Dear Aunt Agatha,
As a reasonably successful journalist, I try to reflect the lives and experiences of ordinary people in my work. Like them, I know about the struggle to make ends meet. I nearly fainted when I saw the last bill for air-conditioning at my Tuscany villa. I, too, have felt the full horror of using paper straws to stir drinks on first class flights. Many of my family of distinguished academics actually worked for a living. I know the despair that comes with facing a lifetime of manual work – I myself did 8 months of it 50 years ago. It formed the research basis of my book “Hard Work.” I even allowed some state education into the lives of my children. I can empathize with the hardships students face today, in that it took me nearly 6 months to fill out my St Anne’s College, Oxford, scholarship with my one A-level in English Literature. And I have 4 honorary degrees to show my solidarity with today’s students. The problem is this: my success at representing and campaigning for ordinary people has put me into the top 1% of wage-earners. How can I avoid charges of hypocrisy, that I advocate policies in public that I am not prepared to live up to in private?
Many left-wing commentators face the same problem, and I do sympathize. If you advocate higher taxes and a more modest lifestyle for the rich and successful, critics will say, “go ahead.” They will suggest that you send money to the Treasury, convert your second home into a shelter for the homeless, and start using public transport. I suggest you should say you are quite ready to do this, on condition that everyone else does. If you alone were to become poor and dispossessed, you can tell your critics, then the real poor and dispossessed would lose a powerful and effective voice speaking on their behalf. Appear on as many TV programmes and sell as many books as possible with this message. This will bring you a reputation for compassion even as you bank the fees and royalties that result.