After thirteen years of Labour rule, the gap between the rich and the rest of us is now wider than at any time for nearly 70 years. A new 460-page report from the 'National Equality Panel', a group of academics, shows that the wealth of the richest 10% of Britain's population is now 100 times that of the poorest 10%. The top 1% (600,000 people) each share wealth per household of £2.6 million or more, whilst one in ten of those living in local authority accommodation on the edge of retirement have assets worth less than £3,000 - little more than the furniture in their homes and the clothes they wear. This is the consequence of Labour's transition to a big business party, "intensely relaxed" to quote Peter Mandelson, "about people getting filthy rich". Recently the right-wing press accused Gordon Brown of playing the 'class war card' after he said that Tory inheritance tax policy was "dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton". But Labour accusations of Tory policies promoting inequality now look hollow after this report shows Britain as one of the most unequal societies in the 'developed' world, and with the highest rate of poverty in Western Europe. Relative standards of living are not merely 'statistics'. As the Independent said: "children of poorer people live much harder and shorter lives than those of the wealthy". In Coventry's St Michael's, the average age at which men die is 65; in the next-door ward, Earlsdon, represented by the Tories, it is over 77.
The report explains that some of the biggest inequalities opened up in the 1980s under Tory governments. But three terms of a Labour government have not narrowed the gap because they have championed, rather than challenged, the bosses' economic system. Why should we give them another term of office? We were warned - Peter Mandelson (again) wrote in his book The Blair Revolution: "New Labour's ..... strategy is to move forward from where Margaret Thatcher left off". These damning figures show that the seamless transition from Tory government to Labour only accelerated the disparities of capitalist society. Whatever the exact mix of MPs from the three main parties in the next House of Commons, all three stand (with minor differences of pace or degree) for the defence of the market economy, and the leading role of profit in determining how society is structured. That leads them all to the same conclusion, that to 'balance society's books' requires not reducing the disparities of wealth and poverty, but their retention. They believe that the bill for bailing out the bankers, their bonuses and their casino economic system should be passed on to ordinary working people and their families.
The report asks "whether the costs of recovery will be borne by those who gained least in the period before the crisis, or by those who gained most and are in the strongest position to bear them". Left to the existing parties the answer is clear. Socialists and trade unionists establishing the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) are taking the first steps towards building a mass force to challenge that inequality.