, under Prime
    Minister Herbert Asquith, had voted unanimously to declare war on Germany,
    after she had failed to obey Grey’s warning regarding the neutrality of Belgium.’

  • flaxdoctor

    You can blame Tories for a lot of society’s ills if you want to, but all they’re doing here is aping the Blair-Brown maladminstration:

  • Bonkim

    Ed West obviously does not know much about the Anglo Saxon work ethic that put the ‘Great’ in Britain.

    • harmlessdrudge

      Indeed, the hard work of slaves, colonised peoples and the exploited poor included.

      Hardworking families is simply a code for people not on benefits — scroungers — it is a euphemism and nothing to do with how much or how hard or how little people work.

      • Bonkim

        Regrettably the earth is overpopulated and resources running out – no one is forcing you to work hard – don’t complain if benefits are reduced or stopped. Benefits is a feature of post WW2 wealthier nations – and wealth is now reducing and welfare becoming unaffordable. The rest of the world – if you don’t work, you don’t eat.

        • harmlessdrudge

          The earth is not overpopulated. I don’t work hard. I haven’t ever claimed a benefit in my life and hope never to do so. Benefits are not a transient feature of a temporarily rich society. All civilised societies can and should aspire to a basic minimum provided as a matter of civic entitlement. It is everyone’s interest that children are vaccinated against communicable diseases, are educated, and have a reasonable prospect of healthcare should they fall ill, both as children and as adults. The world has more than sufficient resources to manage this. The unequal distribution of resources is a larger problem than the extent to which they are finite.

          • Bonkim

            Respect your sentiments but any society can only help to the extent it can afford and wants to. Regards population and resources – unless you appreciate that the earth’s resources are finite and that we have consumed a significant part of it over the past century or so it would be futile my trying to convince you otherwise.

            Human history is one of exploiting resources and the end game is not far. Look up the trigger factor in any war or revolution.

            Regards distribution – if everything that is there was distributed evenly, there won’t be much incentive for man to strive for. It is the uneven distribution that powers the engine of growth and economic activity.

            • harmlessdrudge

              Nobody disputes that the earth’s resources are limited. That is not a reason to take a devil-take-the-hindmost attitude to the poor. Fairness is not about legislating equal wealth but minimum standards in a decent society. We live in an era of obscene inequality and resorting to Malthusian arguments to defend it is pitiful. You avoided a life of poverty through an accident of birth.

              • Bonkim

                I am not defending inequality – simply stating the obvious – life is harsh and man is a competitive animal. Traditional British self reliance was a strength – excessive state sponsored social welfare as an entitlement has made society overall weak – poverty is a driver of enterprise.

                Regards over-population and resource depletion the future is pretty dim.

  • FrankS2

    I was going to make a plea on behalf of idle loafers like me, but why bother? Someone else has probably done it already.

  • FrenchNewsonlin

    Was this cringeworthy phrase not first bandied about by Blair or one of his cronies and then used ad nauseum by every Labourite on the front bench, much before the Cons took over?

  • Emp123

    Glad to see you blogging again Ed. The Telegraph has become so bland without you.

    • FrankS2

      He’s been her for a while, you know!

  • NewImprovedPretendName

    Yes, couldn’t agree more! Speaking as someone with a family who does work his backside off but would much rather be a lazy rentier with a nice house, expensive tastes and highbrow hobbies. I would vote for the Party that could sell that vision of life to me (no seriously, Disraeli really did have a point …)

  • The Red Bladder

    Never a mention of us indolent, slothful and bibulous OAPs I notice. Do we count for nothing these days?

  • sarahsmith232

    Spot on post. Hilarious, absolutely right. This hardworking tosh is an Americanisation of our culture. Don’t suppose we need to hold our breath waiting for a politician to say ‘i’m on the side of the drinkers who want to work as few hours as they can manage to get away with’. Personally, i’m on their side.

    • Bonkim

      The Anglo Saxon work ethic migrated to North America from Britain and became a super-power. No, Britain has not imported the work ethic from the US – it always had it – only submerged within the stinking benefits-pool in the past few decades.

      • JanieQue

        I don’t think these references to the ‘Americanisation’ of work is so much an objection to actually working – but this culture of long office hours just to look like you doing something; having to produce presentations and reports filled with charts and jargon which no one will ever use, just to justify your existence!

        Whenever I read 19th and early 20th century literature, the successful business people always seem to go to their work and get things done, leaving time in the evenings for council meetings, public lectures and other public-minded activities – only unscrupulous lawyers create paperwork for the sake of it and they are charging someone else!

        • Bonkim

          We live in a complex world of information and analysis – continuously changing. Decision making was arbitrary and based on anecdotal evidence by one or two at the top – today it is matrix decision making and analysis and information flow essential part of the process.

          • FrankS2

            Crikey – no wonder I can never make a decision!

            • Bonkim

              But you are a happy man.

          • Alexsandr

            no. people whrite endless documents no one reads There are servers full of test cases, risk assesments etc.

            • Bonkim

              Reason decisions are so poor if no one cares to read/discuss and improve.

      • Michael Byrne

        Think you are confusing working and the ‘hard’ work rhetoric. I am ‘working class’, taking pride is more important than working hard in itself. I see no benefit working for the sake of it or feeling guilty if your not seeing to work hard and what benefit is it if you have no time to eat sleep rest see family? Infact my parents had better family life in the 1950s. Its a sort of control, and doesnt allow creative thinking that actual enables us to be richer. I think this personal debt and extra working stops people questioning their lives. Are we more productive or have cleaner hospitals? I doubt it! It seems with all the extra work and consumption we are still unhappy and still unclean

    • Michael Byrne

      Neoliberalism and the emphasis on the individual not the collective was emphasised from America. Old catholics never believed in these newer work ethics. Most who went to america were protestants after all Puritans belived in banning Christmas. What business did in America is take these ideas and use them to encourage greed. Never a christian model. i remember Gloria Hunniford saying in northern ireland her mom telling her off for standing and staring and to be seen working very odd for an english catholic like me id encourage them to think.

  • David Webb

    Great post – the sickening Conservatives love the idea of us all as rats in a treadmill. What about, eg cancelling concil tax, so we don’t have to work so hard to just give our money away to fund parasites in local government? Now that would be a proper Tory idea – and one that, therefore, will never be considered.

    • Bonkim

      May be too many working class led to believe that University education makes them too clever for manual jobs and they deserve a good living on waffle.

      The real reason – we have stopped making things and most are employed in jobs where waffle is accepted by all around as productive labour..

    • Bonkim

      Contradictions – at once you complain of council tax and not wanting your hard earned money being wasted by parasites in local government – which I agree – but small government is a Conservative belief.

    • Gareth

      Will you be happy dealing with your own rubbish? Will you grit and repair the local roads you use?

    • Richard Ferguson

      I seem to recall Gordon Brown using the phrase “hardworking families” with straitjacketed mantra-like regularity.

  • Curnonsky

    The phrase exemplifies the pandering and condescension of the Tory leadership.

  • Jambo25

    Can I be the first to claim that my wife and I make up an almost totally inert family. We are both retired, utterly lazy and completely un apologetic; nay; proud of that.

    • Bonkim

      You must have done something good in the past to earn your pension.

      • Jambo25

        Stuck school teaching for 30 odd years.

  • sir_graphus

    I remember the glory days of the Brown boom where I had 2 promotions and various inflationary pay rises, and by the end of it all was absolutely no better off at all. No share options. Final salary pension ended.
    That’s what is meant by a hardworking family; one where everyone feels like they’re working really hard just to stand still. We need to feel they have some stake in the recovery.
    Many HWFs are swing voters. That’s why it’s a compulsory genuflection for a politician, and now a cliche. It’s only a cliche because they say it without thinking then dismissing us from their minds completely.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here