Tim Farron responds to justified criticism?

Tim FarronThere’s no doubt that one of the most controversial phrases in British politics is “hard working families”. Not because anyone has anything against hard working families, but because it excludes whole swathes of people who deserve the support of the state too.

So, when Party President Tim Farron used it recently, he really shouldn’t have been surprised to attract some criticism. As Jennie Rigg so forcefully put it;

The phrase Hard Working Families purposefully excludes and marginalises anyone who doesn’t have a job, and anyone who doesn’t have a traditional family. This goes across well with the general public because they are used to anyone who doesn’t have a job and anyone who doesn’t have a traditional family being demonised. It fits into their worldview. It’s a dog whistle to the sort of person who says “I’ve worked hard all my life and paid taxes and why should my taxes go to pay for wheelchairs when I haven’t got a new car this year?”

She wasn’t alone, with Caron Lindsay pointing out;

The anxieties of living on a low wage in an insecure job are just as strong if you are single or part of a couple with no children. In fact, it’s petrifying if you’re single because there’s only your income to fall back on. If you’re on a low income, you don’t have the chance to save much for a rainy day and if your car and washing machine break down at the same time, you’re a bit stuffed. Having not enough money is a nightmare whatever your family situation. Life is a perpetual struggle.

However, one of the quirky joys of Twitter is that Tim never quite seems to be off it, and his response was immediate;

So, perhaps a small triumph for diversity, and a lesson that might profitably be learnt by other politicians…

Read more by .
This entry was posted in News.


  • A blogpost about 3 words in an email he probably didnt write – come on MARK!!!!

  • @Mark – I would bet you £5 he didnt write it! And yes the article title is silly….it just negative for the sake of it…and doesnt say well done to tim for engaging and listening.

  • The genesis of Mark’s conversation was Australian English and there not often used in isolation. T he equivalent would be British Battlers , not just Battlers (which sounds rather unfortunately close to colloquial northern English for ladies of a certain age perhaps related to your spouse’s parentage, or pejorative Jamaican patois). British Battlers in turn sounds like sitcom about antipodean bar staff in Camden attempting to dodge the government’s immigration cap.

    That aside on reading the Wiki definition I’m unclear whether there’s any meaningful difference with Hard-working families.


    “In Australian English, the concept of a “battler” is a power word similar to the concept of the “hardworking family”. It is used by various political personages and entities for their own purposes. Where in one context a person may use the term to refer to people of low socioeconomic status to call for greater welfare, others may use it to refer to a family saving for a private education to call for government payments to private schools.”

    Will Tim really use this, or will media indifference sink this Battleship?

  • Geoffrey Payne 31st Aug '12 - 12:24pm

    Delighted to see Tim respond in this way.
    Another phrase I would love to see challenged is “I think tax evaders are as bad as benefit cheats”. However tax evaders include the super rich who could easily pay their taxes at the full rate and live comfortably. “Benefit cheats” on the othe hand includes some people who are in desperate financial difficulties. Although its wrong to break the law some people feel they have no choice. So I think there is no comparison, tax evaders are the real scroungers we should set our sights on.

  • it’s the children in these hard working families I feel sorry for. it should be illegal.

  • Dave, Tim regularly asserts, both in person and on twitter, that he writes all his own emails. This particular one he claims was edited down by his staff for being too long, but all the remaining words are still his. And although I regularly take him to task over the content of his emails, I am forever grateful that he’s there and accessible to be taken to task.

  • paul barker 31st Aug '12 - 2:36pm

    Thats 3 shosakvitch fans, I have to be feeling strong though, most of his music is so sad.

    On the topic, another problem with “hard-working” is the assumption that hard work is an unalloyed vitue. Do you want hard working criminals as neighbours or hard working BNP activists ?
    Even if the activity involved is wholly positive its usually the result that matters not the effort. Efficient slacking may beat inneficient effort.

  • Tony Greaves 31st Aug '12 - 3:08pm

    “Hard-working families” is just a stupid lazy phrase which came out of stupid lazy-thinking New Labour. First used (I think) by G Brown.

    When he first used it in abudget speech I put down a question to ask HMG what it means. I got a puzzled phone call from the Government Whip’s Office to ask me what my question meant. (Amd inevitably in the end an anodyne meaningless answer).

    Tony Greaves

  • For contrast’s sake let’s compare the party leadership defence of ‘hard-working families’ with recent attacks by our opponents on ‘idlers’.

    Perhaps they were working so hard they hadn’t had a moment to think about what they were going to say and how it divides the politicians from the people. I prefer for them to put away the carrots and the sticks to try opening some minds.

    Since leadership is about more than passing orders on, Priti Patel et al actually undermined their ambition for advancement by coming over all Sergeant-majorish. It must be about being able to step back from the fray to get a perspective and make decisions.

    Likewise as LibDems we cannot claim to be credible about dispersing power to individuals when our rhetoric timidly complies with their conventions; we must better formulate our rhetorical devices and catchphrases. Tim Farron’s responsiveness is to be welcomed therefore.

    For LibDems to get drawn into the tribal identity politics of offering to support people because of their background is a fools errand and one which we will always end up losing by. Nobody can change the past. Equally our message isn’t simply about reforming the state to create compliant slave-citizens, it’s about being open to the positive impact of empowering individuals to fulfil their own potential.

    We want everyone to be a leader, whether by leading their own life or by becoming a true champion.

    @Tony Greaves
    insults in place of real criticism is an equally good example of lazy-thinking.

  • I doubt “battlers” will be intuitively obvious to anyone!

  • Liberal Neil 31st Aug '12 - 6:48pm

    ‘Hard–working families’ is also a rubbish phrase because ‘families’ aren’t usually ‘hard-working’, although individual members of families may well be.

    Anyone who uses the phrase clearly hasn’t brought up teenagers!

    Credit to Tim for listening and responding. And I’m pretty sure he does his own tweets, I’ve been with him when he’s done them!

  • Simon Titley 31st Aug '12 - 8:35pm

    ‘Hard-working families’ (along with ‘hard-pressed families’, ‘struggling families’, ‘ordinary families’, ‘modern families’ and ‘alarm clock Britain’) is what is known in the trade as a ‘glittering generality’:

    I examined this phenomenon in an article in the February 2011 edition of Liberator:

  • themanwithsalthair 31st Aug '12 - 9:36pm

    In order to meet ‘hard working families’ so that ‘their ‘heart can go out’ to them, we must admire those politicians who deign to ‘go up and down the country’.

  • Simon Titley 1st Sep '12 - 1:09am

    @themanwithsalthair – The politicians who “go up and down the country” always tell us “what I’m hearing on the doorsteps”, which, curiously, always endorses what these politicians were going to say anyway.

  • Richard Dean 1st Sep '12 - 1:57am

    There’s also no doubt that one of the most misused phrases in politics today is “There’s no doubt that …” The next phrase is, curiously,always something highly dubious that the speaker wants you to believe and usually hasn’t researched much, But anyway, there’s always doubt – it keeps us sane! 🙂

  • Tim L – No, we shouldn’t use “battlers” for three reasons:
    1 Obscure (rather akin to Alarm Clock Britain, and look how that took off) .
    2 Aussie – why should Brit politicos use Oz phrases, it’ll be “The Right Honourable Scumbag” next!
    3 It seems to have distinct overlaps with Hard Working families, the negative connotations of which people here are trying to get rid of!

  • Simon Titley 1st Sep '12 - 2:01pm

    The main reasaon why Tim Farron shouldn’t use ‘battlers’ is that no politician should be using any of these hand-me-down phrases at all. Say what you mean and don’t use empty slogans.

  • @Simon Titley
    Quite agree. For me, the worst of these to have trickled down politicians’ trousers over the years is the phrase “ordinary working people”, recently adjusted by Nick Clegg to “ordinary, hardworking people” in his description of the recipients of a fairer tax threshold.

  • Richard, you forgot ‘everybody knows that..’ or ‘the fact is…’..
    Anyway we are looking for another term such as the ‘man of the Clapham omnibus’, or ‘the man in the street’, what about ‘normal people’, works for me, ie not those who earn in a year what the rest of us would take two lifetimes to earn, those who work a standard working week, don’t spend half their money in the pub or the bookies and still struggle to meet normal bills, the people who just haven’t got the ‘spare’ £1 a month to join the Party…

  • Simon Titley 1st Sep '12 - 10:17pm

    @peter – We should not be “looking for another term”. The point is to stop using such phrases entirely. And as for your suggestion of ‘normal people’, no Liberal has any business talking about ‘normal people’. There is no such thing. We’re all different!

  • David Allen 1st Sep '12 - 11:55pm

    Even if you believe in dog-whistling, “battlers” does not work. One dog-whistle interpretation would be bar-brawlers. Another would be strugglers/losers.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Sep '12 - 9:57am

    Jennie Rigg, for some reason, seems to think (without obvious evidence) that ‘hard working families’ does not include families headed by single mothers (not ‘single parents'(sic), you’ll notice!).

    Presumably Tim Farron should never talk about footballers (we are not all footballers), road sweepers…………… tent dwellers………………….hill farmers…………………..? And as for pensioners……………… …..(!)

    Who says that Tim is talking about traditional families? Well, it’s Jennie Rigg who seems to have decided for us all (for I am part of such) that our families are not included when anyone talks about ‘hard-working’ families.

    This country is full of real problems which Tim Farron and others want to face up to and deal with. Let’s send the ‘semantic SAS’ back to barracks.

  • Simon Titley – I’m not

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