Daily catch-up: The paradox of inequality in Britain

Plus the future of the NHS and how to arrange a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn if you are a shadow cabinet minister

John Rentoul
Wednesday 11 November 2015 09:58
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I have written for Politico about the double paradox of inequality. One, that the Labour Party has elected an anti-capitalist leader in a rage about rising inequality that hasn't happened. Two, that it is about to happen over the next five years, after a re-elected David Cameron gave a One Nation speech promising an "all-out assault on poverty".

I try to review the trends in the distribution of income and wealth in Britain since the 1970s. Income inequality increased sharply in the 1980s, and wealth inequality increased in the 1990s, but neither has changed much since Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997 (indeed incomes have become slightly more equal since the crash of 2008).

That inequality has been stable is a tribute to Gordon Brown. He copied tax credits from the US, which have offset labour market trends towards greater inequality, and he responded to the 2008 crash with a Keynesian stimulus that kept people in work. Now, as Brown himself points out in the Mirror today, Cameron and George Osborne are threatening to undo the tax credits part of that achievement.

The NHS needs other sources of revenue to survive, says David Bennett, who has just left Monitor, the hospitals regulator. It will have to look for other forms of revenue, such as co-payments and top-up insurance, if it is to meet future demand, he told the FT. He said Britons were “close to the limit” of what they were prepared to pay in tax.

Unfortunately, the common response to this has been to accuse the Conservatives of wanting to privatise the NHS and to portray Bennett, who was head of Tony Blair's Policy Unit, as being a New Labour collaborator in this conspiracy. Fortunately, there are also thoughtful responses that engage with the two problems of resources and delivery. Some argue that the British people would be prepared to pay more in tax for the NHS. Unfortunately, opinion polling on this is superficial (the question is in effect, "are you for or against the national religion?") and a poor basis for policy.

The Independent on Sunday is the newspaper that gets results. My top colleague Jamie Merrill reported at the weekend that Maria Eagle, shadow defence secretary, had yet to have a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn eight weeks after he appointed her, despite her repeated requests. Andrew Marr brought it up with Eagle, and yesterday, she had her first meeting with Mr, who today becomes the Right Honourable (a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council), Corbyn.

David Cameron's letter to Donald Tusk, the EU president, yesterday setting out his negotiating position was pretty much as previewed in The Independent on Sunday.

Oliver Kamm draws my attention to a rather special Question To Which The Answer Is No from Kevin Barrett:

"Is the true value of pi being withheld to hide antigravity/free energy?"

And finally, thanks to Moose Allain ‏for this useful advice:

"Always keep your hands in your pockets so you know where they are when you need them."

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