Why we have to talk about Inequality, and why even the wealthy should hate it

Since its election defeat, Labour seems to have abandoned all talk of inequality. This is a huge mistake.

Fighting inequality is the reason for Labour’s existence, its sole purpose.

Some might say that a focus on inequality will always be a losing strategy, because it is a negative message, which appeals to people’s conscience, but ignores self-interest. This is only true if the focus is on the negative effects of inequality, ignoring the huge benefits of greater equality.

However, before we talk about inequality, let’s first get this straight: Labour is against inequality, but is very much pro-business.

Labour wants a booming economy. We want a prosperous society, where businesses can be successful, but we want that success to benefit everyone, through decent employment, in good jobs, with good wages and conditions.

Labour’s job is to demonstrate that this would be better for everyone: that greater equality improves life for ALL members of our society, not just the poorest. This must be the message that we broadcast to voters, as well as the mission-statement that we live by.

Much of the criticism of Labour’s election campaign focused on the lack of clear message; that Labour had no clear story to tell voters; no overall vision for a better society, no moral mission, and no obvious ‘brand’.

The response to that criticism: Labour, is for equality

And here’s why:

It is better for all of us- including the wealthy

Whenever wellbeing is measured and compared, the more socially-democratic Nordic countries such as Sweden and Denmark always top the league tables. Why is this? Groundbreaking research featured in the ‘World Happiness Report’ (Helliwell, Layard and Sachs. 2013), and ‘The Spirit Level’ (Wilkinson and Pickett. 2009) has irrefutably shown that people are much happier and healthier in societies with more equality- and this includes the wealthy.

Wilkinson and Pickett’s research also showed that societies with high levels of inequality not only have much worse levels of physical and mental health, they also have more crime, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, more marital breakdown, more domestic violence and much less trust between people. All this affects all members of society, including the wealthy.

Greater equality comes with a greater sense of community

The previous point, regarding the lack of trust between people, is something that has bothered those on both the left and the right wings of politics, because a lack of trust indicates the loss of a sense of community, which many believe is the cause of many of our current social problems. A greater sense of community and a greater belief in equality could both be fostered by an increased understanding of our interdependence; on the fact that we all need each other- the fact that we really are ‘all in this together’ (just not in the way David Cameron imagined).

Most justifications of inequality are based on the idea that some jobs are more important than others, and require more specialised skills, so therefore they deserve higher rewards. This argument overlooks a key aspect of our economy, which is absolutely fundamental to the success of our society:

We are no longer self-sufficient.

We no longer build our own homes or grow our own food. We no longer have to be a ‘Jack of all trades’.

We have all specialised.

This has enabled our society to become technologically advanced and wealthy, because we have specialised in our roles, which has led to huge advances in all fields of human endeavour.

But what is overlooked, is this key fact: we can only specialise in our chosen fields, because we know that other people have specialised in other fields. For example: I can only specialise in teaching, because I know that someone else is farming and someone else is building houses and someone else is generating electricity etc. In order to do my job, I am completely dependent on other people doing theirs.

We are all completely dependent upon each other.

Once we understand this, it becomes difficult to justify massive wage inequality, because, as every worker depends on every other worker, this means that every job is important, therefore every job should pay a decent wage.

Wages should reflect social worth

Furthermore; if we are justifying wage inequality on the basis of importance to society, we should consider the following point: MPs are well-paid, because the job is considered to be very important to society. However, despite their importance, we are able to do without them for almost four months in every year, whilst parliament is in recess.

Now think about it; if all the minimum-waged workers who work in supermarkets decided to do the same, how would we cope? Without them doing their jobs, our society would fall apart- there would be total chaos and anarchy within a week. How is their minimum wage justified now?

We could also make many more obvious comparisons of social importance and worth: footballers versus care workers, stockbrokers versus teaching assistants, celebrities versus refuse hospital cleaners etc.

Finally, on the question of social worth; paying a living wage, rather than the minimum wage reflects the idea that all humans have equal worth and deserve a decent quality of life.

Paying a living wage would boost the economy

When wealthy people receive more money, they tend to save it, but when incomes rise for the lowest paid, they tend to spend that extra money, therefore providing a boost to the economy: a win-win situation. Conversely, when inequality worsens and wages stagnate, no-one has the money to buy consumer goods, so the economy nosedives and firms go bust. Paying a living wage makes sound economic sense.

Inequality is not inevitable

Inequality is the result of human decisions and human actions, such as weakening the power of trade unions- which the Conservatives desire to weaken even further.

Political decisions have caused greater inequality, so politicians can also create greater equality. This is the task that all Labour MPs should be focused on.

Creating a more equal society is the right thing to do

Deep down, most of us believe in greater equality, because deep down, we are all good people, right? We believe that everyone deserves equal chances in life; this is one of our core values.

Fighting inequality and creating greater equality is the right thing to do; intellectually, economically and morally.

The arguments are irrefutable, backed up by a host of respected organisations and economists: the IMF, and Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank, have highlighted the growing threat to social stability caused by increasing inequality.

So come on Labour, do the right thing. The arguments are strong, the cause is just. Let’s stand up for what we believe in and be a ‘real’ Labour Party again- let’s devote ourselves to fighting inequality.

Brian Back

 

Communication, Communication, Communication

-Why Labour lost the election 

All the post-election post-mortems have been so caught up with the desire to push the Party to the left or right, that they have completely missed the main point.

Labour didn’t lose the election on political direction; it lost because of poor communication.

Here’s what they lacked:

A clear, straightforward message: the Conservatives won because of their simple and clear message- you can’t trust Labour with the economy. Whilst Labour may have had much more to offer the electorate, the message was garbled and unclear, so it didn’t connect.

An effective media strategy: elections are won in the media, not on the doorstep. From the very beginning of their time in government, every Conservative politician in every media appearance made sure that they repeated the same key point – Labour crashed the economy.

Labour never refuted this and it was this, more than anything else, which lost them the election. It has been shown time and time again: if you say the same thing often enough, people will start to believe it. Labour’s belief that it would win the ‘ground war’, due its greater number of activists, was always misguided, as the voters’ minds were made up long before campaigners knocked their doors.

A powerful communicator: we had the right message, but the wrong messenger. Whilst Ed Miliband’s ideas may have been popular with much of the electorate, he wasn’t. A leader must inspire and excite- presence and powerful public-speaking are the key attributes in a political leader. You could have the best ideas in the world, but without effective delivery, they’re wasted. The Conservatives understood this key point, which is why they picked an ex-PR man as their leader. A Party leader’s role is sales, not product-design. Others can provide the ideas; Labour needs a leader who can sell them to the public.

In the end, the simple point is this:

The Conservatives didn’t win because they were more popular.

They didn’t win because their policies were more appealing.

They won because of better communication.

End of.

Brian Back

Labour leadership election: who deserves your vote- do any of them?

When considering the current candidates for the Labour leadership, you should ask yourself:

Which of the candidates for the Labour leadership excites you and inspires you?

Which of these candidates is going to excite and inspire the nation, and convince them to vote Labour?

Which of these candidates has the skills and qualities that Ed Miliband lacked?

Which of these candidates could do a much better job of holding the government to account than Ed Miliband?

Any of them?

I don’t know about you, but what got me so much more involved with the Labour movement, was my frustration and despair at the ineffectual responses of many Labour politicians to the pronouncements and policies of the Tories over the last five years.

Did you feel the same?

If so, think about it- in the last five years, were our leadership candidates among those whose response to the Tories was so disappointing?

Did our candidates provide an effective opposition?

What leadership qualities have the leadership candidates so far displayed?

Let’s consider their performance…

Which of our leadership candidates impressed you on the following issues? :

Many people believe that the Conservatives won because of their reputation for greater economic competence. When the Conservatives were constantly spreading the extremely damaging but hugely effective lie- that Labour caused the crash, which of our candidates repeatedly spoke out to refute and deny this much-repeated claim?

When the Conservatives brought in the hated bedroom tax, which of our candidates stepped up to head the campaign against it and used their position in the public eye to passionately and constantly denounce the unfairness of it?

When the Conservatives cut off access to justice, by cutting legal aid, which candidates called for a public enquiry and fiercely protested against this abuse of human rights?

When benefit sanctions hit and the need for food banks grew, which of our candidates called for a public enquiry, and passionately and continually protested against this continued and ever growing abuse of human rights?

When ATOS assessments were leading to unjust and unfair benefit cuts for the most vulnerable in our society, and then on some tragic occasions, to suicide, which of the candidates called for a public enquiry, or for the arrest of all those involved in this abuse of human rights?

Any of them?

The leadership candidates have all stepped forward, now that they see a chance to advance their careers and improve their lives. Which of them stepped forward and stepped up to the challenge of protecting the most vulnerable and improving the lives of the poorest and weakest amongst us?

Which of them became famous for being the thorn in the side of the Coalition government?

Which of them stood out, for their principled stand, as they led the fight against the grossly unfair Tory policies?

Any of them?

The leader’s role is to be the face of the party, to lead and inspire, but it is not their job alone. All of the shadow cabinet share the responsibility to use their position in the public eye to step up to the challenge, speak out against unjust and unfair policies and lead the rest of the party and the country in the fight against the Tories.

Which of the current candidates did a good job of this in the last five years?

Which of them provided a really effective opposition to the policies and pronouncements of the Tories?

Which of the current candidates have earned the right to be Labour leader?

Any of them?

Brian Back

If we’re not ‘real’ Labour, then what’s the point?

For video presentation of this article, follow link: http://bit.ly/1dAPSbP

Think about it; what was it that made you become a Labour supporter? For me, it was the ever-growing awareness of the injustices of our society- the gross inequality, poverty, hardship, deprivation and insecurity experienced by so many, whilst a small minority grow ever-richer, by exploiting the rest of us. The fierce desire to see a fairer, happier and altogether better society is what led me to the only place where this dream has a chance of becoming reality- the Labour Party. Isn’t that what brought you here?

So, if the awareness of these injustices is what brought on our commitment to the Labour Party, then why aren’t our politicians doing so much more to highlight injustice, so that more people will join our cause?

Labour’s election campaign was notable for its lack of focus on hardship and injustice- the very things that gained it most of its original support and that are the main reason for its existence. Why were the cruel, heartless, and sometimes downright evil policies of the Conservatives not being denounced at every available opportunity?

Why did we not hear Labour politicians shouting from the rooftops about benefit sanctions and food banks; about flawed ATOS assessments and the resulting suicides; about cutting legal aid and therefore cutting access to justice; about cutting housing benefit and the resulting evictions?

Why are we STILL not hearing about these things?

When asked why they no longer support the Labour Party, many people who previously voted Labour state that the Party let them down. You can see their point, can’t you?

The areas that are suffering the most under the Conservatives’ rule are the Labour heartlands, which have higher unemployment, higher levels of homelessness, and greater use of food banks; along with all the accompanying problems of poverty- higher rates of crime, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, poorer health and much lower life expectancy. By not focusing on these issues, by not doing everything in our power to bring them to the nation’s attention, we let down the very people who our Party was created to fight for and serve. It’s no wonder that so many of our ‘natural’ supporters either turned to UKIP, or gave up on voting altogether.

Let’s face it; we let ourselves down, we let our core supporters down, and we let the whole country down, as Britain is now going to be a much more unpleasant place to live for the foreseeable future.

The Labour Party was created to highlight injustice, so as to gain support for the cause and then fight against that injustice. If we’re not doing that, then what’s the point of our Party?

Labour’s post-election post-mortem has so far been dominated by the Blairite assertions that, instead of looking to win back all those who voted UKIP, or didn’t vote at all, we must instead try to appeal to more of the electorate, by appealing to the ‘aspirational’. This is a ridiculous claim. The Labour Party is entirely built on aspiration- the aspiration for a decent quality of life for everyone. What the Blairites actually mean, is that we should be more pro-business.

That is a ludicrous idea. We are obviously not anti-business, because we seek full employment for all. We want a prosperous society, where businesses can be successful, but we want that success to benefit everyone, through decent employment, in good jobs, with good wages and conditions.

We must not swing to the right. Those whose pro-business agenda trumps all other concerns should consider whether they are in the wrong party.

We must be who we are supposed to be- the LABOUR Party- the Party of the average working person, the Party of the 99%. If we swing to the right, in an effort to gain more votes, we not only let down our core supporters, we also risk becoming involved in an Orwellian quest for power, for power’s sake. It won’t do; to try to be more Tory than the Tories, to match their promises on cuts to vital services in order to gain votes, so that we can then sneak in some left-wing policies once we are in power. We must boldly challenge accepted (right-wing) wisdom about the way to run society and the economy, and we must even more boldly broadcast our grand vision of a far superior alternative.

It is time we stood up and proudly declared our values. Let’s not try to hide the fact that we are a left-wing party, or be ashamed that we seek equality, fairness and justice. Let’s loudly proclaim our grand vision and mission- to make Great Britain great for all of us, not just the wealthy.

When we elect our new leader, let’s think hard about who we are and what we want our party to be.

Let’s be a ‘real’ Labour party, because if we’re not that, then what’s the point?

Brian Back

Who should lead the Labour Party?

Does politics make you angry?

It enrages me.

I’m angry about the bedroom tax and tax cuts for the rich. I’m disgusted by benefit sanctions and the resulting growth of food banks. I’m horrified by flawed ATOS assessments and the subsequent deaths of wrongly reassessed claimants – some through suicide. I’m appalled by cuts to public services. I’m outraged by rising inequality, and incensed by tax avoidance and the ‘one law for us, one law for them’ society we are living in. Most of all, I am enraged by the thought that the Tories will now feel that they have a mandate to intensify their assault on the welfare state we all rely on.

This inequality and injustice infuriates me, and I get even angrier every time I hear a Tory politician trying to justify it. It is anger at this injustice that made me join the Labour Party- along with a fierce desire for a less cruel and more humane society. Isn’t that what motivates and drives all of us on the left?

Anger is a powerful motivator, but it is also a useful lens through which to study our political representatives. Ed Miliband’s move back towards ‘old’ Labour values and a focus on social justice was really pleasing and reflects what I believe most of us want the Labour Party to be. However, this shift back towards a more traditional version of the Labour Party was missing one vital ingredient- anger.

Ever since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, I have become increasingly frustrated at the ineffectual responses of many Labour politicians to the pronouncements and policies of the Tories. Time and time again, I heard Tory policies which are ruining people’s lives being discussed in a calm, intellectual, dispassionate manner. I heard phrases such as ‘this is unacceptable’, or, ‘under a Labour government we would seek to find savings elsewhere’. To the people whose lives are drastically affected by cruel and unfair Tory policies, would this have seemed like an adequate response?

Many people are angry about our increasingly unfair and unjust society- about increasing poverty and decreasing opportunity, as well as decreasing support for those who are vulnerable and in-need. They’re angry, why aren’t our politicians?

Our biggest problem in politics today is voter disillusionment and disengagement. People are turning away from politics because politicians are increasingly seen to be all the same: upper middle-class, Oxbridge educated, career politicians, who are only in it for themselves and who just don’t ‘get it’. This is a much bigger problem for Labour than for the Conservatives. The failure of Labour politicians to show that they ‘get it’ is one of the main reasons that many of our core voters are abandoning politics, or being lured away by UKIP. Had all our ‘natural’ supporters voted Labour, the election result may have significantly different.

To address this, we should consider the example of some of our most revered former Labour politicians; Kinnock, Bevan, and Hardie- all known for their oratory skills, for their ability to rouse an audience and ‘rally the troops’. Their impassioned denouncement of inequality and injustice came from their first-hand experience of these things. Their experience of hardship and poverty was the well-spring of their passion. Quite simply, they obviously did ‘get it’, which is why they were successful. Nye Bevan didn’t hide his anger, famously stating: “No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin”. Can you imagine any contemporary politicians saying anything similar? I can’t, and that’s the problem.

The policies of the Conservatives and their attitudes towards the poorest and most vulnerable would seem to deserve that kind of response, and if you ask anyone who is affected by these things, that is the response you get.

If the Labour Party wants to connect with and represent our core voters, instead of losing them to either UKIP or fatalistic apathy, we need to start speaking their language and showing that we really get it. Unfortunately, to really get it, you have to feel it; you have to have experienced it. We have many talented middle class MPs, with great intellectual gifts, but they lack the passion that comes from first-hand experience of poverty, deprivation, inequality and injustice. Therefore we must get more working class MPs, like the Labour titans of old. In the same way that the under-representation of women has been addressed, we need to positively discriminate in favour of working class candidates.

We must find our new people’s champions, who can rouse the troops with their righteous anger, revive people’s faith in politics and lead them back to the voting booths. Only then, will we once again be the party of ‘the people’.

Brian Back