Latest post on Left Futures

The poor don’t have a party

The Tories are now the party of the poor, Iain Duncan Smith told a fringe meeting at Conservative Party conference this week. That he can even get away with such a surreal claim without attracting widespread derision underlines just how far the issue of poverty reduction no longer looms large on the political agenda.

I don’t underestimate the sincerity of a quiet man. Ever since he was forced out of the Tory leadership, IDS has devoted much of his political time to the question of welfare reform. He has been widely commended for taking the problem seriously, and for developing a new approach within a centre-right framework.

IDS was also indisputably correct when he observed that under New Labour, income inequality in this country rose to the highest level seen since 1961, the first year for which calculations of the so-called Gini Coefficient are available.

But that is not the full story, of course. Look at the time series shows and you will see that the decisive transition between the relatively egalitarian postwar social democratic arrangements and the shocking degree of inequality we see today took place in the 1980s.

In other words, the Thatcher years were the time when poverty exploded in Britain, and that was the entirely predictable outcome of measures enacted by a prime minister for whom IDS has repeatedly expressed his admiration. The Tories are the party that created mass poverty in its current manifestation.

New Labour did what it could, within the limitations of its timid political thinking, to change that state of affairs. The National Minimum Wage was a step in the right direction. I’m not sure which way Duncan Smith voted on that one. Perhaps he would care to remind us?

Tax credits and Sure Start should also be numbered among the achievements of the Blair and Brown administrations. Nevertheless, inequality continued to grow, as is unsurprising under a government that boasted of being intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.

The Coalition can fairly be asked to be judged on its record, and we do not yet have any meaningful statistical indicators to prove the argument one way or another. But a platform that includes a three year freeze in child benefit, the abolition of baby bonds, hundreds of thousands of public sector redundancies and a housing benefit cap does not exactly establish Cameron and Clegg as the legitimate successors to Robin Hood.

If the phrase ‘the party of the poor’ is interpreted as meaning ‘the party with effective policies to bring about a reduction in poverty’ – and what else could it sensibly mean? – then the truth is that the poor currently do not have a party, and British politics is worse off for that fact.

Comments are closed.

© 2024 Left Futures | Powered by WordPress | theme originated from PrimePress by Ravi Varma