Politics Explained

Labour, the Conservatives and the politics of poverty

Austerity wrought by the coalition government suggests the Labour Party cannot rely on inequalities delivering a political dividend, no matter the social damage. But rising inflation, fuel price hikes and shortages could soon hit Boris Johnson in the polls, writes Sean O’Grady

Wednesday 29 September 2021 22:01
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<p>For most of the modern era, the electorate has preferred the approach to social justice favoured by the Conservatives, such as it is</p>

For most of the modern era, the electorate has preferred the approach to social justice favoured by the Conservatives, such as it is

If compassion for the poor and a passion for equality were the only things that mattered in politics, the Labour Party would have been in power continuously since its foundation around 120 years ago. Instead, periods of Labour government, and especially Labour majority governments, have been rare. For most of the modern era, the electorate has preferred the approach to social justice favoured by the Conservatives, such as it is.

Indeed, their stingy and mean-spirited attitude to social security – or so their progressive opponents see it – hasn’t prevented the Conservatives from being the most successful grouping in the history of democratic politics anywhere in the world. It’s easy being green, so Boris Johnson remarked, just as it is easy and politically profitable to be mean.

Such is the backdrop to the withdrawal of the furlough scheme and the cut to universal credit (UC) of some £86 a month. In the present chaotic labour market, it is by no means clear what the impact on unemployment will be, even in the short term. Many sectors, “post-Covid” (though the pandemic isn’t over) and post-Brexit, have seen the demand for labour spike, and wage rates rise dramatically. The current shortage of HGV drivers is merely the most high-profile of the areas of scarcity, with personal care and hospitality also experiencing difficulties in recruitment.

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