Parties should submit their policies to "inequality testing" by the OBR. Photo: Getty
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In attempting to fix the economy, all parties have neglected to fix inequality

An Autumn Statement for the few.

Autumn Statement post-mortems always involve a key question – who are the winners, and who are the losers? Have pensioners done well? Have the young benefitted? How have families done? It’s a tried and tested method but it misses a far simpler and more important issue for many – how have the richest benefitted, and how does this compare to the rest of us.

In the past few months the UK’s extreme inequality has grown as an issue of public concern. Politicians from all parties have taken note. Ed Miliband’s Senate House speech focused largely on the idea that our current level of inequality is not accidental, but is instead fuelled by ideology. David Cameron has shown a similar desire to discuss inequality, celebrating statistics that saw a reduction in the Gini coefficient during the coalition’s term. And north of the border, Nicola Sturgeon has promised a “strong focus” on closing the gap between rich and poor under her leadership.

So does anything from today’s Autumn Statement match this rhetoric? Certainly some policies announced will have an important role to play in reducing inequality. An extra £3m to tackle national minimum wage avoidance is to be welcomed, as is a review of business rates. And there were also encouraging noises on further targeting of aggressive tax avoidance.

Stamp duty proposals should be an important progressive move, but the 98 per cent of people they are purported to help will be those able to buy a house. Many people are nowhere near being able to afford property. A far more important policy on property would be to replace council tax with a truly progressive property tax, this would benefit most those who are genuinely struggling to put a roof over their heads.

Making student loans worth up to £10,000 available to all young people taking post-graduate masters degrees is all well and good, but this ignores the important need to make funding available to those on vocational courses as well.

What we can categorically say is that no one will be "lifted out of tax" as has been suggested by raising the personal tax allowance. Raising this threshold will lift people out of income tax, it does not include the huge amounts of their income they currently pay on VAT, council tax and other taxes. For the very poorest, who already pay no income tax, raising this threshold has absolutely no further benefit.

Among all this, there is the worrying feeling that all parties have once again largely shunted inequality off the table. Do any of the parties have a clear strategy for its reduction? Everyone else is well aware of how much inequality is hurting society and damaging our economy.

The CBI has echoed IMF evidence on the damage inequality inflicts on long term growth, and even the world’s richest man has expressed fears that extreme inequality "undercut[s] the ideal that all people are created equal" and advocates a role for government in offsetting its effects.

Rupert Murdoch weighed in at the G20 with his thoughts, joining Bill Gates and Warren Buffett as members of the super-rich voicing concerns about economic polarisation. It is not only national minimum wage workers championing inequality reduction.

Others outside of the political arena have made a concerted effort to see inequality discussed and debated, and to acknowledge growing public anger at its sheer scale. Channel 4 last month even ran two programmes exploring relative pay packets and the rising incomes of the richest.

Despite previous encouraging noises from politicians there is a danger that these conversations will slowly dissipate among decision makers. Though broad consensus seems to have been achieved that something must be done, it seems we are held back by a combination of reluctance and perceived inability to act. Partly this stems from the fact that inequality is a complex issue, making it difficult to control its many moving parts, but there is also the reality that many developments almost unanimously viewed as positive (like advances in technology) may ultimately contribute to the problem.

But there are reasonable, sensible policies to achieve a substantial reduction in inequality. We have recommended tangible policy proposals for example like the reinstatement of the 50p rate of income tax, a more progressive system of property taxation, and the adoption of worker’s on remuneration committees.

As many commentators have noted, delivering an Autumn Statement is a tricky balancing act requiring the appeasement of core voters and the wooing of those who are wavering. It’s tough enough to deliver when the public coffers are swelled; it’s devilishly hard when they’re not quite so flush. This is true of course for all politicians at all times. But inequality is now a genuine potential vote winner, with 80 per cent of people agreeing the gap between rich and poor is too great and 70 per cent believing it is government’s job to reduce it.

What we need, from all political parties, are policies that matter to us all, policies that make a measurable difference to the quality of life of us all. More than any "rabbit from the hat" we need political parties to commit to reducing inequality.

For this, an important first step would be for parties to commit to ensure the net result of their policies will be to reduce inequality, and for whichever political parties make up the next government to annually submit their policies to "inequality testing" by the OBR, to ensure that the net impact will be to reduce the gap between the richest and the rest of us. 

John Hood is media and communications manager at The Equality Trust

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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.