“They want to blame global forces such as the war in Ukraine, supply chain issues or covid whilst simultaneously blaming individuals for not budgeting well enough or not working harder. This is the classic right wing rhetoric which we have heard many times before.”
By Jon Trickett MP
This week the Bank of England warned of “Apocalyptic” food price rises. The CBI, hardly a voice of radicalism, has said there is now a “moral imperative” to help people facing real hardship. And even the Police are urging discretion on those who steal food because they are so desperate.
Yet whilst prices are rising and wages are falling there is one group of people for whom it is boom time: the richest.
The annual Sunday Times Rich List has been published today and it shows that the richest 250 people in the UK have increased their collective wealth by nearly £60 billion in a single year.
For the first time the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and his wife – who made headlines recently because of her non-dom tax status – make the list with a fortune of £730 million.
Sunak, despite pleas to hold an emergency budget to ameliorate the impact of the current crisis, has failed to act to help the millions of people struggling. Last month he ruled out any “new spending” on the cost of living crisis and instead warned that there will be “tough months ahead” – for everyone but him, it would seem.
Some Tories have other “solutions” such as “learning to cook” or even, as one Tory Minister said, “moving to a better job”. These callous remarks give us a glimpse into what the Tory Party really think. These are the attitudes more akin to 19th Century Victorian snobbery blaming the victims of an unjust society rather than tackling its root cause.
But it is more than just Tories looking down their noses at the poor isn’t it? It’s ideological. The Tories simply do not want to intervene in the market because they are wedded to the neoliberal orthodoxy of a “free market”.
Instead they want to blame global forces such as the war in Ukraine, supply chain issues or covid whilst simultaneously blaming individuals for not budgeting well enough or not working harder. This is the classic right wing rhetoric which we have heard many times before.
Labour should not fall into this trap by engaging in this Tory discourse. The current crisis has not been caused by events out of our control, it’s been happening for a long time. The whole economic trajectory has been wrong from the start. We have had decades of neoliberalism which only intensified after the 2008 financial crash and is accelerating now with the current crisis.
Our economic problems are endemic. The structures of British capitalism have been developed to make the rich richer whilst everyone else competes for scraps.
For example, wealth is not taxed like income from work. The basic rate of income tax is 20%; for dividends it is 7.5%; for capital gains it is 10%. The rich too can use loopholes to avoid paying their tax altogether.
Privatised monopolies such as water and energy are hiking up prices, reducing the quality of public service and slashing pay for workers whilst in the last decade £16.8 billion has been paid out in dividends to water company shareholders. Since 2010, Shell and BP have together spent £147.2 billion on rewarding shareholders and are predicting profits of £40 billion this year.
So what is the alternative? The left has to ask itself: what do we want and need from a modern economy?
Surely everyone should have access to a decent job if they can work; a secure home that is safe to live in; the ability to buy the essentials in life such as food, water and energy; access to free healthcare and education; and the expectation of a reasonable quality of life.
These relatively modest aims are unachievable under our current economic system. We need more than just palliatives – although we need some measures like a windfall tax on energy companies right now- and tinkering around the edges isn’t going to be enough. We need to tackle the structural issues of British Capitalism; a full scale change of direction.
We need to build a new economy and develop new ideas, such as:
- A wealth tax
- marshall style plan to rebuild our communities
- New deal for workers, inc a restoration of trades union rights
- Refinance public services which have been run into the ground
- An end to austerity
- Public ownership especially of the private monopolies
We also need to build political and community resistance on a large scale. People are hurting more than ever and the Tories know that people won’t stand for it much longer. They know what is coming – a mass resistance to the current system. That is why they are cracking down on dissent with draconian legislation targeting protests and enhancing the power of the state.
The left must resist the government authoritarian drift and the only way to do so is for us to show we have the ideas necessary to tackle the current crisis.
- Jon Trickett is the MP for Hemsworth and a regular columnist for Labour Outlook. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
- This article is an adapted version of a speech given by Jon at the “Cost of living crisis deepens – what is the economic alternative” discussion held on May 19th, 2022 with John McDonnell, Professor Ozlem Onaran, Laura Pidcock and more.
- You can watch Jon Trickett’s latest interview with Labour Outlook on the cost of living crisis here.