Friday, June 20, 2008

Idiocies of the New Labour Left.

I found this Michael Meacher article on MediaLens, and it reminded me why I've never really trusted Meacher's 'return' to radical politics after his time in government and support for the invasion of Iraq (subsequently recanted). Entitled 'Britain's new class structure', his argument regurgitates a slightly nuanced variant of New Labour's 20-60-20 analysis of society, with an underclass comprising 20% of the population, a middle class constituting the majority of 60%, and a privileged minority of 20%. All Meacher does is fragment the upper layers, so that "Britain now has five distinct classes." Five classes in all? Do tell:

The poor, conventionally defined as those with less than 60% of median earnings, have to get by on less than £217 a week. But included with them should be the 1.5m people whose household incomes are no more than £10 above that, and constantly afflicted by insecurity.

Next come the largest class, those around the median income in Britain today of £23,600 (or £454 a week).


Ah, let me stop you right there, Michael: you're talking bollocks. Of 30.27m taxpayers in the UK, 18.5m (56%) earn below £20,000 a year (pre-tax). There are 6m taxpayers (18.2%) living on between £20-30,000 a year. So, this idea that there is a vast middling group living on 'around' £23,000 a year is flatly false. (Data usefully summarised at wiki).

Meacher doesn't do himself any favours either by focussing on currents of income rather than wealth, the kind which is highly heritable and brings income currents with it. As I've pointed out elsewhere, the bottom 50% of the population owns less than 6% of the wealth, and the bottom 75% of the population owns just over a quarter of the wealth. In other words, there is a clear majority who have precious little in terms of real property, a large minority who have enough property and privilege to be counted 'middle class', and the top 10% who own most of the wealth.

Perhaps this is too harsh. Meacher is certainly right about the extreme concentrations of wealth taking place at the very top, and I take his point to be that the government could credibly restore some of its standing by simply curtailing a few of the privileges of the uber-rich (such as tax holidays for non-doms), and that is fine as far as it goes. He is right that the majority of the population would clearly support such a policy, and even a few Tories might go along with it. It just isn't all that convincing an analysis from someone who is trying to position himself as a potential left-wing challenger to Brown, that's all.