THE Resolution Foundation identifies raising household incomes as an “urgent task” for our next prime minister.
It’s not one that appears high on the priorities of the two Tory candidates vying for that role, with cutting corporation tax and ramping up military spending the main themes. Boris Johnson is at least concerned with the household income of the richest, pledging to raise the threshold for paying the top rate of income tax to earnings of £80,000 a year from £50,000 (the Office for National Statistics’ annual survey of hours and earnings put the median salary in this country at £28,677 a year).
Neither he nor his rival Jeremy Hunt, however, has shown any interest in tackling the march of poverty across our communities.
Three years ago, when Theresa May succeeded David Cameron at the helm, she vowed to fight “burning injustices” caused by poverty and racism, berated “people in Westminster” for failing to realise how hard things were for working-class families, attacked the lack of job security, said she’d clamp down on tax avoidance by big business and even distanced herself from the Thatcherite ideology that has dominated her party since the 1980s: “We don’t just believe in markets but in communities. We don’t just believe in individualism but in society.”
The media gushed about “tanks on Labour’s lawn” and predicted that May would win the allegiance of millions of Labour voters put off by Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist programme, though it was presumably the novel existence of an actual opposition offering a different vision that prompted her to say it all in the first place.
In the event, May didn’t do anything about any of the issues she had raised. Poverty, including in-work poverty, has continued to rise. The Windrush scandal showed how seriously she took her own condemnation of state racism. Insecure work is increasingly the norm. May did not reverse the Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s sweeping reductions to public spending and local authority budgets that have wreaked havoc in communities up and down Britain as hospitals, schools and emergency services are forced to make cuts, libraries and youth clubs close and specialist services are withdrawn.
Dealing with these chronic problems would mean being ready to “take on the vested interests before us, to break up power when it is concentrated among the few,” which May bizarrely claimed had been the historic mission of the Conservatives, perhaps confusing her party with the labour movement. Since the Tories rule on behalf of the hedge fund managers and asset-strippers who bankroll their party, this was never going to happen.
Three years on, Johnson and Hunt barely bother to acknowledge that the problems she pointed to exist. They may take encouragement from a monopoly media happy to ignore the stress and misery caused by the intensification of workloads, the lack of secure jobs and crippled public services — a media which prefers to do its bit for the vested interests by a sustained character assassination of the Labour leader for daring to offer change.
But Labour’s leadership is still focused on the big issues. Today, John McDonnell details its plans for ending poverty: unshackled trade unions with the power to bargain collectively for higher pay, regional public banks to invest in accordance with a green industrial strategy creating secure, well-paid jobs, new funding for social assets like libraries and parks, free public transport for the young, an end to benefit sanctions and a social security system enshrining “the principle of universalism and looking after each other in times of need.”
What a contrast to a Tory Party indifferent to the plight of the overwhelming majority, with no understanding of what has gone wrong in our country and no plans to put it right. The labour movement must hold together despite relentless and dispiriting attacks so we can deliver a Corbyn-led government and transform our society.
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