When I look back at this election campaign in weeks to come, one of the most memorable parts for me won’t be the televised debates, but those Conservative posters—everywhere you go—of Gordon Brown grinning, asking people to vote for him because “I took billions from pensions,” and “I let 80,000 criminals out early.” One poster in particular sticks in my mind: “I increased the gap between rich and poor.”
Hang on a minute. The Conservative party—who oversaw escalating inequality in the Thatcher-Major years—has the nerve to attack Labour for growing inequality? Isn’t this the same Conservative party whose leader, Margaret Thatcher, attacked the opposition for fixating on the gap between rich and poor in her final performance in the House of Commons? I thought the Tory logic was as long as the absolute condition of the poorest improved, growing inequality didn’t matter?
Maggie was wrong: inequality does matter. But I think David Cameron knows this.
High levels of inequality will prevent the flourishing of the connected society he’s keen to foster, where proactive citizens volunteer and start new schools. Fewer people volunteer and fewer people trust each other in more unequal societies. So, despite scepticism from Thatcherite ideologues in his party, Cameron has pledged to tackle income inequality in the public sector, calling for the salary of the highest earners to be linked to the lowest. It’s a positive move—but inequality in our society derives much more from executive pay in the private sector
Labour has concentrated on closing the gap between the poorest and those on middle incomes through increased benefits and tax credits. Welcome as this is, Labour was (and still is) too timid to address the huge gap between the very wealthy and the rest of us, fearful of appearing anti-enterprise. So during the last 13 years the pay of chief executives has sky-rocketed: they got paid 47 times the average earnings in 2000. Today, they get paid 81 times more. A scar on Labour’s record, the Gini coefficient—which measures the gap between the country’s richest and poorest—stands at its highest since 1961.
In a capitalist society, there will and should be some degree of inequality in income. It incentivises hard work and…