Philip Alston and Transformational Change

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Eighteen months ago Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited Britain for a fortnight, and travelled round all four countries to meet officials and ordinary people and community organisations. After also studying all the documents that had been published on the state of poverty here, he issued a Statement. This document still makes very sad reading. It shows up serious societal problems which the political absorption on Brexit last year and on the health crisis this year have distracted from, and which a progressive party such as ours must surely address.

He wrote in his Introduction:

It seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks… the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth in homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth an unheard of level of loneliness and isolation. And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.

Describing people he had talked to dependent on foodbanks and charities, some homeless and sleeping on friends’ couches, young people who feel gangs are their only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities told to go back to work against their doctors’ orders, he also remarks on “tremendous resilience, strength and generosity” shown by neighbours, councils and charities in support.

However, he finds that the cutting back of welfare payments and services by governments in the name of the need for austerity policies actually showed “revolutionary change” in both the system for delivering social justice and “especially in the values underpinning it.”  He continues:

Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned. In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which they will have great difficulty escaping.

It is the underlying values and ethics that he believes have generated the greatest problems. He writes:

The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility… and to pursue a single-minded… focus on getting people into employment at all costs. British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach apparently designed to instil discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of instilling blind compliance…

He says the motivation strikes him as “wanting to make clear that being on benefits should involve hardship.”

So, evidently Professor Alston believes there has already been revolutionary change here, but in a wrong direction. He says that the change he wants is that social support should be a route out of poverty, and Universal Credit should be a key part of that, but he describes in detail the problems arising from its application, with its “draconian sanctions”, and delays that have led to people being plunged into further debt. He shows how austerity measures such as the 19% cut in local authority services have led to more costly crisis interventions.  He says that in-work poverty is increasingly common, with almost 60% of those in poverty being in families where someone works. He finds that people do want to work, but the levels of support mean that a single crisis for people with small resources can cast them into poverty, and points out that as the majority of people will need benefits of some kind in the course of their lifetime, it is in the interests of all to reform the system.

Poverty is a political choice, he concludes. Austerity could easily have spared the poor.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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36 Comments

  • @ Katharine

    You, and Michael BG, have campaigned on the report for well over a year. Have any Lib Dem members of either the Commons or the Lords responded to you in any way ? If not, it tells you something about their priorities.

  • Katharine Pindar 7th May '20 - 7:44pm

    An ‘l’ mysteriously fell out of Professor Alston’s name, above, but his message is crystal clear. I think, David, we do have sympathisers among both MPs and peers, and perhaps this reminder of the devastating Alston Statement will encourage them to break cover. If not, we must look to the many progressive thinkers among our members, and perhaps also to those in other parties too, to work to ensure the revolutionary change that the UN Rapporteur saw dominates political intention and action no more, but is firmly replaced as the healing of the nation now begins.

  • @Katharine Pindar – I’ve corrected the typo now.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th May '20 - 10:00am

    Just as VE day did not end the Second World War, so working through the hardships caused by Covid19 will not by itself make our society better. In many ways ours is a sick society. The wise and compassionate observer from outside, Philip Alston, showed that it is so, and more recently Professor Marmot confirmed that ‘Society has stopped improving’. Philip Alston listened to the voiceless, the poorest and most disadvantaged people, and so must we. I think that our party will only deserve to regain some share of power if we speak up and campaign for them and actually help to make society better,

  • Katharine Pindar 7th May ’20 – 7:44pm………………….. we do have sympathisers among both MPs and peers, and perhaps this reminder of the devastating Alston Statement will encourage them to break cover……………….

    Katharine, Perhaps it’s just me being old fashioned but I think it is THEY who should be encouraging US!

  • Well at least Katharine did get in a mention of VE Day – unlike the movers and shakers who run LDV.

    We’ll give it a quiet personal thought, and glad Dad was fortunate and lucky to come though it (but not home until 1946). His three closest friends didn’t and we’ll drink to them tonight. Dad spent VE Day cycling to the Island of Fynn in Denmark to find and pay respects at the grave of his closest boyhood friend, Pilot Sergeant Jack Potter, 420 Squadron, April 1942. R.I.P. Jack.

  • @David Raw – that is an unnecessary dig at the LDV team. If you wait for my Isolation Diary at 5pm you will find it is on exactly that subject. And not a single other person has sent in a post about VE Day. Please don’t blame us.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th May '20 - 3:17pm

    Freddie, thank you for your question. I believe the solutions to help heal the sickness of our society have to have both broad and a narrow focuses. First of all, let us accept that government direction in the last decade has dragged our society down. Both in its intentions and its actions, governments have allowed poverty and inequality to grow, and permitted division, narrowness of outlook and intolerance to fester, while giving a false impression of success. For instance, almost full employment has been trumpeted, when we all know that too many jobs are temporary and insecure and have left people struggling on benefits. Read Philip Alston in detail through the link given to realise the full extent of this. Even with two people in a family working, some people have not been able to earn enough to keep food on the table and had to resort to foodbanks. We must show up the wrong attitudes and consequent false solutions there have been. To throw up our hands and say, well at least makes sure everybody has a basic income, is in my opinion no solution at all.

    What must we do? We must demand that poverty is tackled, by our party’s policies and more. End the benefit cap, reduce the wait for Universal Credit, increase the rates of benefits across the board, and reinstate emergency grants. ( As thousands of people are now aware of the near impossibility of living on just £95 a week for very long, this should not be unpopular.) And far more social houses must be built for affordable rents.

    Equally imperative, we need to ensure there is help for local authorities to foster enterprises. especially co-operative ones, and create jobs and job guarantee schemes. The emphasis should be on the creation of climate-friendly new employment possibilities. Government needs to give local authorities more financing and more powers, including finance to enable renewal of vital local services such as children’s centres, and encouragement of training opportunities to match the new jobs..

    All these measures, to look finally again at the broader picture, should be part of a new post-crisis Social Contract agreed between people and government, which will be a commitment to remedying the major ills of our society, including far better health and social care.

  • Sue Sutherland 8th May '20 - 6:15pm

    As you know Katharine I agree with your analysis and am very sorry that I can’t play an active part in the fight for social justice any more.
    Unfortunately there seem to be quite a few people in the party who don’t have this fight in their DNA any longer, but I remember a time when it was very important to the party. Paddy Ashdown himself had spent time living on benefits so he understood what it was like to struggle. Now that struggle is much much worse.
    This pandemic is indeed highlighting the effects of poverty, because deaths are happening more in poorer areas. At the same time people are going out of their way to help each other and to keep their communities safe. Young people are sacrificing their incomes to keep the elderly alive.
    I am convinced that now is the time for our party to return to the fight against poverty, using ideas from community politics in the national arena. The nation is operating as a community for the good of all, because unnecessary death diminishes us all, bringing sorrow and grief to so many people.
    Our policies should be based on what operates for the good of the national community, balancing the needs of many communities and indeed individuals who need to be allowed to pursue a life of their own.
    For example, let’s look at denationalisation of the railways from that perspective. Does the national community require connectivity with the least effect on the environment? Does it require a highly mobile and reliable workforce? Should families be able to see and support each other even though they live far away? If the answer to all these is yes then it becomes obvious that the government, acting on behalf of the national community, needs a large amount of control over the operation of the railways to ensure their reliability. This may be brought about by legal requirements, which may not be reliable enough, or by taking the operation under government control. The decision will rest on what benefits the needs of the national community the best, rather than political dogma or ideology. The discussion should also involve representatives from all groups within the national community bring democracy into all aspects of government.

  • Nigel Lindsay 8th May '20 - 6:20pm

    Thank you, Katharine, for drawing attention again to this report, which should be near the top of every politician’s agenda but is mysteriously consigned to obscurity by those for whom it reveals inconvenient truths. Alston says “The costs of austerity have fallen disproportionately upon the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, children, single parents, and people with disabilities” but this is only half of the truth. That other great-but-sidelined research, “The Spirit Level”, showed that inequality was bad not only for the poor but for the rich as well. We shall all be happier and safer if we can rebuild a functioning Social Contract. Such a Social Contract will need to look after those born without advantage as much as it does those educated at Eton and Oxbridge. Before our Party can contribute with credibility to this rebuilding, we need to confront our part in imposing austerity on the nation during the coalition. We need to commit ourselves to an economic system that empowers people, rather than “sanctioning” them for failing to be rich.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th May '20 - 7:04pm

    Sue Sutherland. Thank you, Sue,your idea of the national community we must look to benefit is always one we should put foremost in considering policy. But you raise also for me a very important line of enquiry, which is, how far our party will advocate national involvement and control, like the Labour party, and how far we will look for decentralised and local initiatives, heavily involving the local authorities, perhaps with special attention to the financing and powers of the metro mayors, which however would not to me seem a democratic solution.

    I believe our party should be rapidly reviewing and thinking anew about our industrial strategy. and taking a lead in proposing multi-faceted job creation solutions, which is not so easy for the top-heavy Labour party with its massive unions foremost to dictate policy and its legacy of Manifesto pledges. But we need to get our act together on this.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th May '20 - 7:33pm

    Nigel, many thanks for that rapid response. You are right, we must commit ourselves to an economic system that empowers people, which is a very far cry from either the aims or practices of recent governments, and concurs with Sue’s wish for a sense of national community involving everyone.

    In seeking this I don’t myself feel the need for any further breast-beating about our part in the policies of austerity. We have learnt and we have changed, and can now lead the national debate about necessary development, beating a path between the massive rock faces of Conservatism and Socialism. You are right about the importance of The Spirit Level, which was duly reviewed and celebrated here on LDV. From a purely strategic viewpoint, however, I would not dwell on its showing that inequality is bad for everyone. That is partly because it is an international study, and unfortunately we have to draw in our internationalist horns, precious as they are to us, just for the moment, because the British people has chosen isolation and we need to concentrate now on remedies for the sickness of British society, to carry the voters with us. The other, narrower reason for setting that outlook temporarily aside, is that ‘poverty and inequality’ are known as a Labour pitch, and we should I think show our wider concerns and intentions. To me the other seminal work besides Alston is the new Marmot Review, discussed here in February under the headline, ‘Society has stopped improving’, which is so telling in showing how poorer areas have suffered worse health outcomes, as indeed the current health crisis is confirming. But do let us continue this very welcome debate. thank you.

  • @ Nigel Lindsay & Sue Sutherland Good to know there are still radical hearts in the party and pleasing to see you support Katharine’s post on this most important of issues.

    It will come to the fore again in post covid politics, although it has current resonances in outcomes for both carers and sufferers. The whole cheap as chips contract system in the employment of visiting home carers in private contracts with local authorities – and with staff working in care homes – needs to be tackled. It reinforces the whole of the issues raised by Alston.

    Nigel, you pose the relevant question, ‘Before our Party can contribute with credibility to this rebuilding, we need to confront our part in imposing austerity on the nation during the coalition’. It would be interesting to know how this can be achieved because I’ve seen little sign and little appetite to do this so far. It remains the elephant in the room. The answer will determine whether this party has a future or not.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th May '20 - 10:11pm

    Fairness which is so central to British values can be called on now to seek decent rates of pay and conditions for carers, David, who have been so undervalued, but are now known as essential workers, and some of whom have sadly died in this crisis along with numbers of the old and disabled and ill people they have been caring for. Fairness and respect for lowly workers is demanded by Philip Alston, and must now be insisted on. It is tragic that some carers, and cleaners of buildings too, have felt obliged to go on working even when beginning to have symptoms, because they could not cease work to self-isolate with no money coming in. They might have become destitute; instead, they risked their lives.

    On the matter of people who are destitute, the 1.5 million whom Professor Alston points out, they too should be relieved by the benefit system giving them enough to live on, as should asylum seekers. There is no need for a separate system of handouts because the welfare system should care for all, and the aim should be to lift people to the poverty level as a priority, even if it must take years to fully achieve.

  • Peter Martin 9th May '20 - 4:41am

    @ Katharine,

    would not dwell on its showing that inequality is bad for everyone. That is partly because it is an international study, and unfortunately we have to draw in our internationalist horns, precious as they are to us, just for the moment, because the British people has chosen isolation and we need to concentrate now on remedies for the sickness of British society

  • Peter Martin 9th May '20 - 4:41am

    @ Katharine,

    would not dwell on its showing that inequality is bad for everyone. That is partly because it is an international study, and unfortunately we have to draw in our internationalist horns, precious as they are to us, just for the moment, because the British people has chosen isolation and we need to concentrate now on remedies for the sickness of British society

  • Peter Martin 9th May '20 - 4:51am

    @ Katharine

    (Continued. ) Re the above passage which shot off before I was ready!

    It’s a pity you’re saying that because the Spirit Level report is as valid as ever. The Leave campaign has always said the decision to leave the EU should not be interpreted as a move towards isolationism. Some believe it more than others, but it is important that everyone, Govt and Leave voters alike, are held to account on this.

  • Katharine Pindar 9th May '20 - 10:21am

    Hi, Peter. Your point certainly got some space here! Of course we mustn’t forget our internationalism, as this government wants, but we need to concentrate at present on the condition of society in Britain. And that has really been in a sad state. I don’t think that there has been improvement in the eighteen months since Philip Alston visited, and when the support that the Chancellor is providing to businesses and workers, and a tiny bit more for applicants for Universal Credit, is withdrawn in the summer, we have to press for improvements for the poor and the health workers and all the ignored, downtrodden and disadvantaged people. That will probably need to be in conjunction with the Labour party, I suppose, prior to any grand design. Congratulations, by the way for your very well put points about UBI on the other thread. That must be about the fifth piece there has been on UBI in the last few months, so I would really like people to be considering other ways forward, and surely Alston can inspire them.

  • Katharine Pindar 9th May '20 - 2:12pm

    It’s possible that many members do not know the importance of Philip Alston in the development of our party’s political thinking. He is in fact key to the social contract idea, key therefore to reconsidering the Beveridge report of the 1940s, and key subsequently to the proposals for a new Social Contract which have been widely discussed here on LDV lately. Without Professor Alston’s forensically considered but devastating Statement on the ills of our society today, there would not be the impetus for our campaign now to make sure that the end of the health crisis does not mean return to those ills unaddressed, and to the people affected being worse off than ever. This, then, is vital evidence for the urgent task.

    The complete Statement can be read by accessing the link in red in the article. Some people may have only read the Professor’s final Report, which was issued just over a year ago at the end of April 2019, and others may not be aware that there were two documents. I have given a precis here of the Statement rather than of the Report, because it is the more compelling, and because I do not believe that anything much was consequently amended in our public and social life, any ills addressed, either in the six months before the Report (which spells out the same evidence and conclusions as the Statement but in more measured language) or in the twelve months since then. Now is the time coming however, when the UN Rapporteur’s views and recommendations can be fully appreciated and followed up by progressives in all parties, especially, I trust, our own.

  • I think it is worth remembering what Philip Alston wrote. He reported that, “14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty”. Think about that: one in five people in the UK live in poverty. He also pointed out, “a majority of the UK population will use some form of benefits over an 18-year period. 1 In other words, a majority of the British people have a personal stake in the welfare system functioning effectively”. This is not just an issue which affects a fifth of the UK population (which would be bad enough) but over time the lack of a secure safety net affects a majority of the UK population.

    To remove everyone out of living in poverty, the simplest method would be to pay benefits at the poverty threshold. No one would therefore be living in poverty. Simples!

    The Social Metrics Commission (https://socialmetricscommission.org.uk/MEASURING-POVERTY-FULL_REPORT.pdf) set their poverty thresholds at “55% of the median of total resources available” and for 2016/17 per week they were:

    Single person no children £146.13
    Couple with no children £251.95

    If these rates are increased by the September rate of CPI each year, for this April they become:

    Single person no children £158.27
    Couple with no children £272.89

    It seems that our acting leader Ed Davey believes that the current benefit levels are too low, because on Friday 20th March he wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer urging him to increase the standard benefit levels to “£150 per week for a single person and £260 per week for couples”.

    I hope with Ed Davey proposing these benefit rates we could propose a motion for conference at these levels and it would get on the agenda and be passed because we would be in step with the party leadership.

    1 Institute for Fiscal Studies, “Who benefits from benefits?,” March 1, 2018, ifs.org.uk/publications/10552.

  • Nigel Lindsay,

    Philip Alston also pointed out that austerity was a political choice. You are right to point out that our MPs and to a lot of extent our party supported this political choice. History will point out that austerity was the wrong policy in 2010 (just as our 2010 manifesto said it would be). I am not convinced a majority of our members recognise both of these things. Until a majority of our members do recognise these things the leader does not have to recognise them either. Of course we could elect a new leader who already recognises these things, but I am not aware of any of our MPs recognising them. Are you?

    David Raw,

    You mention the social care sector. However, it is not the fact that lots of care homes and social care providers in people homes are private companies which is the main the problem. The main problem is that central government does not give enough money to local government to pay the market rates for these, so the private companies have to make savings where they can, mostly with poor working terms and conditions. A first step to resolving this would be to restore the “49% real-terms reduction in (central) Government funding from 2010-11 to 2017-18” for local authorities and the second to fund the rise in demand for social services since 2010 (both of which were pointed out by Alston).

  • Peter Martin 10th May '20 - 7:16am

    @ Michael BG,

    “Philip Alston also pointed out that austerity was a political choice.”

    It sounds a good slogan but it’s not strictly speaking true. If, for example, the current crisis goes on long enough, say we have a second wave of infections, and the economy is badly damaged as a consequence we’ll end up with austerity. Period. Our factories and farms won’t be producing anything like what we’ve been used to.

    Austerity can also be a valid economic choice when there is a need to cure rampant inflation. Mrs Thatcher has some justification for her policies in that regard in the early 80s.

    But Philip Alston was quite right about the policies pursued in the post GFC period. Except, I would put it that it was simply an incorrect economic choice. It failed to achieve anything positive from a political perspective. The architects of the policy in the UK were David Cameron and George Osborne. It was supported by the Lib Dems. It’s not done anyone any good ! Especially as it very likely tilted the balance towards Leave in 2016.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th May '20 - 9:41am

    Peter Martin. I think that to argue your first point, Peter, we need to know what your definition of ‘austerity’ is: I suppose both the dictionary definition and your own take on that.

  • @ Michael BG Of course central government should provide sufficient funds to local authorities…. BUT…. You need to address the problem of the ‘competitive’ downward spiral of contract tendering which results in corner cutting and exploitative wages – plus the fact that so many private care companies went into liquidation….. and even more are on the brink of collapse. It puts vulnerable people at risk.

    400 care home operators collapse in five years as cuts bite …www.theguardian.com › society › mar › over-400-care…
    11 Mar 2019 – UK care home firms are buckling under the pressure of funding cuts, crippling … homes are closing in some areas could leave residents with nowhere to go. … Major operators to suffer financial difficulty include Four Seasons …

    Coronavirus: UK home care providers fear bankruptcy amid …www.independent.co.uk › News › Health
    18 Mar 2020 – Care providers that offer home support for older and disabled people are … go bankrupt in the heightening coronavirus pandemic, according to a … package to support “small and large” businesses, care providers are set to be …

    UK home care industry ‘on the brink of collapse’, says report …www.ft.com › content
    20 Mar 2017 – Companies going bankrupt or pulling out of contracts, research concludes. … Information Unit and one of the country’s biggest providers.

    Four Seasons Health Care goes into administration – BBC Newswww.bbc.co.uk › news › business-48102859
    30 Apr 2019 – One of Britain’s largest care home groups, Four Seasons Health Care, has gone into administration. Two of the holding companies behind the

  • Peter Martin 10th May '20 - 10:26am

    @ Hi Katharine,

    Yes it’s both.

    In an economic context, it means reducing aggregate demand by a combination of spending cuts and increased levels of taxation. It can be a valid measure to reduce inflation levels. I would argue, though, that some additional measures should be added to ensure that any squeeze, should one be necessary, doesn’t disproportionately affect the less affluent in our society who are very likely living in ‘austerity’, in the dictionary definition of the term, to start with.

    This could be the position we could be faced with in the coming year or so if the economy doesn’t get started again soon. If supply drops off significantly at the same time as those lucky enough to still be in receipt of their full incomes decide to catch up on their spending we could have an inflation problem.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th May '20 - 10:45am

    Thanks, Peter. I have realised about the danger of inflation and measures that will need to be taken to limit it, if possible. But I think to most of us non-economists austerity has come to mean the clampdown on government spending from 2010 which drastically cut funds for important local government services and froze benefit levels so that people obliged to rely on benefits were reduced to poverty. That was the government’s political choice, as Philip Alston said. And I have understood from you economists that austerity in the simple meaning of government cuts was the wrong choice anyway to revive the economy.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th May '20 - 1:02pm

    The change that we must have now, I should of course have added, is that the sort of austerity government imposed, in the cutback of finance for local services and the freeze on benefits for welfare recipients, must not be allowed to happen again. Hopefully the British people know that so well now that attempts to resume such harmful measures will be firmly resisted.

  • Peter Martin 10th May '20 - 2:49pm

    @ Katharine,

    It’s difficult to know for sure what the Government was actually thinking when they did impose the cuts you mention and increased VAT to 20%. It’s unlikely anyone in the Coalition wanted their policies to produce the effects they did. One of which was Brexit. Even the Tories probably didn’t set out to make everyone poorer. They are astute enough to know that there is always the not-so- little problem of an election coming up. I tend to the view that they actually did think the government’s deficits were a problem and that cuts and tax rises were needed. But as Yanis Varoufakis always says if Govt cuts is revenue it cuts its income so the gap doesn’t necessarily close as expected.

    Austerity doesn’t even reduce the size of Govt as a % of GDP. If GDP shrinks then….

    So none of this works from either a left or a right perspective. And so it must come down to having a correct economic understanding rather than the correct politics. I do accept that it is quite possible to have a successful economy which is based on a political ideology which doesn’t align with my own.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th May '20 - 4:15pm

    So which economy would that be, Peter? Do tell us! As for the conscientous approach of the Tories in government, I am looking very hard for it but still tend to think that the services their people didn’t much use and welfare benefits they supposed their people wouldn’t ever use seemed easy targets for them in trying to cut the Deficit. Oh, that Deficit! Why did our party also agree that the deficit MUST BE CUT, when now it doesn’t seem to matter much at all, at least for the time being. Rather like the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who MUST BE STOPPED but never were, though useful EU workers have been unfortunately deterred.

    Where is the wisdom in British politics? It has taken an outsider, Philip Alston, to point out that we are a very rich country where 14 million people living in poverty is an aberration. Can there be any sense talked about economic revival once the health crisis has abated? Cannot goods be produced to soak up demand, since although unlocked people may have spare money to spend, there will also be many newly unemployed people without it? None of our three all-British parties seems to have shown any wisdom, though ours at least does have generally good intentions.

  • Peter Martin,

    Please remember that going into the 1979 general election inflation was under control and it was only under the Thatcher government that it again rose (even if not so high as around 1974). It was the economic policies of the Thatcher government which led to inflation being around 16% in the early 1980s.

    David Raw,

    Care homes as you point out have been going bankrupt for years. As I stated this is because the rate local councils pay for care is below the rate where the care homes are economic. From the last link – “Four Seasons has struggled with cuts to local authority care fees and rising costs, and has repeatedly warned about its long-term stability”.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th May '20 - 12:16am

    “Though ours has been a prosperous society, its inequalities have seemed barely tolerable. In a straitened one they will not be.” This affirmation of progressive thinking, I was fascinated to read, appeared in a Times article on Friday written by a man who has been an arch Tory, Max Hastings, the distinguished journalist and historian. Earlier in the article he opined, “For more than three decades the rich, and even the relatively rich, have had a fabulous run. I find it hard to imagine, however, that a nation with soaring unemployment and a far worse than empty Treasury, which has made a political choice for self-isolation, will continue to tolerate the absurdly low rates of tax today paid by the wealthiest, or the scandal of non-doms who live here untaxed, or the grotesque rewards granted to chief executives and other excesses of global corporatism.”

    Well! If this is the way the wind is blowing, perhaps our party will be knocking at an open door, an acceptance by the voters, that progressive changes of the kind Philip Alston sought are indeed needed now. If so, the idea of a new social contract between government and people may have reached the tipping point of public acceptability. There is also a straw in the same wind in the column of Philip Collins, writing in the same newspaper about Keir Starmer’s leadership, in which piece he co-incidentally writes, “!Britain after the virus will need a Beveridge, and a government with the ambition of 1945.”

    If the august Times is going to be with us, what can stop progress? As Shakespeare told us, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

  • Interesting of you to mention Max Hastings, Katharine.

    Like you I have a great respect for him as a distinguished 20th century historian, and I know he infuses a great deal of traditional liberal values into his historical judgements.

    His take on the present temporary tenant of 10, Downing Street is also worth a notice…. by looking up an article he wrote about said tenant less than a year ago :

    I was Boris Johnson’s boss: he is utterly unfit to be prime minister http://www.theguardian.com › commentisfree › jun › boris-jo…
    24 Jun 2019 – … upon the British people. He cares for nothing but his own fame and gratification, says the former editor of the Daily Telegraph Max Hastings.

  • You make a strong case, Joe, and he does carry the baggage of his background…. but there are a lot worse than him, and I’m old enough to remember his Dad editing ‘The Eagle’ comic. I do detect a humane liberal (with a small ‘l’) streak in his works ….. more so than some I could name…… remember his WW1 book is titled ‘Catastrophe’.

    I remember him saying, “What is it about British prime ministers that they appear to succumb to madness in foreign affairs? After the ghastly example of Blair’s wars, how could Cameron for a moment contemplate dragging this country into a struggle in which we have no national interest, and there is almost nil prospect of achieving a good outcome for the Syrian people or the region?”

    And, in a Guardian interview, he said he ‘has supported both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. He announced his support for the Conservative Party at the 2010 general election , having previously voted for the Labour Party at the 1997 and 2001 general elections. He claimed that “four terms are too many for any government” and described Gordon Brown as “wholly psychologically unfit to be Prime Minister”.

    Not sure what his opinion of land taxation is – though you probably do….. and what’s happening at Brentford FC ? My lot are still celebrating 1926.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th May '20 - 10:08pm

    Fascinating quotes you have both brought up, thank you David and Joseph! My only recent knowledge apart from the Times article (which is headed, Joy of VE Day masked a hunger for change) is that I heard him talk about the likelihood of ‘transformational change’ coming soon during a recent Any Questions session on Radio 4, where he was the Tory spokesperson. I assume he meant Bojo would lead this, but in view of his old opinion of our present Prime Minister, perhaps he meant it would be pressure on the PM rather than his leading it that would result in the said change. Unless, of course, he thought the PM himself will have changed! I doubt if he thinks that the virus can change a leopard’s spots

    Anyway, I think we can hope that Max Hastings is still influential in Tory inner circles, given the recent expression of his views. But we can’t depend on even the most liberal of Tories, I suppose, to promote what we want. For although Sir Max castigates the excesses of the wealthy and says society’s inequalities will no longer be tolerated, he leaves the business specifically to ‘the electorate’, and doesn’t himself ask for the product of the expected taxation of the ‘excesses of global corporatism’ to be diverted to the great cause of actually stopping people in our society from suffering poverty.

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