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Aristotle: The perfect polity, to him, was one with the middle class was in the majority — as ours is today

At the time of writing, the British general election is still too close to call. Standpoint has no party allegiance: not just because our charitable status precludes it, but because cheering on one party or another is a task that is already done by plenty of others. The ultimate purpose of politics should not be prosperity and security alone, but liberty and justice too, with all that these entail, from avoiding onerous laws and taxes or gratuitous intrusions in private life to defending our values against those who would consign Western civilisation to oblivion. Persuading our political and cultural elites that they exist to serve us and to preserve our way of life, not the other way round, is part of our job — especially at elections, when all the parties are inclined to mortgage posterity and bribe voters with their own money.

It was Aristotle who first described the perfect polity as “one in which the middle class is in control, and outnumbers both of the other classes”. We in the West live in just such polities, yet most of our leaders ignore middle-class needs and aspirations. They persist in pretending that we live in a binary system of patricians and plebeians: a zero-sum game in which plutocrats plunder everyone else unless politicians play Robin Hood and rob the rich to help the poor. To unleash the might of existing markets, to enable entrepreneurs to discover new ones, or to remove the dead hand of the state from lives stifled by dependency: such ideas play no part in the calculations of parties who prefer to turn citizens into supplicants.

Only the party that can win the trust of the middle class deserves to govern. That is because the other classes have less of a stake in a free, democratic and stable society. The very rich can simply up sticks and leave; the poor fondly imagine they have nothing to lose by punitive taxes, not only on high but also on middle incomes. Only bourgeois virtues benefit everyone, including those who despise them.

Yet nothing is rarer in today’s politics than to hear an honest endorsement of these virtues. Many politicians pay lip service to middle-class notions such as “balancing the books”, only to abandon them once in office. The Labour manifesto, for example, is deliberately bereft of ideas, so that “balancing the books” is the only one that will stick in voters’ minds. Yet the record of Labour governments ever since the 1960s has consistently been one of living beyond the nation’s means: every one has taxed, spent and borrowed more than its predecessor. The notion that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls care a fig about “balancing the books” runs contrary to everything we know about their political careers. Such Labour policies as the vain attempt to rig the energy market by freezing prices, the reversal of the Coalition’s reforms of education and welfare, or the mansion tax all run counter to middle-class interests and instincts.

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