Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: With Britain becoming ever more unequal, we need the likes of Tony Benn and Bob Crow more than ever

That’s two more leftie nuisances gone. Now back to big business as usual

Share

I last saw Tony Benn at the Friends Meeting House in Euston. We were both invited to speak about the austerity measures and their impact on the voiceless. Before the event started, I asked him what had made him give up his inherited privileges and become a ferocious warrior for fairness and justice. His reply: “Nothing special. A conscience and simple, common humanity. We all have that.”

If only. Our government has neither and nor did the Blairites who came before them. They put on those faces, they poured honeyed libations when Benn passed away and even after Bob Crow suddenly died. But the ritual utterances meant nothing. For the ravenous rich and their political champions (or slaves), that’s two more lefty nuisances dead and gone. Relief and champagne all round. Now back to big business as usual.

Admittedly, they are not completely indifferent to the lower and loser classes. Why, Rachel Johnson, talented and congenial sister of the London Mayor, dropped in on the poor, for a BBC TV programme – a “poverty safari”, she called it – and was really, really affected when she discovered how bad cheap food really is. So, too, was Theo Paphitis of Dragons’ Den. What, they didn’t know? Michael Portillo made a similar programme in 2003 when he lived with a family who were on benefits.

Who benefited? Why Portillo, of course, who, by this well-paid sacrifice, shed his nasty-guy image. I don’t understand how these people can remain so disconnected from their fellow citizens. My brother was like them and I didn’t understand him either. 

We both grew up in a home stalked by fear and intermittent penury. I didn’t have my own bed until I was a teenager, I had to make reusable sanitary napkins from old sheets and get neighbours to pay for school books. My brother had to drop out of school to take a job at a petrol station. I became a socialist, he became a millionaire who hated taxes and despised miners, factory workers and those “too stupid to make buck”. When I phoned him last, I didn’t know he would die a week later, too young, not happy, but still inexorably committed to making the bucks that for him, like Tories, were the meaning of life.

OK, so George Osborne may want to raise the tax threshold to £10,500 in this week’s Budget so he can say he cares about “hard-working” people on low wages. These people are kept down and struggling by firms whose shareholders and bosses have insatiable appetites. They who have too much already must have more, more, more and still more, otherwise the entire economy will crumble, or so we are incessantly told. Of course, those who don’t get a living wage will be grateful for those few, stale crumbs thrown to them, which is how Osborne and co want it to be. Their social model is to ensure that workers and the poor never feel entitled to a proper share of the nation’s wealth. That fundamental right has been stamped on, stamped out. Instead insecurity, punitive policies, slashing of the welfare net induces fear and keeps up class anxieties. And so the boss classes are able to be more exploitative  and get knighted too for their contributions to an increasingly divided and unequal nation. Don’t mind the gap, we’re told. It creates a more flexible, agile work force. A lie. Germany and Sweden are doing better than us and they are patently not followers of these ruthless, government-licensed, profiteer’s catechisms. 

A report just published by think tank The Equality Trust warns that the great and growing divide between the rich and poor costs the country £39bn per year. The researchers came up with that figure after investigating the monetary effects of mental illness, life expectancy and crime rates among the less well off. The 100 wealthiest people in our country have between them as much money as the 18 million in the lowest classes. This level of inequality means people don’t feel valued or motivated. The “trickle down” promise seems to be another damned lie. 

Today, Oxfam adds its voice and research findings to challenge the statements and policies made by the Government: “The five richest families in the UK are wealthier than the bottom 20 per cent of the entire population. That’s just five households with more money than 12.6 million people – almost the same as the number of people living below the poverty line in the UK.”  And lest you believe this is all to do with the feckless and lazy, know this: since 2003, the majority of the British public (95 per cent) have seen a 12 per cent drop in their disposable incomes while the top 5 per cent have never had it so good.

No society is ever completely equal or fair. But those with governments that strive through policies and principles for greater equality and fairness, are generally happier, more cohesive and have stronger national bonds. But hey, this GB, miserable, broken and riven, but still “the greatest country in the world”. The final lie.

Read more:
Tony Benn: Warm in his friendships, harsh in his judgements
Tony Benn: Trying to do justice to a man who spent a life fighting for it
They need someone like Bob Crow fighting for their rights

The pleasure of Shakespeare should be for all

Most of us first learnt Shakespeare in school. Some, alienated by Elizabethan English, didn’t see the point of studying the long dead white male, while others were thrilled and roused by the greatest writer of all time. Today, school children sitting under trees in Uganda and India, young offenders and kids in care here, are transfixed by the power of the Bard’s words, plots, characters and truths.

And so it was on Thursday evening, when I watched the rumbustious Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Taming of the Shrew, not in a lovely theatre in Stratford (where it was first performed this February) but in Phoenix High School in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, close to tough housing estates. Jacqui O’Hanlon, the RSC director of education had organised it, one of her many brilliant, outreach initiatives. (Declaration: I am an RSC governor but this is my unbiased view.)

In this version genders are switched, so Kate is played by a hairy man – Forbes Masson – and Petruchio by actress Katy Stephens. The kids loved them and the rest of the cast. Most had never seen a professional company before. For a few hours, they were transported. They, who don’t or can’t go to the theatre, may never again experience that ecstasy. That’s their tragedy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m