Opinion: It’s the Inequality

Gary Lineker has been coming out with some pithy, relevant comments recently on Twitter, and much like an essential feature of the game he professionally played, the result of the US election reveals a country of two halves.

Like Brexit, this result and the corresponding lurch to the right, stem from inequality. Unfortunately, and quite to the contrary of what these dispossessed people have voted for, the resulting administration now has the propensity to make their situation far worse.

It is one thing to be a demagogue and stand up and say what you think people want you to say. It is another thing to deliver that change, especially when your agenda is probably quite different to the one you used to get into power. So those people who voted for him must get used to the idea of getting disillusioned–especially with reference to “building the wall”–pretty soon.

But who can guess what is going on in Donald Trump’s mind? It is certainly the case that he has supported Democrat candidates in the past and has sometimes appeared liberal in what he has said. But he will feel the pressure of a resurgent Republican party and all the extremes that such an establishment contains and has no choice but to act accordingly.

So the lurch to the right is now here to stay and may be enlarged by forthcoming elections in Europe. All of us who are liberal and progressive are undoubtedly fearful. We are fearful, in particular, of right-wing policies connected to: climate change; civil rights; growing nationalism; welfare; taxation and the handling of the economy in general.

The opportunity is there to be seized for liberalism, but we need to make the argument and in particular appeal to those who have been left behind. In reality, no party has truly represented them for years.

In particular our ideas, campaigns and resulting policies must specifically address and advance how changes that have been brought about by exponential growth in technology and growing globalization can and will be a benefit to all and not some. Inequality is the great social evil of our times for those living in much of the developed world and has to be countered head on.

The right will not do this, much as they may claim otherwise. Post Brexit and post Trump, if you are progressive, it’s not enough to stand around and despair. There has to be hope. This is the time for liberalism and progressives everywhere.

* Helen Flynn is an Executive Member of the LDEA. She is a former Parliamentary Candidate and Harrogate Borough Councillor and has served on the Federal Policy Committee and Federal Board. She has been a school governor in a variety of settings for 19 years and currently chairs a multi academy trust in the north of England.

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27 Comments

  • Christopher Haigh 9th Nov '16 - 1:25pm

    The impact of globalisation on the former industrial prolatariat is being felt big time in the Anglo-Saxon world. Trouble
    is it’s been US foreign policy since Eisenhower and the entire world economy is built around it. We rely on cheap manufactured imports. I don’t know how globalisation can be reversed other than through a massive increase in transport costs and tariff barriers and decline in currency values making foreign imports more unaffordable.

  • Andrew Melmoth 9th Nov '16 - 1:47pm

    I don’t know whether the picture changes now the actual result is in but according to Nate Silver in May the median income of a trump supporter was well above the national median.
    The mythology of trumps working class support
    Inequality is playing a role but it is certainly not all that is going on.

  • Simon mcgrath 9th Nov '16 - 1:54pm

    Except that poorer white people voted for Hillary not Trump and inequality in the Uk hasnt been increasing.
    It much more dificult than inequality , its large.y about race and immigration.

  • @ Joe Otten I’m sorry to disagree with you, Joe, but Helen is absolutely correct about the issue of inequality. I’m afraid the failure to see and understand that was part of problem during our period in Coalition………….. and the consequence was what happened to the party in May, 2015.

    If you, and the people who think like you don’t get this, then the Lib Dems are doomed to permanent failure and obscurity. The old Liberal Party was at it’s most effective and successful when it practised and understood that…… but when it no longer did post 1914 it withered and almost died. It revived under Jo Grimond’s recognition of this and his pursuit post 1956 of radical policies.

    A very pale pink version of Tory-lite will be rejected but a determined effort to tackle inequality with well thought out radical policies might just get a hearing given the vacuum on the left. If this doesn’t happen then in the long run it will be goodnight Vienna.

  • Phil Boothroyd 9th Nov '16 - 2:36pm

    Joe – I don’t think the fact that it was predominantly lower middle earners rather than the lowest earners refutes the hypothesis. Without more detailed info I couldn’t say with certainty, but, I would imagine that the lowest earners would be disproportionately ethnic minorities – and they may have voted against Trump for obvious reasons! Secondly, I would imagine that anger is not just about absolute earnings, as the difference between the expected and actual standard of living. I expect that in the US, much like here, lower middle class earners would have expected to be financially secure – but are probably finding that they can’t afford their own home, have less job security and have lower living standards generally. Tragically, I can all too easily imagine that while the lowest earners struggle on, they never expected much to begin with. That’s not to say there aren’t white supremacists or sexist bigots in the Trump mix as well, of course there are, but in my view there is no way they could win an election on their own.

  • paul barker 9th Nov '16 - 2:37pm

    No, its not. More of those on lower incomes voted got Clinton, more on higher incomes voted Trump. Those are the inconvenient Facts, go look it up on The BBC Reality Check section of their coverage.
    That is not to say that Class identity wasnt involved, Trumps appeal to nostalgia was partly directed at older, Blue Collar workers & ex-workers but that was part of a much wider pitch to everyone yearning for the Good Old Days.
    The big divisions were on Ethnic Identity, Age & Education, in that order. Culture beat Economy, hands down.
    Its about always having someone else you can look down on. Trump is, in many ways, revenge for Obama – The Whitelash.

  • @ Joe Otten I’m not raging against anything, Joe, just pointing out the obvious fact that there is a large section of British society disaffected by big business, globalisation, the erosion of public services and the seeming ability of the super-rich to avoid taxation (tho’ Trump gets away with this). Philip Green is a case in point.

    Paradoxically the expat non-dom media owners are clever enough to deflect attention from all this by acting as cheer leaders playing on resentment in their tabloid and media outlets.

    I’m afraid the former leadership of our party failed to understand or empathise with any of this and were perceived as part of that establishment. I’m afraid you don’t seem to understand it either (though May seems to be able to pay lip service to it). Of course race and immigration are part of the brew – but why vote very pale blue Tory lite Lib Dem when you can vote for the real thing.

  • paul barker 9th Nov '16 - 3:01pm

    Sorry, to amend my earlier post, add Gender after Ethnic Identity & remove the word got in the 1st line.
    I went to bed thinking Clinton had won so I am in a bit of a state.

  • David Evans 9th Nov '16 - 3:13pm

    Paul, Joe, I am afraid you are missing a point here, partly because the BBC data is not as comprehensive as that in the New York Times.

    True more on lower incomes voted Trump, but the change from last time was stark. In the under $30,000 bracket there was a swing to Trump of 16%. The £30k to £50k band swung by 6% to Trump. Other bands swung slightly to the Democrats. In other words, the Democrats’ grip on lower income voters weakened the most, largely because Trump’s message of and unjust system resonated with them.

    As David Raw indicates, we ignore this at our peril.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Nov '16 - 3:19pm

    @ Phil Boothroyd,
    I agree with everything that you say in your post.

    Those likely to be on the lowest income and those most likely to suffer discrimination in the job market. Until there is a further analysis we can’t know, but those from ethnic minorities, or women, no matter how low their their income, would have good reason to vote against Trump.

  • Paul Murray 9th Nov '16 - 3:22pm

    Perhaps this graphic of exit poll demographics from the New York Times today (with changes since 2012) might be helpful: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/08/us/politics/election-exit-polls.html

    Firstly, let’s put the gender issue to one side. The tabs show that in 2012 male/female support for the Republican candidate was 52%/44% (i.e. 52% of men voted Republican and 44% of women did so). In 2016 the equivalent numbers were 53%/42%. This indicates no significant change in support for the Republican candidate in 2016 versus 2012 on voter gender.

    The two datapoints I would highlight are the large shift in support to the Democrat candidate among those earning under $30,000 – from 63% in 2012 to 53% in 2016. While by contrast 44% of those earning over $100,000 voted Democrat in 2012 while 48% did so this year. So this cycle, the poor were less likely to vote Democrat, and the rich were more likely to do so.

    The other demographic I would pick out is “white without a college degree”. The Democrats got 36% support from this group in 2012 but only 28% support from the same group in 2016.

    The data is interesting as it includes historical data dating back a number of elections. But it clearly indicates that poorer people were more likely to vote Republican in this cycle versus 2012, and that there was a marked decline in support for the Democrats from the white, non college-educated population.

  • Andrew McCaig 9th Nov '16 - 3:56pm

    Paul Murray,

    Those two groups moving towards the Republicans are the same people so it is hard to know whether education or income is the deciding factor..

    But the correlations are very noticeably the same as in the referendum here. The weaker correlation is with age. Most young people still vote Democrat but Trump captured more of that age group. But I believe young people voted strongly for Remain because of an internationalist outlook coupled with growing up in the EU. That would not apply so much to voting for Clinton.

  • Paul Murray 9th Nov '16 - 4:37pm

    @Andrew McCaig – I don’t think they are “the same people” although the white non college-educated undoubtedly has a good overlap with low income.

    But the Democrat did better in 2016 amongst black voters while experiencing a drop in support from Latino voters. Many of these voters are likely to be in low-income too.

    It is a shame that there is no 2012 data for non-white college grads as it would be a useful measure of the impact of Trump’s bombastic rhetoric on those voters.

  • Two thoughts and a question and a clue

    1. Polls tell you much less than you think. People say what they think people want to hear in the main and not what is in their heart.
    2. Looking at the data of how much people earns tells you less. It isn’t the amount but the direction of travel; if they think they will be better off next year they’ll be happy, if they believe they will be poorer they won’t be. At the present time most in the West believe they will be poorer, hence the rise of the outsiders; you’ve failed us I’ll give him (occasional her) a go and don’t be trying to dissuade me you’ve failed us.

    So how do Liberals give people hope? As James Carville said “It’s the economy, stupid.”

  • Paul Murray 9th Nov '16 - 5:37pm

    The many begging emails I received from James Carville during the campaign had the subject field “We’re SCREWED”. I assume this was meant as a marketing tactic rather than an eerily accurate prediction.

  • Apropos Helen’s article on inequality,those who persist in sticking their heads in the sand should consider information given to MSP’s at Holyrood yesterday on food bank activity by the Tressell Trust.

    Referrals are up on the same period last year with a staggering throughout the UK total of almost 64,000. My own foodbank was up by around 23% from 2015.

    Inequality (in work as well as out of work poverty) is an issue – and will get worse with the reduction of the welfare cap. The biggest food bank in Glasgow is in financial problems and may have to close. The national Tressell Trust itself is also in financial trouble.

    Those who make comparisons with 27,000 taxed income should remember the 20,000 is for a whole family not an individual.

  • Inequalities must have a role. In the 1960’s and 70’s inequalities were reduced because government pursued policies to keep the number of unemployment people low. Following the Second World War there were policies to encourage (force) companies (who employed over a certain number) to employ disabled people and there was not a large number of people not working for health related reasons as there are today.

    However linked to these policies was the idea that the next generation would be better off than the current one, which was better off than the previous one. There was a general feeling of economic hope. Today for many there is no economic hope, the next generation is less likely to own their own home, they will have to work until they are older than previous generations, they are not going to have the opportunity to have earning related pensions via company pension schemes. They are not going to be better off that their parents or grandparents.

  • We need to have policies to give people hope. To reform the UK so the next generation will be better off than this one and the previous one. The government needs to pursue economic policies to reduce unemployment not by punishing those not in work, but having policies to encourage (force) companies to employ those who have issues which do not always make them the best conformist workers. It seems that this has to be linked to restricting companies from employing foreigners. The economic law of demand and supply states that when a commodity is unlimited its price will fall and when limited its price will rise. If a company can always find a new worker there is little incentive to increase wages to encourage someone to leave their current employer to work for them. If a company no longer has access to this pool of people who can move here to work then wages will increase for the poorest. Part of this should be ensuring that wages increase for the poorest, as liberals I think this means we have to accept the need to make paying the living wage(s) law.

    Part of these policies must be ensuring that we train enough people to work in the NHS and that we provide finance to ensure that those working in the care industry are paid more than the living wage. We need to make working in the NHS and the care industry more popular career choices. Of course we need to build more houses, is 300,000 a year enough or could more be built?

    Others may be able to suggest other policies to give economic hope to everyone in the UK, especially to those who feel they are not getting better off and / or feel they will not be better off than previous generations.

  • Simon McGrath 10th Nov '16 - 10:52am

    @David Raw: “Apropos Helen’s article on inequality,those who persist in sticking their heads in the sand should consider information given to MSP’s at Holyrood yesterday on food bank activity by the Tressell Trust.

    Referrals are up on the same period last year with a staggering throughout the UK total of almost 64,000. My own foodbank was up by around 23% from 2015.

    Inequality (in work as well as out of work poverty) is an issue – and will get worse with the reduction of the welfare cap. The biggest food bank in Glasgow is in financial problems and may have to close. The national Tressell Trust itself is also in financial trouble.”
    you are talking about poverty – not inequality. Very different

  • Sue Sutherland 10th Nov '16 - 2:07pm

    Helen, I agree with you. Simon, poverty and inequality are linked because inequality makes people more aware of their poverty and an attack on benefits frightens everyone who knows that the only thing stopping them from poverty is their rather insecure employment.
    In Victorian times poverty often led to illness and death in the workhouse or on the streets. Now it leads to chronic ill health and a choice between food and heating and there is still death on the streets. Since Thatcher and Reagan economic policy has favoured the rich and greed has been acceptable. No wonder voters are clutching at straws.
    We have different values from the politics of greed which need to be expressed in our own economic policies. Surely it is ridiculous that the richest countries ever known have so much poverty. Isn’t it time for us to take up the other, forgotten part of Liberal policy and redistribute wealth? Isn’t it time to run the economy so no one is enchained by poverty?
    Does it really matter who the poorest in America voted for? Does our Preamble guide our policies more than scrambling for votes at the expense of our beliefs? We have very little left to lose so let’s have confidence in our unique vision and give people hope.

  • Peter Bancroft 10th Nov '16 - 2:17pm

    I found this assertion that it was emphatically not about the economy more convincing:
    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/trump-and-brexit-why-its-again-not-the-economy-stupid/

    There’s not a single piece of evidence in this LD Voice article which suggests that this is anything else than a reiteration of someone’s prejudices, whereas Kaufmann’s analysis is pretty hard to argue with.

  • Tom Papworth 10th Nov '16 - 4:34pm

    Peter Bancroft beat me to it – I was literally about to cite that same article.

    “Nearly 40 per cent of those who gave Trump 0 out of 10 said inequality was the #1 issue facing America. Among folks rating the Donald 10 out of 10, only 4 per cent agreed.”

    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/trump-and-brexit-why-its-again-not-the-economy-stupid/

  • I think Eric Kaufmann’s analysis is flawed. The article by Helen Flynn was about relative economic inequality and I am not sure that voters when asked about poverty and inequality make the link to their own relative economic prosperity. Therefore maybe the economy in general issue is a better guide to how important people think how important their own prosperity in relation to others is. This issue was the most important one for Trump supporters (by about 5%). For Brexit the most important issue is immigration and it should be no surprise that the economy is lower, because the Leave campaign message was leaving would only benefit the economy not make conditions worse. However I would argue that the reason immigration is the highest issue is because of economics and pressure on services (as others did in the comments on Kaufmann article). I am not convinced that for all of those who have immigration as their top issue have it there because they feel their culture threatened, but I would be interested if any research has been done in this area. However if there is a large part of the population who feel that their culture is threatened by immigration can a solution be provided that does not restrict the number of immigrants?

  • I can’t speak as to the reason for the outcome of the American election, can anyone yet?

    As a staunch brexit voter I would suggest that inequality, income or education are the main drivers will be out of power for some time yet. Of all the people I know who voted out, none of these were a priority / issue. Cultural identity was far more important.

    For myself, 35, two degrees, decent job and income it was as ‘simple’ as being at complete odds with the stated , aims and ambitions of the EU. I want no part of that organisation and wish not to be associated any longer with it’s intended direction of travel.

  • Ok that first bit should read
    I would suggest that any remain politician that believes inequality etc.

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