Labour is back for a third term. This time around, unless it
tackles redistribution on a radical scale, the legacy it leaves
future generations will be worth little.
After Labour’s eight years in power, the lack of social mobility
in the UK is shameful. A study of eight industrialised countries by
the London School of Economics put Britain at the bottom. The poor
find it more difficult now than 20 years ago to break the cycle of
Expounding on the value of radical redistribution for the
prosperity of all should have been a recurring theme of the first
two Labour governments. Instead, we’ve had the slyness of stealth
taxes and projects such as the national child care strategy and
Sure Start only whispered about in the wings of the main political
Whoever leads the country during the next few years will have to
deal with the left wing of the parliamentary Labour Party, which,
because of the government’s smaller majority, now has bargaining
clout. According to the academic Philip Cowley, Blair would not
have been able to push through top-up fees (disastrous for the
underprivileged) or foundation hospitals with a small majority.
Already, some MPs have pledged to stop any further privatisation of
public services and erosion of civil liberties.
What is also vital is that ministers belatedly initiate an open
and honest dialogue with the electorate explaining why taxes must
rise and why the investment in those at the bottom of society has
to significantly increase if Britain is to become a socially
cohesive and prosperous nation.
What’s “fair” and what isn’t in terms of what we pay in tax and
what we receive in benefits and services is examined in a
thoughtful paper by Alan Hedges, Perceptions of Redistribution, for
the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the LSE. Hedges
found strong support for the principle of mutuality. “Everyone does
their bit as far as they’re able – and all of us have periods when
we give or take more because of lifecycle changes or random
Most were in favour of those at the bottom receiving “a bit
more” at the expense of those at the top – but the scale of
redistribution required to make significant change is not
understood. Making us comprehend this will be the new government’s
task. The next four years is a make or break time for Britain. Will
Labour, third time around, finally rise to the challenge of
creating a socially just society?