Tag Archives: inequality

Vince Cable on Lib Dem mission to reduce inequality

For me, the Liberal Democrats have always been about reducing the inequality that poisons our society, that holds people back from opportunities.

We have always talked about it, but perhaps in the last few years the language has been a bit different. I was really chuffed when Vince talked about the need to tackle inequality so explicitly in his leadership manifesto. Today, his first major speech since becoming leader is on this issue and you can watch a clip here.

The full text of the speech is below. It’s thoughtful, serious stuff as you would expect.

Yes, under his leadership we’ll be looking for the exit from Brexit, but our main mission as a party is to do something about this inequality.  That works for me.

Politicians talk at length about fairness and unfairness. Verbal confetti. Bland. Something almost everyone can relate to emotionally. And it can be defined in so many different ways that it can be applied in almost every situation, for about every audience. Inequality narrows the subject down a bit but, again, has a wide range of definitions and meanings.

Putting aside the health warnings and the academic qualifications there is however, in the UK in 2017, something stirring around the idea of inequality: something new and worrying. It starts from the observation, or the belief, that inequalities of income, wealth and opportunity, between classes, regions and generations, are getting worse; that Britain is becoming relatively as well as absolutely unequal when we look at comparable countries, especially in Europe; and that this inequality is not merely offensive to the sensibilities of progressive minded folk but is doing serious damage to the wider society and economy.

Sometimes an event crystallises this feeling. The Grenfell Tower disaster wasn’t just a horrific accident with a large loss of life but illustrates in a graphic way that relatively poor people were not listened to by those in authority and attracted a casual approach to life threatening risk. And close by geographically, but light years away socially and economically, lived London’s super-rich.

What motivates me personally and politically is the way this this new Britain contrasts with the more egalitarian culture and mobile society that I grew up with: parents who progressed in 20 years from being factory workers living in a terraced house with an outside loo to being part of the professional class living in a detached house; from parents who left school at 15 progressing though ‘night school’ to a son at an elite university. There were of course ‘posh’ people in post-war Britain but they were few and largely inconspicuous; and there were poor people on the council estates but they were distant relatives or friends and we played and watched football together. A provincial British city, even today, does not have the jarring contrasts of London; but my sense is that even there, big differences in living standards and opportunities have opened up.

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Tackling inequality

 

The Kensington disaster, along with the referendum that voted for Brexit, demonstrates the pressing need to tackle inequality. Corbyn’s success was due to him offering hope.

It is time for Lib Dems to step up and offer radical solutions, as we have seen in France. Every candidate for the leadership must be asked what he or she will do to tackle this issue. Here are some ideas, though not exhaustive.

Government priorities

With a lame duck PM and a government in chaos we cannot expect to see too many balls in the air. We are not in a fit condition to manage Brexit, but we could get a consensus to tackle inequality.

We should apply to the EU to put Brexit on hold, if that means a withdrawal of article 50 so be it. We are not ignoring the referendum result; we are putting it on hold until we are in a fit state to deal with it.

We can then tackle the causes of inequality.

Posted in Op-eds | 5 Comments

Pay ratios, inequality and fairness

I’ve little time for Jeremy Corbyn but just occasionally his instincts are right- as when he recently raised the idea of pay controls for the highly paid. 

Now of course the random way he presented it made it an easy target but I was surprised and disappointed how quickly people dismissed the idea. Either its apparently ‘just bonkers’, or won’t work, or is bad politics or all of the above.

But I don’t think it is. Yes, we need more than just a cap on pay ratios to address rising inequality and the rising inequality of power that comes with it. Yes, rich people have other sources of income than salaries- including dividends, capital gains and rental income. Yes, the politics may be hard- but I suspect that’s more to do with how our perspective has narrowed after too much centralism over the last 30 years.

In the 1960s the ratio of a CEO’s pay to that of the average worker was around 20:1, rising to around 40:1 in the 1970s. What is it now? Around 150:1 in the UK and still rising. There is no convincing evidence that such massive increases of pay, so that a FTSE 100 boss earns £5.5m a year, is really linked to the brilliance or the insight of the leader, or the output or the outcomes for the company.  

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The problem with a wage cap

Jeremy Cobyn’s proposal to bring in a maximum wage (or, if you like, a 100% tax rate) would not work, for two reasons. The first, is that the swing voters he needs to attract would never vote for a party with this potty policy. If you are flirting with voting for the Conservatives, you are not going to like the idea of a wage cap.

If any further discussion is needed, then the second reason is that it would not have the intended effect. Presumably the reason to bring down wages would be to reduce inequality. But most rich people do not get their income from salaries, but from dividends, capital gains, rental income etc.

I don’t know if the Duke of Westminster takes a salary, but capping it would not change one iota the fact that he owns a huge swathe of London’s most valuable real estate. If your only source of income is your salary, then capping it only stops you being able to catch up with the already-rich. Or encourages you to take income in other forms. 

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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. …

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The Establishment

In a couple of previous posts I have looked at the effects of Brexit and possibilities for LibDem positioning and policy that may emerge. In many ways the EU is a distraction from the key political battles we face. The most pressing problem we have is inequality in its many manifestations and an economic and social system that works very hard to maintain and increase inequality while we try to redress the balance. That is the case whether we are in the EU or out of it. This is an opportunity to consider some key parameters of our policies without having to look at everything through the prism of the EU debate.

One constant in the debate is the thing called the establishment, a word as much misused as used. I cannot think of anyone more “establishment” than Nigel Farage, who has managed to make a career out of selling the lie that he is anti-establishment. Like many insurgent politicians he has no intention of changing the way the system works. He just wants to change the personnel at the top.

The nature and function of the establishment remains the same though its form has changed in recent decades. Whatever it is, it needs to be a focus of LibDem policy making so we need to consider clearly what it is, what it does and how to deal with it.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 16 Comments

LibLInk: Alistair Carmichael: Theresa May’s liberal rhetoric a surprise

Alistair Carmichael has written an article for today’s Scotsman in which he matches up Theresa May’s words on entering Downing Street to her actions in government. Certainly we can all remember Margaret Thatcher’s warm words about bringing peace and harmony when she entered No 10, and we know how that turned out.

For many people there were three main reasons for being pleased to see Theresa May enter No 10 Downing Street last week. Firstly she was not Boris Johnson; secondly she was not Michael Gove and thirdly she was not Andrea Leadsom. As a father, I felt it could have been worse. Mrs May, a vicar’s daughter we are told, delivered a little homily for the benefit of the world’s media outside her new residence. The rhetoric was good. I know from five years in coalition government that getting some Conservatives even to acknowledge the inequalities of modern life can be difficult. Here we had a Conservative prime minister not just acknowledging them but promising to tackle them.

But her record so far doesn’t quite reflect this:

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarCatherine Jane Crosland 17th Oct - 7:36am
    "The greatest man-made force for peace and progress in human history"?? Matthew, even apart from your non inclusive choice of language, this sort of wildly...
  • User AvatarEd Shepherd 17th Oct - 6:46am
    Large numbers of well-off older people were never highly educated. They grew up in period where there were plentiful permanent jobs,, full-time work, pension schemes,...
  • User AvatarDenis Loretto 17th Oct - 1:04am
    @Martin I am only too well aware of the lack of any viable idea as to a way forward for the Irish border. What I...
  • User AvatarGlenn 17th Oct - 12:58am
    Frankie. I'm just pointing out the irony of these kinds of youth and internationalist orientated arguments . I don't see Brexit a cliff edge. I...
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 17th Oct - 12:33am
    Lorenzo is right to remind everyone of the diversity of reasons which caused people to vote Leave, but it follows that there are no easy...
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 16th Oct - 11:58pm
    You are right, Martin, I believe - the Irish Border question does not look capable of a ready solution, despite the fact that the finances...