London’s ghost kingdom of the poor

Why Labour’s high command was more culpable than most.

I'd like to congratulate the London Evening Standard on reaching its initial target of raising £1m for redistribution among the poorest people in London.

The Standard's Dispossessed Fund is an example of non-state-driven community power and action of a kind that has no doubt been noticed by the likes of Maurice Glasman, an intellectual outrider for David Miliband as well as Jon Cruddas and James Purnell, both of whom I regret are not running for the Labour leadership.

I contribute to the Standard, and wrote an op-ed column on London poverty for it last Friday.

Here's an extract:

For the long years of his chancellorship, Gordon Brown freely indulged bankers as they traded their asset-backed securities, what Warren Buffett now calls their instruments of mass destruction. Meanwhile, he used the tax receipts raised from financial services to redistribute by stealth. That, at least, was the plan.

It was a frivolous time, when it seemed as if the whole culture was beguiled by the glamour and allure of easy money. The high command of the Labour Party, whose historic mission it had been to reduce poverty and inequality, was more culpable than most.

"We [Labour] are intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich," said Peter Mandelson, creating the mood music for the New Labour years, before everything darkened. "It's not a burning ambition for me to make sure David Beckham earns less money," Tony Blair said in 2001, rejecting a call to raise the higher rate of income tax.

It was as if Labour had lost its language, and it was only voices from the margins of the party, such as those of Frank Field or Jon Cruddas, or compassionate Conservatives such as Iain Duncan Smith, who spoke about the catastrophic effect that entrenched poverty can have on the individual and wider society.

The then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, argued, too, that the exceptionalism of poverty in the capital required a bespoke government response; after a struggle, he at least managed to turn the meagre minimum wage into the living wage.

There was, of course, a parallel that London did not share in the boom -- a city of generational struggle, of long-term welfare-dependency, homelessness and vulnerability, as highlighted by this newspaper's fund for the Dispossessed campaign.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage