First published on Progressonline for ‘the Last Word’
Alan Milburn leading the way on social mobility, Clive Lewis’ campaign team, May’s US speech and Holocaust Memorial Day – Richard Angell has this week’s Last Word
Alan Milburn is doing the Labour party’s job for it … again. His work on social mobility continues to chart a path towards achieving Labour’s historic mission: breaking the link between the postcode you are born into and where you end up in life. In fact, few in Labour other than Milburn have looked seriously at how to tackle social mobility in the United Kingdom. The only exception I can think of is Tristram Hunt’s work on character education, that he commended back to the party in his recent letter resigning from the House of Commons. Based on a report commissioned by the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility and conducted by the Education Policy Institute. Ed Miliband, who never gave a speech on the issue or primary or secondary education in all the time her was leader of the opposition, had such low regard for the issue ‘there was more in Labour’s 2015 manifesto on handrails in old people’s homes than education’, an extremely frustrated Hunt told a post-general election Progress audience.
The Social Mobility Commission’s work – chaired by Milburn – on the ‘class pay gap‘ gives evidence to something many have expected for some time and only discussed in relation to gender. The gap based on socio-economic group was highest in finance (£13,713) – little surprise there – and followed closely by the medical profession (£10,218) and then information technology (£4,736). The average across all sectors is a staggering £6,800 a year. When controlled for educational attainment, role and experience, there was still an average of £2,242 pay gay from those from the poorest backgrounds. As Owen Bennett points out on the Huffington Post podcast, journalism is one of the many professions that needs to pull it socks up and put the ladder down for working class communities. It will not come as news that there is an added race gap – with every ethnic minority community except those of Chinese origin being paid worse than their white colleagues.
When you look into why – certainly groups being less likely to work for big employers, to ask for pay rises and harbour fears about ‘fitting in’ – these are all things a Labour government can fix.
Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench is disproportionately drawn from members of parliament from both London and seats either won from the Liberal Democrats or that have Tim Farron’s party nipping at their heels. Not just because these seats will have huge membership swelled by two leadership elections and lots of support for Corbyn, but also because if there is anyone anywherewhere in the country with voters who might like the current Labour leader it is those places. However, all these areas not just voted ‘Remain’ in their droves, those who still care about the vote on 23 June 2016 will define themselves as ‘Remainers’ – or even proud ‘Remoaners’.
This might explain Jeff Smith, Thangam Debbonaire and Daniel Zeichner – people trying to make Corbyn’s leadership work but also having to make clear they will decide for themselves. The leader’s lacklustre campaign to stay in the European Union – often rehearsing more of the arguments against Brussels than cooperation with it – is one thing, but a three line whip to vote for article 50, has clearly set the hares racing. This partly explains the not-so usual suspects – Clive Lewis, Catherine West and Jo Stevens – threatening the Labour leader’s authority. The fact Corbyn is looking weak and disorganised will have barely registered with Lewis or his campaign team Owen Jones, Ellie Mae O’Hagan and Abi Wilkinson.
The resignation of Tulip Saddiq shows that the hard-left are not the only ones with principles. Writing for the Guardian, she says, ‘It is unfortunate, but hardly unsurprising these days, that my decision has led to a wave of online abuse. That said, it does amaze me that the decision of an MP to represent the will of her constituents is met with disgust.’ Considering a Labour MP was murdered last year, it would be nice if those who cared so much about parliamentary democracy, or party democracy for that matter, showed our elected representatives some civility if not respect.
Respect should be the order of the day on Brexit. Labour should respect the outcome and Labour MPs should be allowed to respect their constituents wishes.
The ugly sight of Theresa May fawning over the new US president and congressional Republicans reveals more about her real intentions. If that is what she says to the right of the Republican party on the record, imagine what she is saying to rightwing Tory backbenchers off the record. If Labour does not pull itself together her confidence will only grow and her promise on the steps of Downing Street to tackle excesses in capitalism will be a dim and distant memory. Remember Margaret Thatcher’s first speech in Downing Street was ‘Where there is discord’ …
Holocaust Memorial Day
The anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau is a good time to reflect on the horrors of their world. How can life go on? is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, it asks us not just to remember those who perish in a genocide – which obviously we should – but those who are left afterwards. Who have to process grief, the affects of brutality and, often, being displaced. The Holocaust was unique event in history but the genocidal tendencies that inspired it continue elsewhere, the victims of so-called Islamic State are up against the same evil.
Few in the UK have had more reason to ask ‘How can life go on?’ in 2016 than Jo Cox’s family. Assassinated for her politics while doing her job. That act of hatred inspired such love and a determination to carry on her great work. Rachel Reeves is taking forward her work on loneliness and this week Alison McGovern, with Tory MP Tom Tugendhat and former prime minister Gordon Brown, finished Cox’s report on Thursday. It is a reminder that horror perpetrated by human being are not just for remembering, they must be faced up to every day.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell