Inequality and Brexit

inequality street 4The Social Liberal Forum conference on Inequality takes place on Saturday in Holloway, central London and readers of LDV are very welcome to come along and participate. We have added a morning session on Brexit to give everyone an early opportunity to debate the implications for the party. Please register in advance via the Social Liberal Forum website.  Guest speakers include Vince Cable, Norman Lamb, Sal Brinton, Shiv Malik, Neil Lawson from Compass and Karin Robinson from Democrats Abroad.

So why are we focussing on inequality?

The EU referendum result came as a terrible shock. Just as we started to wonder where we go from here, news came in of the reactions this provoked, one of which is a huge increase in Lib Dem membership. This opens the possibility that the Liberal Democrats may become a major force in British politics again. Another of course is a huge increase in racially motivated violence and intolerance. So we have more Lib Dem members becoming active in an increasingly illiberal society.

Leave still won, and what should we make of that? Of course, all kinds of people voted leave, but there is no doubt that many of them are angry. For them voting Remain meant voting for the status quo, and that was the last thing they wanted to do. The traditional Tory shires voted leave, but so did many former industrial towns that normally voted Labour. According to Tim Farron “It was also a howl of anger at politicians and institutions who they feel are out of touch and have let them down.” At the recent Compass conference the Guardian journalist John Harris said “If you woke up on Friday morning thinking that the country had been taken over by a social tribe you didn’t think you know much about and you suddenly felt terrified about the future, bear in mind that is how millions of people have felt in this country for decades”.

So how do we tackle inequality? Inequality dramatically increased after the breakdown of the Keynesian economic consensus in the 1970s that led to the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Ronald Reagan in the US in 1980 and other right wing governments in the EU soon after that. The argument was that increasing inequality was a price worth paying for greater economic prosperity  and that wealth would “trickle down” to those of lower incomes. Eventually this was agreed by leaders of other political parties, notably Tony Blair in the Labour party.

But what is happening now? The economic crises of 2008 would suggest the Thatcherite consensus should now end, but it is carrying on under the current Tory government. There are plenty of symptoms that things are going wrong – the bubble in the housing market, the cuts in welfare and local services, the proliferation of zero hour contracts, the failure of the NHS reforms.

Yet it is the centre left that is now in crises, and UKIP are threatening to sweep up Labour heartland seats that voted to leave the EU creating an even bigger right wing majority. So what can be done? Is some form of progressive alliance the answer? What can we learn from the US presidential campaign? Come along and have your say.

* Geoff Payne is the events organiser for Hackney Liberal Democrats

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9 Comments

  • Unfortunately, it’s too far for me to attend.

    The referendum showed how spectacularly different London is from the rest of the UK so it’s difficult to imagine a proper understanding of the disconnect felt by the rest of the nation emerging there. Tim Farron is right to say it’s a “howl of anger at politicians and institutions etc.” but the uncomfortable truth is that the Lib Dems are simply terrible at taping into the zeitgeist as all national election results confirm. So are there any ideas on how to make the party less metropolitan and more connected to the real world outside of London?

    Inequality is just a symptom of deep underlying forces just as most mountain ranges are the result of happenings far below the surface but only when the theory of continental drift was developed could geologists properly begin to understand how and why and where they form.

    In much the same way the Tories (not the average member to be sure, just the high command) understand the deep forces that drive inequality very well and use them ruthlessly to advance the vested interest of those already at the top of the food chain.

    The challenge for liberals is to match the Tories’ understanding of those forces but as far as I can tell that’s not a strategic imperative that’s been identified, let alone responded to. Please tell me I’m wrong about that.

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Jul '16 - 7:04pm

    Gordon – ‘The referendum showed how spectacularly different London is from the rest of the UK.’

    It is worth noting that there were more Leave votes in London than were cast for Sadiq Khan. Parts of the London periphery and non-London SE voted LEAVE. It’s not just a London thing.

  • A common Labour view is that when the angry dispossessed demand lower immigration and vote Leave, what they need is to be educated by their intellectual superiors, and persuaded that they have got it all wrong. In the conventional Labour view, it is Tory inequality which is hurting the working class, not immigration. So they should learn to pipe down, accept advice from middle class socialists, and stop worrying about immigration.

    An alternative view is that when lots of people say they want a particular thing, politicians who are not completely up themselves and think they always know best ought to see if they can reasonably deliver that thing. It’s not racist to feel that the population is growing uncomfortably fast. It’s not racist to change an economic policy so that our country stops sucking in such large numbers of economic migrants. It’s also quite possible that the dispossessed of places like Sunderland, who were first discovered by the Labour In campaign when they started phoning them up from London about a month ago, actually know more about what is bad for Sunderland than all those socialist experts who wish to educate their so-called working class “support base”.

    We lost Europe, and it wasn’t only down to Leave’s lies. It was also down to the insensitivity and arrogance of many from Remain.

  • David Allen 12th Jul '16 - 9:25am

    Joe, sadly you’re right. Just for a change, my wishes look like getting grossly over-delivered!

    Osborne’s high house-price policy was a kind of bastardised Keynesianism which provided an economic stimulus which worked, and sucked in migrants (never mind the cost in terms of wrecking the housing market).

    What clever wheeze will they try next? Well, they have now freed themselves from the need to pretend it’s all about cutting the deficit. Stand by for big tax cuts and a burgeoning deficit. Remember, it’s all part of our long term economic plan…!

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Jul '16 - 2:26pm

    Reading many comments and posts about our future there are two opposing messages. One, the EU has improved our lives, free movement has helped us grow in many ways, we don’t need any more housing just deter people from coming to popular areas, there aren’t any problems with local services. The second, the EU is unwieldy and undemocratic, free movement has has taken our jobs, we desperately need more housing, our local services are at breaking point. It sounds as if we don’t live in the same world doesn’t it?
    Well imho that is exactly the problem, we do live in different worlds. All the experts that came out on the side of Remain live in one world and many of those who voted Leave live in another. As someone said in another post (I apologise for not being able to find it again so as to give a name) free movement is brilliant for creative, scientific, collaborative jobs but not for unskilled jobs where employers use cheap migrant labour rather than more expensive local workers. This also puts a strain on local services. In this other world there isn’t enough social housing to rent so I may easily slip into homelessness, I haven’t got a passport, my local factory has relocated to Eastern Europe, other local employers won’t give me a job, my wife is disabled and she has been denied disability benefit and at my children’s school there are a lot of kids who can’t speak English, so that must be why my kids are doing so badly. They will never get a better life.
    This is a broad generalisation and many people voted Leave who don’t live in this second world but would YOU like to live there? As a party of democracy we cannot ignore people’s votes. We have to improve life for the have nots at the same time as we try to speak up for those who voted Remain.

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