There was a remarkable moment during Channel 4 News’ coverage of George Osborne’s pre-election budget this week. The format for Channel 4’s budget coverage never changes; the formula is: hire a pub to broadcast live from, bring together one or two posh types with a few regular folk on middle or low incomes, and then start stirring up some discussion. Usually the result is little more than a predictable run-through of the announced measures, with expressions of dismay or delight, depending upon the participants’ political leanings and economic status.
Enter Chris Dawson, owner of the Range superstore. You can find out all about the Range by visiting their website. They are a sort of poor man’s Next, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing. The sort of place where you can pick up a small electrical white good (like a freezer) at the back of the store and buy a box of candy whilst going through the checkout. Their homepage also links to another page where you can find out all about Chris Dawson. You will perhaps get a sense of the character of this self-confessed “Del Boy” (see picture) if I quote from his “About” page:
Chris featured in the Sunday Times rich List and continues to climb places each year. His ethos in business is to make as much profit as possible; whilst to some this may be seen as greed, in his eyes it is merely the measure of how successful he is in his chosen field.
This clear-cut philosophy is obviously what prompted him, as a participant in Channel 4’s budget coverage, to reply to an NHS worker who dared to complain that her pay has been frozen for several years: “Ah, well, the NHS… Maybe you love the job, I don’t know. But have you considered doing a course related to something else and entering a different line of work?”
Perhaps Mr Dawson, who started his working life as an open air market trader, thinks that NHS work is so fully-marketised that, instead of a standard pay scale, NHS workers literally compete with each other for work, so that by the end of the working day, the better ones will have earned more money and will therefore have a proper measure of how successful they have been in their chosen career. Perhaps that is the basis on which people working at the Range are paid; I’m not sure, but I’ll be certain to ask one of them next time I’m in there.
An associate of David Cameron (Mr Dawson’s “About” page features the obligatory photographs of him standing next to the Prime Minister, no doubt another “measure” of success in his chosen field), he spent much of his five minutes on national television justifying his positive economic assessments by alluding to very important business deals he “obviously couldn’t talk about” on air (we viewers were left with no doubt that we were being graced with the precious time of a well-connected and powerful man).
I wonder however, if, in the ruling class circles through which Mr Dawson cuts such a dashing figure, the people in power are really listening to him and his philosophy. After all, the government are paying out huge sums in terms of in-work benefits to working people through tax credits and the like, effectively subsidising the low wages of Mr Dawson’s competitors with whom he has to compete for workers. Surely – I mean, SURELY – if the people in power were listening to him, they would understand that if the government refused to subsidise low wages in this way, Mr Dawson could temporarily divert his profits towards paying higher wages to his employees in the medium term, thereby eventually putting his competitors out of business, in order to reap greater longer-term profits. (“It’s called playing the long-game, innit, Rodney? Cushtie!”)
But then I suppose the reason that nobody hears Mr Dawson say this is because Mr Dawson knows not to say this sort of thing when he turns up to functions at which the Prime Minister, or other powerful people, are in attendance. For he knows that his competitors are in the building at the same time as him and the idea would not go down very well. Oh well, then, perhaps he knows that there is a limit to the profits he can expect to accumulate, for so long as he is reliant on the surrounding power network, the group, the social class, of which he is a part. The measure of success in his chosen field is not absolute – it is compromised by social and political relations. So, despite the fact that individually they may all have to bury their desire to extinguish each other in the name of profit and power, the capitalist class joke with each other about how “we’re all in this together”. The collective enterprise, the class project of accumulation through dispossession, continues.
And what, finally, of Mr Dawson’s employees working in the Range? They turn up to work every day, after a night out clubbing or working in a bar or even studying hard to find a better job; they certainly joke with each other too, albeit about less-political stuff like Gogglebox and Grumpy Cat, but do they ever talk about the possibility of what they might achieve together if they were to ask each other: “whilst we’re all hard at work slogging our guts out here, what does that bloke Chris Dawson actually do?”
I’m not sure if the employees at the Range do ever ask each other this question. But I’ll be certain to ask one of them next time I’m in there.