THE CONVICTION that the elimination of poverty – child poverty, pensioner poverty, Third World poverty – is at the heart of the Labour movement. Every Labour activist I’ve ever met would agree that the fight against material poverty must be a priority for any Left-of-centre government.
I’ve commented here before about the Tories’ new-found – and utterly unconvincing – passion for fighting poverty. So why shouldn’t Cameron and co. be trusted on their claims that they are best placed to combat poverty? And why should Labour in government be trusted in this effort, particularly when recent figures show we’ll have difficulty meeting our child poverty targets?
You’ll forgive me if I, again, use the Tories’ record in government as evidence; after all, ‘Dave’ has hardly uttered a single word of criticism of the Thatcher/Major years, so we have to assume he thinks their example is one his party should follow.
Labour may be making less progress in the fight against poverty than we all would hope, but surely that will always be the case, however much progress any government makes? After all, no level of poverty is acceptable. But when a Labour government fails to hit its own targets on poverty reduction, that represents a disappointment for the whole government and party.
But let’s not allow our opponents to succeed in convincing the public that our policies have been ineffective; to the contrary, Labour policies have materially transformed hundreds of thousands of families’ lives for the better.
Because we do have targets. We do have ambition. And we do have priorities.
Look at the Tories in power: not a single measure aimed at reducing poverty; not a single target for poverty reduction. Even mass unemployment was considered “a price well worth paying”, according to the man who gave ‘Dave’ his first post in government (which is perhaps why he has not even repudiated this ridiculous statement). Poverty in every area soared under the Tories. Sometimes, that was a deliberate aim of policy; sometimes it was simply an irritating consequence of Thatcherite economic policy that demanded some warm words for the media and a nod and a wink to the activists at conference.
This is the key: the Tories in government don’t fail to meet their poverty reduction targets, because they don’t have such targets. They don’t believe poverty reduction is at all important. They believe that if poverty is to be reduced, the market alone will do it through “trickle-down” economics. Poverty, and the fight against it, isn’t important to the Tory Party. If it were, they would surely have come up with a policy during their time in government to fight it.
The same is true of the nationalists. Poverty, the health service, education, the economy – success in these areas is only important as a means to an end, the end being an independent Scotland. That’s all that’s important to nationalists; if they could achieve it without having to worry about actual policies, they wouldn’t lose any sleep over those areas.
The Liberals? Well, provided they get PR for the House of Commons, everything will be all right anyway.
But for Labour, poverty is an anathema, an unacceptable scab on the face of society. Yes, we can argue about the effectiveness of tax credits, the minimum wage, about whether absolute or relative poverty should be our benchmark, about whether we need to tax the very rich more. Different people and sections within the Labour movement will have different ideas about how we reach the common, agreed objective of defeating poverty once and for all.
When it comes to government action against poverty, the question Labour asks itself is “How?” For the Tories (and the nationalists), the question is more likely to be “Why?”