Magazine article Renewal : a Journal of Labour Politics


Magazine article Renewal : a Journal of Labour Politics


Article excerpt

Tackling inequality is why I am in politics, it's what I care about, because I believe that inequality scars our country. We live with an economic system, made that way by human design, which is driving many of the problems people see in their lives. Inequality matters because it conditions what kind of lives people can lead, their level of control and autonomy and fulfilment. Just as this system was created, so it can be altered with the right policies, agenda and approach.

The fight against inequality has long been the Labour Party's lodestar. It is part of our history and heritage, and a powerful unifying cause for the party. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the crusade against the grotesque consequences of extreme inequality was one of the driving forces of the socialist movement in Britain. The equivalent moral revulsion today attaches to the fact that we live in a society where the Trussell Trust handed out 1,182,954 three-day emergency food parcels to people in crisis in 2016-17,1 while others have almost unimaginable levels of income and wealth - and in a society where power, which can often be bought, is highly unevenly distributed.

With that in mind, in January of this year Renewal brought together a group of politicians, activists, academics and think tanks to discuss the causes, consequences and ways of tackling inequality. In this issue, we publish some of the results of that debate. Writing in the run-up to the General Election, it's true that not many people's minds are on the long term. But in the aftermath of Brexit, understanding the impact that rising inequality has on our society, and on our politics, is absolutely vital.

I start from my constituency, Doncaster North, firmly in the top ten of Brexit voting areas, with more than 70 per cent voting to Leave. Mine is a constituency which used to rely on tens of thousands of mining jobs which have disappeared, partly following the brutal decisions of the 1980s. The last mine closed in summer 2015. Doncaster is resilient, but we face huge challenges, in particular, recovering from the generational devastation wrought by the decisions of the past and generating the jobs of the future at good wages - which mining, for all its dangers and risks, used to offer.

So what do I learn about the Brexit vote from my constituents? Most of all that Brexit was not a nasty accident that happened on the way to the ballot box. The shifting of the tectonic plates can almost audibly be heard in most Brexit conversations. It starts with immigration, almost always, some of it perceived and some of it real - from anxieties over the exploitation of foreign workers to undercut wages, to worries about the pace of change in some places. This was, indeed, the No.i policy issue for my constituents. But almost invariably, the conversation very soon moves on from there: to a deeper sense of loss, alienation, unhappiness, and a feeling that the politics and economics of Britain are failing people. Some of it is completely unrelated to the EU - the closure of the coal mines, the loss of manufacturing industry.

That is the point. We misunderstand Brexit fundamentally if we think it was just about the EU and immigration. The referendum was also a chance to vote on whether you were happy with the state of the country. And people weren't. Deep inequality, squeezed wages, dim prospects for the next generation, and public services in decline were all factors playing into the vote. Brexit was, in the words of my constituents, a vote for 'a new beginning for my grandchildren', 'a chance to get industry back', 'a future for young people', or simply 'worth a try'. Progressives must be the ones to own and speak to that sentiment, or we are nothing.

It is certainly true that it is not just areas that have been through economic turmoil that voted to Leave or, in the US, for Trump. And it is also true that part of the revolt was against immigration, multiculturalism and other aspects of social change. …

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