There’s one big difference between the poor and the rich,” Kite says, taking a drag from his cigarette. We are in a pub, at lunch-time. John Kite is always, unless stated otherwise, smoking a fag, in a pub, at lunch-time.
“The rich aren’t evil, as so many of my brothers would tell you. I’ve known rich people – I have played on their yachts – and they are not unkind, or malign, and they do not hate the poor, as many would tell you. And they are not stupid - or at least, not any more than the poor are. Much as I find amusing the idea of a ruling class of honking toffs, unable to put their socks on without Nanny helping them, it is not true. They build banks, and broker deals, and formulate policy, all with perfect competency.
No – the big difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich are blithe. They believe nothing can every really be so bad. They are born with the lovely, velvety coating of blitheness – like lanugo, on a baby – and it is never rubbed off by a bill that can’t be paid; a child that can’t be educated; a home that must be left for a hostel, when the rent becomes too much.
Their lives are the same for generations. There is no social upheaval that will really affect them. If you’re comfortably middle-class, what’s the worst a government policy could do? Ever? Tax you at 90% and leave your bins, unemptied, on the pavement. But you and everyone you know will continue to drink wine – but maybe cheaper – go on holiday – but somewhere nearer – and pay off your mortgage – although maybe later.
Consider, now, then, the poor. What’s the worst a government policy can do to them? It can cancel their operation, with no recourse to private care. It can run down their school – with no escape route to a prep. It can have you out of your house and in a B&B by the end of the year. When the middle classes get passionate about politics, they’re arguing about their treats - their tax-breaks and their investments. When the poor get passionate about politics, they’re fighting for their lives.
Politics will always mean more to the poor. Always. That’s why we strike and march, and despair when our young say they won’t vote. That’s why the poor are seen as more vital, and animalistic. No classical music for us – no walking around National Trust properties, or buying reclaimed flooring. We don’t have nostalgia. We don’t do yesterday. We can’t bare it. We don’t want to be reminded of our past, because it was awful: dying in mines, and slums, without literacy, or the vote. Without dignity. It was all so desperate, then. That’s why the present and the future is for the poor - that’s the place in time for us: surviving now, hoping for better, later. We live now - for our instant, hot, fast treats, to pep us up: sugar, a cigarette, a new fast song on the radio.
You must never, never forget, when you talk to someone poor, that it takes ten times the effort to get anywhere from a bad post-code. It’s a miracle when someone from a bad post-code gets anywhere, son. A miracle they do anything at all.
A rant about the divide between the rich and the poor from “How To Build a Girl” by Caitlin Moran