There has been a concerted campaign over the last few weeks against people working from home post pandemic. Given the appalling way that Downing Street was run during Covid you would have thought that 4pm wine time guys would keep their mouth shut.
The campaign is being run by senior figures in the Government, including Boris Johnson, closely co-ordinated with the Daily Mail and Telegraph. This isn’t unusual – the Mail and the Telegraph are almost indistinguishable from Conservative Central Office press team these days.
Modern newspapers are much more about on line readership and advertising than print copies. However the people who own and print newspapers still care a lot about how many physical copies they shift.
Newspapers in the UK are much more than news – powerful newspaper owners peddle influence to politicians, mostly right wing, who in turn protect the newspaper owners financial interests. Selling millions of copies a day are a measure of their power and influence. A virility test.
Paper sales have, however fallen very sharply over the last few years.
These numbers almost certainly overstate sales; The Sun, Times, Telegraph and Guardian titles no longer publish their ABC print circulations, which makes it hard to track their decline.
As you can see there was a huge fall off in print sales during the pandemic, a fall off from which the industry has never recovered.
There are 3 main markets for print newspapers:
- Old people who still like a morning paper delivered
- Commuters on the way to the office
- bulk giveaways- some newspapers like the Telegraph give away large volumes of their print edition to hotels, conference venues, etc to boost circulation
If people are working from home they aren’t commuting and they aren’t going to conference venues or away days. This has taken a big chunk out of newspaper circulations
The Government realised this early on in the pandemic and provided huge amounts of funding to newspaper owners – over £10m a month under the heading of ‘All In, All Together’. We don’t yet know how long this arrangement lasted for, or whether the deal was agreed via official channels – Dominic Cummings claims that it wasn’t. We don’t even know how much it cost the taxpayer yet. A cynic would wonder whether this was Boris using taxpayers money to buy positive coverage of his failing Covid response.
This explains why the newspapers have such a downer on working from home -but why are Ministers, included the Prime Minister playing along?
Obviously because it keeps press barons onside during one of the worst scandals in British political history. But I think there is more than that.
Taxes have gone up sharply over the last year to levels last seen under Tony Blair. But the Government has made big commitments on pensions and NHS spending, which mean that most Government departments have real terms budgets lower than 2010. Long Covid and long NHS waiting lists are driving up the costs of long term sickness.
Rather than accept that budgets and head count are lower the Government prefers to blame civil servants for their own bad decisions. Bashing them over working from home is a lot easier than accepting that there are too few staff trying to cope with a mass of Government bureaucracy, lots of it due to Boris’ bad Brexit deal.
This explains why the Government bash civil servants, but why bash private sector workers? Aren’t the Conservatives the party of business?
The big divide in modern British politics isn’t between rich and poor. It is between people who work and people who don’t.
People who work for a living overwhelmingly don’t vote Conservative, and supported Remain
Boris’s vote base is almost all non-working – retirees and under 65 economically inactive (early retired). The demographics of leave are the same. Red wall seats that backed the Boris have a very distinctive demographic – they are place where the young and the talented move away from, leaving behind retired people who resent the people who left, and the liberal attitudes they bring back when they come to visit. When all of the young have gone to University immigrants arrive who provide basic services to a population who resents them too.
In this regard the UK is becoming like the US – a land where a diverse, liberal, and well educated workforce pay a record amount in taxes to support a less educated, unproductive conservative minority who dominate the political system.
This retired generation benefited from free education, a generous welfare state, fully funded pensions, cheap housing, but have become resentful and angry, encouraged by politicians and newspapers. They feel their loss of social status and cultural marginalisation, and these are their motivations. The leave campaign and Boris in 2019 were very good at pushing social conservative and culture wars issues helped by newspapers.
These stories about working from home tap into a profound belief that the younger generation have it too easy, and need to be taught a lesson – even though they work longer hours, with worse pensions, less secure jobs and unaffordable housing.
On the train last week a older chap loudly addressed the carriage with his views on the matter. He didn’t always agree with Rees-Mogg but thought he was bang on the money handing out notes to civil servants working from home.
You could really have summarised his entire speech with the phrase “young folks today, they don’t know they’re born”