Magazine article The Spectator

Britain Is Now a Socialist Utopia

Magazine article The Spectator

Britain Is Now a Socialist Utopia

Article excerpt

Scarcely a day passes, it seems, without another book landing with a thud on my desk that bemoans the rise of inequality. On this side of the Atlantic we have The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett and Injustice by Daniel Dorling, while in America we have Charles Murray's Coming Apart and Joseph Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality.

I 'm coming round to the view that these intellectual heavyweights have got it back to front and the really significant social trend of our era is the triumph of equality. So it was refreshing to dip into A Classless Society, the third volume of Alwyn Turner's history of Britain since the 1970s. This time, his subject is the 1990s and his thesis is that the massive increase in income inequality that characterised that decade went hand-in-hand with a concurrent increase in social equality.

Take mass immigration. Between 1991 and 1999, net immigration averaged 104,000 a year and in lots of ways that contributed to rising inequality. Plentiful supplies of cheap labour helped fuel the economic boom that began in the autumn of 1992 and ended with the credit crunch of 2007 - a boom that resulted in the gap between the highest and lowest earners growing ever wider. The increasing number of new arrivals as a percentage of the population also undermined the social cohesion that anchored the welfare state and, by extension, the redistributive taxation associated with Old Labour, a point made by David Goodhart in The British Dream.

Yet, at the same time, the multiethnic character of modern Britain resulted in a steep decline in racial inequality. Britain's indigenous African-Caribbean population, particularly the men, may not have shared much in Britain's prosperity during the 1990s, but other ethnic groups did.

More importantly, it was the decade in which any manifestation of racial prejudice became taboo.

I n London, which has the highest density of foreign-born residents in the UK, Ken Livingstone launched a successful mayoral bid by appealing to a patchwork quilt of different ethnic groups.

This same double helix - one strand consisting of growing economic inequality, the other of increasing social equality - was visible in the cultural sphere as well. …

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