Alarm Clock Britain: why the doubters don’t quite persuade me

An alarm clock

Image by obpia30 from Pixabay.

Take a look at comments on blogs, Facebook or Twitter from Liberal Democrat activists after the two latest outings for Nick Clegg’s “Alarm Clock Britain” phrase – in his Sheffield conference speech and his post-Budget email – and the reaction is pretty universal. It’s not a popular phrase with activists.

I’m doubtful about the phrase myself, but … a good reason to give it a second thought is that from what I’ve seen many of the people who say they dislike it, also have said in the past that they hate “hard-working families” and similar phrases. Yet those phrases have come out extremely well when tested by research by all three of the main parties in their own different ways.

So there is a little voice of doubt at the back of my mind saying, “If so many people didn’t like that phrase but it actually worked well with many voters, perhaps the same is true of Alarm Clock Britain?”

There certainly is merit in a phrase that tries to capture an understanding of both the pressures that people in work but on low incomes face, and the resentment there often is at people they perceive at having things handed to them far too easily. Some of that resentment I strongly sympathise with – such as the way some banks are too big to fail and regardless of how badly they mess up, they get bailed out with senior staff leaving with very large pension pots. Some of it also comes from views that should be firmly opposed – such as hostility to recent immigrants based on all sorts of false scare stories about who is getting what housing or benefit payments. But simply ignoring it as it we wished it weren’t there is not a wise approach.

The right question therefore seems to me not to be Alarm Clock Britain or not, but if not the alarm clock what should the phrase be?

5 responses to “Alarm Clock Britain: why the doubters don’t quite persuade me”

  1. Well, “those people who work for a living” probably does the job (haha).

    But, as you hint, such phrases are often used to tap into prejudices about different groups of people (“scroungers”, “asylum seekers”, “bankers”) so finding something better than “Alarm Clock Britain” probably means hitting these prejudices more clearly. 🙁

  2. I think there are two separate objections to ‘Alarm Clock Britain’:

    1) It’s a dogwhistle attack on a number of groups, e.g. the unemployed, students.

    2) It’s an awful slogan.

    Some activists disliked ‘hardworking families’ because of point 1, but it was undoubtedly a very useful and effective little soundbite. ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ sounds like something from The Thick of It, and I don’t think it really resonates with people.

  3. I see Alarm Clock Britain as marginally more inclusive than Hard-Working Families (the single and childless are at least not explicitly excluded; the workless of course still are).

    The trouble is, both are so broad as to be almost meaningless: it could be taken to mean comfortably well-off households like mine as well as single parents in minimum wage jobs. Perhaps that is the attraction; people at all incomes except possibly the really superrich can think it means them and they are therefore being catered to.

    According to Nick Clegg’s conference speech, Alarm Clock Britain is those who live from one paypacket to the next, with no chance to save up a buffer against things going wrong, and earning just enough to lose many benefits. I’m all for helping this demographic. Perhaps we should be looking at phrases to do with pay packets, savings, safety nets, and similar.

    Or maybe it will grow on me in time.

  4. Alarm clock Britain does not seem very inclusive when so many people are losing their jobs. For those of us who do qualify the question that then comes to mind is “OK, so what?” Maybe government policies are geared to help me, but in practice they are a confusing mix, gains in some places, losses in others. Nick Clegg’s reference to “Alarm Clock Britain” does not connect with a feeling in the country that such people are benefiting.
    I think there is a deeper problem with Nick Clegg’s leaders speech recently; lack of vision. He was completely upstaged by Tim Farron. I found his speech parachiol. Little was said about the world stage or protecting the environment. I was not left with any compelling reason as to why the Liberal Democrats even exist. That has to change. Why should people be expected to vote for a party that in most seats cannot win. Where is our drive and purpose in life?

  5. The phrases ‘hard working families’ or just ‘people who work’ or ‘working people’ are fine surely?

    But a label that evokes something you throw at the wall, that no one in team-Clegg is prepared to own up to creating, and has been a source of 2 months of negative headlines is not obviously an asset.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.