Theresa May has accused Harriet Harman of living in a dream world, and engaging in class warfare. Ms Harman’s crime is recognising that class inequalities have a significant impact on life chances. Apparently this rhetoric belongs 20 years in the past – presumably becuase social class no longer makes much of a difference to any of us.
But the new Conservative party wants us to know they do care about inequality and poverty. Recent literature reports, for example, that the gap in life expectancy between the rich and poor is greater than in the Victorian era, and that there is a 43 per cent GSCE attainment rate gap between the richest and the poorest areas.
So what is the Tory party position? If you believe that poverty is a problem, but that social circumstances don’t play a determining role in life chances, you are by definition a neo-con of the first order. As Charles Murray says, the underclass may have low incomes, but it’s their tendencies towards criminality and lone parenthood that have messed up their chances.
At best, therefore, recent Conservative interventions suggest an incoherent and opportunist attempt to present the party as caring about inequality without committing to any solutions. At worst, and I believe more likely, they demonstrate a poorly veiled belief in the fecklessness of an underserving poor whose personal decisions, rather than social circumstances, mean that they haven’t bothered to pull up their bootstraps and get on their bikes.
The dream world is not Labour’s. The Conservative illusion that class does not matter is damaging and corrosive – and if it is not challenged it will quickly develop into a nightmare.