The poor don’t have a party


1:59 pm - October 6th 2011

by Dave Osler    


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The Tories are now the party of the poor, Iain Duncan Smith told a fringe meeting at Conservative Party conference this week.

That he can even get away with such a surreal claim without attracting widespread derision underlines just how far the issue of poverty reduction no longer looms large on the political agenda.

I don’t underestimate the sincerity of a quiet man. Ever since he was forced out of the Tory leadership, IDS has devoted much of his political time to the question of welfare reform. He has been widely commended for taking the problem seriously, and for developing a new approach within a centre-right framework.

IDS was also indisputably correct when he observed that under New Labour, income inequality in this country rose to the highest level seen since 1961, the first year for which calculations of the so-called Gini Coefficient are available.

But that is not the full story, of course. Look at the time series shows and you will see that the decisive transition between the relatively egalitarian postwar social democratic arrangements and the shocking degree of inequality we see today took place in the 1980s.

In other words, the Thatcher years were the time when poverty exploded in Britain, and that was the entirely predictable outcome of measures enacted by a prime minister for whom IDS has repeatedly expressed his admiration. The Tories are the party that created mass poverty in its current manifestation.

New Labour did what it could, within the limitations of its timid political thinking, to change that state of affairs. The National Minimum Wage was a step in the right direction. I’m not sure which way Duncan Smith voted on that one. Perhaps he would care to remind us?

Tax credits and Sure Start should also be numbered among the achievements of the Blair and Brown administrations. Nevertheless, inequality continued to grow, as is unsurprising under a government that boasted of being intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.

The Coalition can fairly be asked to be judged on its record, and we do not yet have any meaningful statistical indicators to prove the argument one way or another. But a platform that includes a three year freeze in child benefit, the abolition of baby bonds, hundreds of thousands of public sector redundancies and a housing benefit cap does not exactly establish Cameron and Clegg as the legitimate successors to Robin Hood.

If the phrase ‘the party of the poor’ is interpreted as meaning ‘the party with effective policies to bring about a reduction in poverty’ – and what else could it sensibly mean? – then the truth is that the poor currently do not have a party, and British politics is worse off for that fact.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Equality

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Reader comments


1. Leon Wolfson

It turned around in the 70’s actually, in most of the developed world, where the rich started to re-accumulate the wealth in society.

The UK’s gini coefficient hasn’t changed as much as countries like America, so labour were able to slow the change. But the rich’s crushing of middle and lower class income continues – and will now rapidly accelerate.

And a HB cap? Why do you do on about that? Why not talk about linking benefits and pensions to CPI, and the massive slash in the value of HB…the social cleansing which is taking place…

> If the phrase ‘the party of the poor’ is interpreted as meaning ‘the party with effective policies to bring about a reduction in poverty’ – and what else could it sensibly mean?

Maybe they love the poor so much, they’re going to create a lot more of them?

Poor can be defined as – ‘deficient or lacking in something specified’

The Tories as the party of the deficient? Yeah, that’ll work.

‘> If the phrase ‘the party of the poor’ is interpreted as meaning ‘the party with effective policies to bring about a reduction in poverty’ – and what else could it sensibly mean?

Maybe they love the poor so much, they’re going to create a lot more of them?’

Haha this gem bears repeating. a lot.

5. gastro george

@2 Absolutely.

There is a marginal difference between New Labour and the Tories. Under New Labour, we saw stagnating wages while the rich prospered. Under the Tories, we’re seeing reduced wages, more unemployment and deeper cuts to services that the poor use while the rich prosper.

Sorry Dave, not up to your usual standard. So many ideas are wrongly juxtaposed that the conclusion is meaningless.

Inequality is not synonymous with absolute poverty.

A high level of wealth creation is not the antithesis of a good welfare system.

The NMW could be argued to have been neutral in terms of fiscal inequality but to have been harmful to overall prosperity and to have helped create an impoverished underclass.

Its also meaningless to make an assessment without defining a time scale.

Undoubtedly high government spending directed at the least well of in society would serve the poor well in the next year or 5. But soon the cost of borrowing would rise, the root causes of povety would likely remain unaddressed and eventually the spending would become unaffordable – leaving the poorest (and everyone else) even worse off.

On the other hand, careful cuts and strategic spending and policies directed at the poor might get a bad press – but serve the poor better in the mid-long term.

8. When horses attack!

Would it be the Communist party? I hear they spread the wealth.
Tee fucking hee.

I don’t underestimate the sincerity of a quiet man.

I very much doubt the sincerity of the man. The Party of the poor? Yes, I saw that watching those poor downtrodden people who were milling about Manchester. The Party of the poor? That is a sick joke. The Party that completely smashed the very institutions that propped up the poor are now the saviours of the poor?

If IDs had even been halfway concerned with poor or poverty then he would not have joined the Party which sets out to marginalise the poor. Nor would he come out with the type of shite he comes out with, either come to that.

Pagar @ 6

The NMW could be argued to have been neutral in terms of fiscal inequality but to have been harmful to overall prosperity and to have helped create an impoverished underclass.

How exactly?

Your conclusion:
“If the phrase ‘the party of the poor’ is interpreted as meaning ‘the party with effective policies to bring about a reduction in poverty’ – and what else could it sensibly mean? – then the truth is that the poor currently do not have a party, and British politics is worse off for that fact.”

Doesn’t follow from the rest of the article. Yes, it’s clear that the Tories are not that party, but it doesn’t follow that no other party is. I’d say that the Green Party’s policies, whilst not perfect, come reasonably close to what you’re after.

I disagree, the Tories are clearly the piss-poor party. *Reads OP a bit more carefully*
Oh wait, you mean not a ‘party of the poor’, er, carry on!

I think you’re conflating inequality and poverty. Yes, New Labour were fundamentally mistaken to think that inequality doesn’t matter, and I’m glad Ed Miliband doesn’t share this view. But they never thought *poverty* didn’t matter. My own family was living in poverty before tax credits were introduced, and it would be hard to overstate the difference they made to us and others like us.

13. Leon Wolfson

@10 – No, a policy to systematically deprive the poor of utilities isn’t for them. At all.

@13 – No, nor would they act as useful idiots for the CBI by encouraging the import of a pool of cheap and eager labour to push down wages and conditions for the poor here. Never.

Propping up their incomes through welfare transfers and a bloated public sector is a pretty narrow vision of what is ‘good for the poor’, and yet the 13 year Labour government’s strategy for the poor didn’t amount to much more.

Oh, and did anybody here notice that it was the Labour government – not least Ed Balls, the idiot savant behind a decade of incompetent regulation of financial services and irresponsibly countercyclical fiscal policy – who made about as large a contribution as they could have to the creation of the current crisis, which has made everybody poorer? The jibes at the Tories about loving the poor so much they created more of them could be much better directed.

16. Chaise Guevara

@ 15 AJ

Benefit of hindsight aside, we didn’t know the credit crunch was coming. Labour was basically continuing with previous Tory policies; if the Tories had happened to win the previous election, the same thing would have happened on their watch and opportunistic people would be acting as if it was all their fault.

Labour failed to foresee an indesirable world event, but generally work to improve the lot of the poorest in society. The Tories also failed to foresee it, and actively work to disenfranchise the poorest in society. Acting as if Labour is as bad or worse than Tories on this issue is frankly laughable.

Do the poor vote?

18. Chaise Guevara

@ 12 G.O.

Well said.

Chaise @ 16:

“Benefit of hindsight aside, we didn’t know the credit crunch was coming.”

Erm, anybody with even the most basic knowledge of economics knows that economic activity happens in cycles, and that the boom couldn’t last for ever. It’s also pretty well-known that having an economy driven largely by borrowing tends to cause problems during periods of economic difficulty. So “we” did know that some form of crash was going to come along — or at any rate, the Chancellor should have done — and the government should have planned for it better.

“Labour was basically continuing with previous Tory policies;”

Again, not really. Labour carried on with Tory spending plans up until about 2001, after which they significantly increased government spending.

“if the Tories had happened to win the previous election, the same thing would have happened on their watch and opportunistic people would be acting as if it was all their fault.”

Actually, didn’t Michael Howard say during the election campaign that spending was too high and needed to be reduced? So I think he’d probably have reduced government expenditure if he was PM.

“The Tories also failed to foresee it, and actively work to disenfranchise the poorest in society.”

Evidence?

To add to 19’s comments.

The credit crunch was not something that just ‘happened’. It happened in large part because of bad policy decisions, in the UK and elsewhere.

The most important bad policy in the UK was Labour’s (Ed Balls’s) approach to financial regulation – light touch regulation. Nobody forced poor old Ed Balls to push that policy line – it was part of his and New Labour’s ideology. But light touch regulation led to Lloyds and RBS ended up needing bailouts paid for by you and me.

Labour thought that a buoyant financial services sector would fund their bloated public sector, which they thought in turn would be good for the poor. That’s why they didn’t regulate the City. But that was a calamitous, epochal mistake which the young and the poor are now paying for.

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 19 XXX

“Erm, anybody with even the most basic knowledge of economics knows that economic activity happens in cycles, and that the boom couldn’t last for ever. It’s also pretty well-known that having an economy driven largely by borrowing tends to cause problems during periods of economic difficulty. So “we” did know that some form of crash was going to come along — or at any rate, the Chancellor should have done — and the government should have planned for it better.”

Some form of crash, at some point. We didn’t know when or where.

“Again, not really. Labour carried on with Tory spending plans up until about 2001, after which they significantly increased government spending.”

Ah, ok – I thought I was responding to the old “Labour made the banks more powerful!” line. Mea culpa. However, even if Labour’s policy of spending turns out in retrospect to be wrong (or indeed self-serving, as a way of purchasing popularity), it was intended to improve things for the poor. As a matter of intention, Labour remain more the “party of the poor” than the Tories.

“Actually, didn’t Michael Howard say during the election campaign that spending was too high and needed to be reduced? So I think he’d probably have reduced government expenditure if he was PM.”

See above – but I would also point out that raising taxes on the rich would have been an alternative to reducing spending. Or you could do both. That way you could have prepared for the crisis AND helped the poor.

“Evidence?”

Recent Tory policies on benefits, child tax credits, inheritance tax…? Note that when I say they’re actively working against the poor, I’m not claiming that “hurting the poor” is the actual motivation. I’m not stupid enough to assume people I disagree with must be motivated by maliciousness. I would say. however, that relative to Labour, the Tories CARE less about the wellbeing of the poor, and that this is shown in the two parties’ policies.

22. Leon Wolfson

@20 – So, the Tories call for even lighter touch regulation makes them even more culpable. Simple, really.

@21 – The voting register thing…

23. Chaise Guevara

@ 22

“The voting register thing…”

Remind me… was that one of those cases of trying to incentivise people who probably won’t vote Tory into not registering to vote?

24. Leon Wolfson

No, making it non-compulsory, which is expected to drop million from the rolls, mostly poorer, city and labour voters.


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  10. The Party Conferyawns « @Number 71

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