Ordinary People

by George Hatjoullis

Listening to Vox Pop interviews and politicians alike it seems that people take great pride in being ordinary. It is one of the most common adjectives used in the election narratives. What do they mean by it? If you look it up in a dictionary you will see it means no special distinctive features and commonplace. A bit like grass. Surely, people are not proud of being a blade of grass?

Putting the usage in context one can see that it is intended as code for something more. Ordinary people are actually important people. Indeed they are the most important people. They are the majority. They are the ones clustered one standard deviation from the mean (assuming a normal distribution). In the UK they are typically white, and can trace ancestry back a few generations (though the ancestry may not be British). They earn a bit more or less than the average. They have average qualifications, more or less, and average literacy. They have smoked and maybe still do. They drink. They are overweight and do not do much exercise. They have debt and limited career prospects. Based on statistical distributions this is not a drastically inaccurate picture of ordinary people. Of what exactly are they proud? Being white?

All parties (yes even the Tories) are targeting ordinary people. The implication is that even the Tories have dropped the philosophical bias towards individual responsibility. If you lived a feckless and fast life and never really achieved much, apart from a sense of entitlement, the state will underwrite you. If you were prudent, and careful, well you can look after yourself. If you spent your time at school bullying those that wanted to study because you did not and they were making you look bad, don’t worry the swots will now subsidise you. If you ended up in a dead end manual job, with no security, no qualifications, drank, smoked, and failed to look after yourself, you deserve the best of late life care. The state will take money from those that were prudent, looked after themselves, studied (when you were out boozing), and make sure you are ok. This is what I hear when I hear ordinary people.

Of course, some are just unlucky and others have just been lucky. Some were born into families that had money and good habits. Some were born with better genes. However, some fail despite these advantages. Some succeed despite not having them. Virtue is not normally distributed. Some disabled people live extraordinary lives and some able and privileged people live limited lives. There is no virtue in being ordinary and the focus on such people, whilst electorally expedient, is quite worrying in many ways. It discourages people from striving to overcome because they are entitled to be bailed out by someone else in the end. When the Tories are also adopting this philosophy you know our society has changed and mediocrity and conformity (and whiteness in the UK) trade at a premium.