Ed Miliband must talk about the thing he’s passionate about – rampant inequality

Talk about inequality again, Ed. Get angry about it. You'll be surprised how many people are with you.

Talk about inequality again, Ed. Get angry about it. You’ll be surprised how many people are with you

There are two pernicious myths in British politics. One follows on from the other and both concern inequality.

The first is that inequality only matters to the left. The second accepts this while emphasising the greater importance of equality of opportunity.

The first assumption is relatively easy to counter: just 5 per cent of the public think large differences in wealth are necessary for Britain to be prosperous. Inequality is no longer just an issue for the poor (if it ever really was), but is hitting the middle classes too. The five richest families in Britain now own more than the poorest 20 per cent combined while the middle classes are increasingly falling behind.

Property prices are entrenching the wealth of homeowners while simultaneously making it harder for others to get on the property ladder. Average wages lag behind inflation and even prior to the 2008 financial crisis only the richest 10 per cent of households saw significant benefit from economic growth.

As to the second myth, social mobility is subverted by the inequality of outcome that meritocracy legitimizes – for the obvious reason that the privileges of the parents tend to become the privileges of the children. Countless studies show that social mobility improves in more equal societies. Egalitarian Norway has the highest level of social mobility, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Britain and the US are the most unequal developed societies and, unsurprisingly, have much lower rates of social mobility.

All talk of equality of opportunity without considering inequality of outcome is little more than cant.

This provides a huge opportunity for Ed Miliband if only he chooses to grasp it. The Conservatives are ideologically opposed to reducing the gap between rich and poor. The Liberal Democrats want the dish of fried snowballs that is a meritocracy with large discrepancies in wealth.

Miliband is reportedly convinced that the gap between rich and poor is the defining issues of our time. As he put it in his Hugo Young Lecture earlier this year, “tackling inequality is the new centre ground of politics”.

So why doesn’t he talk about it more often?

There is a suspicion that, like Gordon Brown before him, Ed feels that he must to some extent hide his true beliefs through fear that Britain is at heart a small-c conservative country.

But on inequality this is a mistake. The novelist John Steinbeck once said that socialism never took root in American because the poor saw themselves not as an embattled proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. This sense of economic optimism has never existed in Britain and is light-years away from the country’s current predicament. People are thinking about how they are going to pay this winter’s gas bill, not whether or not they will be able to rent a yacht in San Tropez in the summer.

When Ed Miliband won the Labour leadership back in 2010 he did so on the claim that, during the financial crisis, Britain’s political compass had shifted decisively to the left. In terms of wealth inequality he was right – inequality is now as much a middle class problem as it is a working class one. The rich are buying up snapping up the properties the middle classes once lived in and their offspring increasingly dominate the most prestigious professions. Just 7 per cent of Britons are privately educated yet 33 per cent of our MPs, 71 per cent of our senior judges and 44 per cent of people on the Sunday Times Rich List went to private school.

The middle classes want to know that their children will be able to get on. Inequality is a barrier to that.

One of Miliband’s problems is a lack of congruency – there is a perceptible gap between what he says and what people think he truly believes, especially on issues like immigration and Europe. On the issue of inequality there is no such problem – Miliband is in tune with our increasingly unfair times.

Talk about inequality again, Ed. Get angry about it. You may be surprised just how many people are with you.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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25 Responses to “Ed Miliband must talk about the thing he’s passionate about – rampant inequality”

  1. swat

    Passion isn’t enough; you need the skills to manage the process to fruition.

  2. Selohesra

    Why am I finding adverts offering me the chance to meet a charming Russian lady on this site accompanied by a young lady exposing rather a lot of cleavage – do LFF not care about exploitation & sexism any more

  3. me

    Ads are usually based on your google profile/cookies.

  4. Selohesra

    Shouldn’t be anything dodgy on my work pc! 🙂

  5. me

    Dirty techies after hours, the little scamps.

  6. GO

    Hear, hear. I voted for Ed as Labour leader precisely because he seemed to ‘get’ inequality in a way New Labour never did. Levels of income inequality have been way too high in the UK since Thatcher made sure of it, but at least things weren’t so bad in terms of wealth inequality – ordinary people could still buy their own houses rather than renting them from a separate, property-owning class. But that fundamental (and self-reinforcing) divide really seems to be opening up now.

  7. P.Leicester

    And you need to get out of the authoritarian-right quadrant of the political compass. Otherwise you will continue to fall victum to neoliberal imperitives and thus fail to tackle inequality. Basically if you crossed quadrants to the libertarian left, to where the Greens comfortably sit, the election would come alive.

  8. Godfrey Paul

    Inequality is a normal feature of human society. It has always been so and will always be so. We are all different and we all use our aptitudes (or lack of) in different ways.

  9. David Stringer

    It’s the scale of it that’s the problem, and the fact that many talented people are denied education and connections that would allow them to develop their talents fully. Almost everyone loses out with the scale of inequality we now have.

  10. sidneycoadwilliams


  11. madasafish

    Miliband is reportedly convinced that the gap between rich and poor is the defining issues of our time. As he put it in his Hugo Young Lecture earlier this year, “tackling inequality is the new centre ground of politics”.

    So why doesn’t he talk about it more often?”

    He’s a millionaire and owns a £million house.

    It’s obvious…

  12. madasafish

    As if the Guardian never avoided Capital Gains Tax on the sale of its stake in Autotrader (c£150 million tax free profit iirc)

  13. Tom


  14. madasafish

    He lives in a house, in the name of his wife Justine Thornton, which is worth up to £2.3million – a rise of £700,000 in the three years since it was purchased.

    Ed Miliband lives in a house, in the name of his wife Justine Thornton (pictured left), worth up to £2.3million. She earns around £200,000 a year

    Miss Thornton is an environmental law expert on around £200,000 a year, while Mr Miliband earns more than £130,000.

    He is also wealthy because of an inheritance from his Marxist father Ralph and his share of the value of the former family home. He used this money and the proceeds of a flat he bought in the 1980s for £100,000 to purchase a house in Hampstead for £650,000. In 2009 he sold this for £740,000.


  15. Tom

    So his household earns £330,000 per year, he has money from the sale of a house (which appreciated outside of his control) and lives in a house which has also substantially gone up in value.

    That makes it a bit unclear whether or not he is a millionaire, but it certainly seems substantially different from many of the Tory millionaires in Government.

  16. madasafish

    You mean some Tories are as rich as Hilary Benn?


  17. Guest

    Wah, wah, some people not on the far right have cash, can’t be allowed!

  18. Guest

    Now that’s funny!

  19. Guest

    Let’s see…this is LFF. You don’t even watch where you’re posting.

  20. Guest

    What? The greens are massively stateist.

  21. Guest

    Ah yes, the inferior people narrative. (Based, of course, of parental wealth)

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    Actually no. The rising inequality has been masked by redistributionary spending and the rise of two-income households.

    Given redistribution is being cut back on, things are getting worse, rapidly.

    Also, plenty of other EU countries have large renter classes who are quite happy, like Germany – the problem is our specific law there, not the concept in the first place. (And also 34 years of insufficient house building)

  23. Tom

    Err…yeah? All you’ve shown is that Labour MPs with London homes could now sell their homes for a lot of money (due to substantial inflation). Not sure this really says anything about your core point (their willingness to tackle inequality).

  24. bob

    How can you enforce equality without someone at the top ensuring that the property rights of the rich were being trodden on?

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