How the right react to inequality
It has been interesting to watch how different people have reacted to the new equality report, produced by John Hills and his team.
Of course there has been much confusion about whether we are talking about narrowing inequality of outcomes or inequality of opportunity. These are both desirable and considerably intertwined, but not the same thing at all.
Politicians across the piece like to confuse the two and are much happier talking about equality of opportunity. (Some I suspect don’t even understand the difference).
Part of new Labour’s ascendancy was the defeat of the remnants of the Crosslandite right and Labour’s soft-left over getting rid of concern about inequality of outcomes (filthy rich …). This is an argument on the left that goes back to Michael Young and his attack on meritocracy which I’ve mentioned before. But that’s another story.
More interestingly this time round has been the response on the right.
Theresa May said in the official Conservative response:
“It is unbelievable that Labour thinks it can claim to be the party of aspiration when its failure to tackle the causes of poverty that have let down so many lives. We cannot go on like this. We need a change from Labour’s failed one-dimensional approach to tackling poverty and inequality. Conservatives will tackle the causes of poverty and inequality – not just the symptoms through radical policies to address educational failure, family breakdown and worklessness.”
This is clearly an acceptance that growing inequality is a problem. And I think this is a genuine change in at least some Conservative attitudes which should be welcomed – perhaps one of the real tests of who is a Conservative moderniser.
Of course there will be argument about what should be done about it, but a national debate about how best to reduce inequality would be extremely welcome. It has hardly been very noticeable in recent years.
But there is another right wing view. It has not put its head over the parapet much this week, until today’s Times article by Antonia Senior. She says:
As long as the poor have not been getting poorer, which they clearly have not, and everybody’s standard of living is rising, why does it matter that the rich are getting richer? So what?
The problem is not the existence of inequality, but the absence of social mobility. It matters not one jot that Sir Philip Green has a yacht and you have a plastic bath duck.
There is a big tension between these two views.
How they play out could be very interesting.