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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.

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