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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Green party calls on Labour, Lib Dems, and Plaid Cymru to form a "progressive alliance" next election

Will Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron and Leanne Wood agree to meet for talks?

The Green party leadership have called upon Labour, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru to work together to challenge the Tories at the next election. In an open letter, the Green leaders stress the exceptional circumstances occassioned by the vote to leave the EU:

“In a spirit of openness and transparency, we are writing to you as leaders of parties which oppose Brexit, to invite you to a cross-party meeting to explore how we best rise to the challenge posed by last week’s vote to Leave the EU.  

“We have a UK Government in chaos, an economy facing a crisis and people up and down the country facing serious hardship. There is an urgent need to make a stand against any austerity and the slashing of environmental legislation, human and workers’ rights, that may come with Brexit. 

“With the growing likelihood of an early General Election, the importance of progressive parties working together to prevent the formation of a Tory-UKIP-DUP government that would seek to enact an ultra-right Brexit scenario is ever more pressing.

Caroline Lucas shot down a rumour that she would be joining Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. But her party has decided to call for a progressive alliance and an early general election. 

Key to such cross-party talks would be the demand for electoral reform, as the leader Natalie Bennett added in a statement:

“Central to such a progressive alliance would be a commitment to proportional elections for the House of Commons and an elected second chamber.”

The call for a more plural politics follows a post-referendum surge in Green party membership, with up to 50 people joining per hour.

Here’s the letter in full:

Open letter to: Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Leanne Wood on behalf of Green Party of England and Wales,

In a spirit of openness and transparency, we are writing to you as Leaders of parties which oppose Brexit, to invite you to a cross-party meeting to explore how we best rise to the challenge posed by last week’s vote to Leave the EU.  

Britain is in crisis and people are scared about the future. Never have we had a greater need for calm leadership to be shown by politicians.  

We have a UK Government in chaos, an economy facing a crisis and people up and down the country facing serious hardship. There is an urgent need to make a stand against any austerity and the slashing of environmental legislation, human and workers’ rights, that may come with Brexit. 

With the growing likelihood of an early General Election, the importance of progressive parties working together to prevent the formation of a Tory-UKIP-DUP government that would seek to enact an ultra-right Brexit scenario is ever more pressing.

This is an opportunity to recognise that a more plural politics is in both the Left’s electoral and political interests. This crisis exposes the absurdity of our first past the post electoral system.  Just 24 per cent of those eligible to vote elected the government that called the referendum. The only fair way to proceed is to have a proportional voting system where people can back the politicians who they believe in, rather than taking a gamble and not knowing who they will end up with.  

The idea of a progressive alliance has been floated for several years, and proposals have once again been put forward in the context of the current crisis.  We believe that the time has come to urgently consider such ideas together in the context of a Westminster Government. We recognise the very different political situation in Scotland, given the strongly pro-EU majority there. We hope that co-operation between progressive parties their can ensure that this mandate is respected, and we will support them to keep all options open.

We look forward to your response,

Natalie Bennett, Leader of The Green Party of England and Wales

Steven Agnew MLA, Leader of the Green Party of Northern Ireland

Alice Hooker-Stroud, Leader of Wales Green Party

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.