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Hollow Monuments: The Reality of Boris Johnson’s Levelling Up Plan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/02/2022 - 2:29am in

Hollow MonumentsThe Reality of Boris Johnson’s Levelling Up Plan

The Prime Minister’s proposals for regional rebalancing show that he is more interested in building his personal legacy than improving lives, says Sam Bright


It has been a week of vacuous reports in Westminster: the Sue Gray report on Monday, the details of which have been kept secret thanks to the Metropolitan Police, followed by the Government’s ‘Brexit benefits’ paper, and now the long-awaited white paper on ‘levelling up’ – released today.

The Gray report aside, these documents signal the current position of the Vote Leave project – which is now forced to wrestle with the fact that empty slogans, the likes of which won the 2016 EU Referendum and 2019 General Election, convert into empty policies.

This is the case with the levelling up white paper – the document that seeks to establish the form and nature of the Government’s attempts to address regional inequalities.

The Vote Leave campaign has been so successful in recent years because it diagnosed the causes of widespread anger in deprived areas of the country. The white paper extends this diagnosis, with Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove introducing the document by saying: “For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine.”

However, while the white paper points squarely at the problem, it does not point with such conviction at viable solutions – setting 12 vague ‘missions’ for levelling up, without a clear plan or sufficient funding.

Indeed, it is worth putting the Government’s levelling up commitments into context.

The four levelling up funds established by Boris Johnson’s administration have invested £4.7 billion so far – half the amount that the Government has written-off on duff personal protective equipment bought during the Coronavirus pandemic. The overall budget of the UK’s COVID ‘test and trace’ system is £37 billion, while Crossrail – the new, high-speed London train line – is expected to cost in excess of £15 billion.

In fact, Johnson plans to spend less on English regional development than either of his immediate predecessors, Theresa May and David Cameron, according to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Henri Murison, who runs the think tank, says that much of the Government’s levelling up agenda will be fundamentally “undermined through a lack of funding”.

The Growing Regional Wealth GapWhy it Matters
Sam Bright

There is also a historical context to consider.

Byline Timesanalysis has indicated that ‘Red Wall’ areas saw their local budgets cut by 34.2% from 2010/11 to 2017/18 – as the Government implemented an austerity agenda that retrenched state spending – compared to an England-wide average of 28.6%.

This had a measurable and detrimental impact on the lives of people in these areas. From 2014/15 to 2019/20, for example, the percentage of children in poverty increased in Red Wall seats from 29.8% to 34.6% – a jump of 16%.

Thus, to a large degree, Johnson’s levelling up commitments are merely partially repairing the damage inflicted on left behind areas for the past 12 years. This is borne out by the data – 59 local authorities that benefitted cumulatively to the tune of £1.25 billion from the first round of the Government’s ‘Levelling Up Fund’ lost £25.5 billion in spending power after 2010.

Yet, raw funding is not the only issue. How the funding is applied, to which areas and projects, is equally important.

On this measure also, the Government’s plans are ill-conceived, concentrating on small-scale infrastructure projects that look good on the leaflets of local candidates – the regeneration of a town centre or the improvement of a train station – but have comparatively little economic impact.

Indeed, the National Audit Office (NAO) – the independent public spending watchdog – states that the sort of infrastructure projects funded by the Government’s levelling up plans “do not usually drive significant growth”.

The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities “has not consistently applied knowledge and key policy principles”, the NAO added – and “has a limited understanding of what has worked well in previous local growth programmes due to a lack of consistent evaluation or monitoring”.

At best, the Government’s allocation of levelling up funds appears to be slapdash – at worst it’s an example of ‘pork barrel’ politics, with cash funnelled towards marginal and Conservative-held constituencies.

Analysing the Government’s four levelling up schemes, the Guardian found imbalances and irregularities – not least that Mid Bedfordshire, an area partly represented by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, has received £26.7 million in funds despite being one of the fifth most affluent areas of the country.

Likewise, the constituency represented by Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid will receive £15 million despite being one of the wealthiest areas in England.

As concluded by Jonny Webb of the IPPR North think tank: “Forcing places to bid into centrally controlled pots of money, where outcomes are decided by an opaque criteria, is never going to level up”.


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Building an Emperor

Ultimately, levelling up is a political strategy, not a burning policy mission of Boris Johnson or his Government.

It helps the Conservatives in the short-term, by producing the content for its electoral campaigns. This was originally envisioned by Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings, who was reportedly asked to describe the plan for getting the Conservatives re-elected, and said “build sh*t in the north”.

But it also serves Johnson’s longer-term ambitions – erecting monuments that embody his political legacy. Perhaps that is why Cummings latched onto Johnson, believing that his vanity corresponded with a strategy that could win a general election.

However, interviewed recently by New York Magazine, Cummings has now seemingly tired of hollow monument-building. He told the publication that Johnson thinks “what would a Roman emperor do?” and that the Prime Minister fantasises about “monuments to him in an Augustine fashion”.

This has been a regular feature of Johnson’s political career – a trend that encompasses the failed ‘Garden Bridge’ proposed while he was Mayor of London, his desire to see London Bridge station decorated with gargoyles, and his rejected plan for an Irish Sea bridge.

None of these projects reached completion because they were wasteful and ill-conceived. Levelling up is merely a crystallisation of this Johnsonian impulse – to be remembered for having been in power, rather than for what he achieved thanks to it.




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Thomas Carlyle on government and England's poor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 31/01/2022 - 11:08am in

Thomas Carlyle was an acerbic conservative social thinker, given to assuming the fundamental legitimacy of social and political hierarchies and hostile to democracy. A re-reading of Chartism (1839) shows that he also possessed a white-hot anger at England's indifference to the conditions of the poor, and he raged against Parliament, which whistled while catastrophe loomed. In its own way there is as much anger at England's injustice and cruelty to its working people here as is found in Engels's more or less contemporary The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) (link). In Chartism Carlyle takes on the 1834 Poor Law Act and the draconian version of laissez-faire that these policies imposed (link), and he interprets the Charter movement as a natural and predictable response to social and political indifference to the conditions of working people. In some passages he sounds a bit like E.P. Thompson himself, in The Making of the English Working Class, when he writes about the need for dignity and justice for working people.

What is the underlying view that Carlyle seems to have in mind? It is not a call for more charity to the poor, more noblesse oblige. Rather, it is a call for a system of government that effectively confronts the pressing problem in the first decade of the nineteenth century, of the conditions of the English poor. He is scathing at the inability of Parliament to adequately formulate and assess the problem, and he is contemptuous of the solution offered in the form of new Poor Laws.

Carlyle's conservatism emerges fully when he advances his own views of governing, which is the primary thrust of the pamphlet. Carlyle is full of ironic disdain and contempt for the irrelevance of Parliament in the first part of the nineteenth century; whereas he admires the rule of the strong man with a unified will. Carlyle's prescription to the task of addressing the hopeless condition of the poor in England is a return to wise but absolute government.

What are all popular commotions and maddest bellowings, from Peterloo to the Place-de-Greve itself? Bellowings, inarticulate cries as of dumb creatures in rage and pain; to the ear of wisdom they are inarticulate prayers: " Guide me, govern me! I am mad, and miserable, and cannot guide myself!" Surely of all 'rights of man,' this right of the ignorant man to be guided by the wiser, to be, gently or forcibly, held in the true course by him, the indisputablest. (52)

In effect Carlyle sides with Hobbes against Locke or Jefferson: the sovereign will find it in his or her interest to rule strongly but wisely, and with laws that protect the important interests of the people.

How can-do, if we will well interpret it, unites itself with shall-do among mortals; how strength acts ever as the right-arm of justice; how might and right, so frightfully discrepant at first, are ever in the long-run one and the same, — is a cheering consideration, which always in the black tempestuous vortices of this world's history, will shine out on us, like an everlasting polar star. (39)

This view may be thought to serve as a rejoinder to the critics of Hobbes who hold that the sovereign will do no more than exploit and oppress his or her "sheep"; Carlyle argues that it is not in the interest of the sovereign to do so, and rule based solely on coercion is doomed to end in short order.

Of conquest we may say that it never yet went by brute force and compulsion; conquest of that kind does not endure. Conquest, along with power of compulsion, an essential universally in human society, must bring benefit along with it or men, of the ordinary strength of men, will fling it out. The strong man, what is he if we will consider? The wise man; the man with the gift of method, of faithfulness and valour, all of which are of the basis of wisdom; who has insight into what is what, into what will follow out of what, the eye to see and the hand to do; who is fit to administer, to direct, and guidingly command : he is the strong man. His muscles and bones are no stronger than ours but his soul stronger, his soul is wiser, clearer,— is better and nobler, for that is, has been, and ever will be the root of all clearness worthy of such name. (39)

Over the fullness of time, then, Carlyle seems to assert that might and right converge; the "strong man" who survives will be the wise man. "His soul is wiser, clearer -- is better and nobler". And Carlyle appears to believe that this is part of the "natural" order.

But what assures Carlyle that in the long run, the rulers will respect and support the dignity and wellbeing of the "lower classes"? It is the rage and violence that is produced by a widespread feeling of injustice and unfair treatment that he believes is apparent in the violence of the Chartist movement or the French Revolution. Oppressive or negligent rule leads to its own overthrow by enraged masses. For Carlyle the French Revolution was mindless terror -- and a stark historical lesson to rulers. The lesson is simple: they must rule wisely, or the terror awaits them.

He also takes it as an axiom that the poor -- that is, the great majority of the English population -- cannot govern themselves; the demand for universal suffrage is hooted off the stage. Democracy is a ludicrous ideal for Carlyle. The inarticulate, suffering poor can demand only to be governed well by their superiors. Even more explicitly:

Democracy, we are well aware, what is called ' self-government' of the multitude by the multitude, is in words the thing everywhere passionately clamoured for at present. Democracy makes rapid progress in these latter times, and ever more rapid, in a perilous accelerative ratio; towards democracy, and that only, the progress of things is everywhere tending as to the final goal and winning-post. So think, so clamour the multitudes everywhere. (53)

But: "Democracy never yet, that we heard of, was able to accomplish much work, beyond that same cancelling of itself" (59). "Napoleon was not president of a republic Cromwell tried hard to rule in that way, but found that he could not. These, 'the armed soldiers of democracy,' had to chain democracy under their feet, and become despots over it before they could work out the earnest obscure purpose of democracy itself!" (54).

In particular, Carlyle writes again and again that the underclass cannot rationally articulate its needs or make a rational plan for progress. For Carlyle, the underclasses are incapable of subtle or nuanced analysis of the causes of their condition, or of possible reforms that realistically could address their condition.

Dingy dumb millions, grimed with dust and sweat, with darkness, rage and sorrow, stood round these men, saying, or struggling as they could to say: " Behold, our lot is unfair ; our life is not whole but sick; we cannot live under injustice; go ye and get us justice!" For whether the poor operative clamoured for Time-bill, Factory-bill, Corn-bill, for or against whatever bill, this was what he meant. (91-92)

Moreover, they live in a world that is naturally stratified between superior and inferior:

Recognised or not recognised, a man has his superiors, a regular hierarchy above him; extending up, degree above degree; to Heaven itself and God the Maker, who made His world not for anarchy but for rule and order! (94)

His view of the radical leaders who claim to speak for the underclasses is equally severe: they are cynical opportunists.

There is a class of revolutionists named Girondins, whose fate in history is remarkable enough! Men who rebel, and urge the Lower Classes to rebel, ought to have other than Formulas to go upon. Men who discern in the misery of the toiling complaining millions not misery, but only a raw-material which can be wrought upon, and traded in, for one's own poor hidebound theories and egoisms; to whom millions of living fellow-creatures, with beating hearts in their bosoms, beating, suffering, hoping, are 'masses,' mere 'explosive masses for blowing down Bastilles with,' for voting at hustings for us: such men are of the questionable species! (93)

And as for the issue of the day, the Charter -- the Charter is nonsense, simply an enraged bellow of pain and a demand for relief. The Chartist movement is one of violence, burning, and murder. Carlyle rejects entirely the idea that the underclasses might formulate their own diagnosis of the ills of their society, or a plan for addressing those ills.

Neither is the history of Chartism mysterious in these times; especially if that of Radicalism be looked at. All along, for the last five-and-twenty years, it was curious to note how the internal discontent of England struggled to find vent for itself through any orifice: the poor patient, all sick from centre to surface, complains now of this member, now of that;— corn-laws, currency-laws, free-trade, protection, want of free-trade: the poor patient tossing from side to side, seeking a sound side to lie on, finds none. This Doctor says, it is the liver; that other, it is the lungs, the head, the heart, defective transpiration in the skin. A thoroughgoing Doctor of eminence said, it was rotten boroughs; the want of extended suffrage to destroy rotten boroughs. From of old, the English patient himself had a continually recurring notion that this was it. The English people are used to suffrage ; it is their panacea for all that goes wrong with them ; they have a fixed-idea of suffrage. (90)

Moreover, rebellion is always wrong, because:

No man is justified in resisting by word or deed the Authority he lives under, for a light cause, be such Authority what it may. Obedience, little as many may consider that side of the matter, is the primary duty of man. No man but is bound indefeasibly, with all force of obligation, to obey. (93-94)

With an intriguing sleight of hand, Carlyle maintains that democracy and laissez-faire are one and the same; both amount to a "do-nothing" approach to government. Democracy cannot rule wisely, as the principle of "laissez-faire" cannot guide social and economic life.

So who should rule in England? Carlyle makes his preferences clear; and it is a preference for the feudal past, where feudal lords governed their bonded workers and farmers. It is the aristocracy that must take up the responsibility of governing -- the aristocracy must lead and govern.

Yet we do say that the old Aristocracy were the governors of the Lower Classes, the guides of the Lower Classes; and even, at bottom, that they existed as an Aristocracy because they were found adequate for that. Not by Charity-Balls and Soup-Kitchens; not so; far otherwise! But it was their happiness that, in struggling for their own objects, they had to govern the Lower Classes, even in this sense of governing. For, in one word. Cash Payment had not then grown to be the universal sole nexus of man to man; it was something other than money that the high then expected from the low, and could not live without getting from the low. (58)

This is the passage where the "cash nexus" phrase originates. And the passage appears to express one of Carlyle's fundamental beliefs -- that a harmonious society depends upon strands of loyalty, trust, and commitment between unequals -- not simply impersonal economic relationships.

We might say that the political theory expressed in Chartism amounts to only a handful of assertions:

  1. The poor are suffering enormously under current conditions in England. They are both severely impoverished and treated unfairly.
  2. The poor are naturally inferior to the aristocracy and are incapable of rational political thought.
  3. The current system of government (Parliament) is incapable of perceiving the crisis, let alone addressing it with intelligent policies.
  4. England is in crisis because of these facts.
  5. Only authoritarian, unified government by a natural aristocracy will have the insight and wisdom to remedy England's crisis.

It is interesting to recall that Engels, and later Marx, Bakunin, and Kropotkin, would agree with premises 1, 3, and 4, but disagree fundamentally with 2 and 5. It is also interesting to observe that Carlyle's conservatism (authoritarianism, really) became a branch-line in the coming century of conflict over "the social question", with social democrats and revolutionary socialists defining the main contenders for a program of progress. And Carlyle's political views do not line up with other forms of conservatism in the twentieth century very closely either -- whether fascist ideology or the persistence of English laissez-faire conservatism grounded in pre-Keynesian political economy. Carlyle was sui generis.

Wealth in Downing Street, Poverty in the UK

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 26/01/2022 - 4:23am in

Wealth in Downing Street,Poverty in the UK

The Conservative Party could soon elect the UK’s richest-ever Prime Minister, while after 12 years of Conservative-led governments millions struggle in poverty


The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is the hot favourite to become the next Prime Minister.

Elected as an MP in 2015 and aged only 41, Sunak would be one of the UK’s newest and youngest Prime Ministers if Johnson falls (although he still has a few years on Pitt the Younger) – and the wealthiest. 

The MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire – who was head boy at Winchester College and read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Lincoln College, Oxford University – is thought to be worth around £200 million, with much of his money held in a blind trust.

Alongside his own money and an extensive property portfolio, his wife of 12 years is estimated to be richer than the Queen. Akshata Murthy is believed to hold £430 million worth of shares in her father’s Infosys business. 

In contrast, Boris Johnson has repeatedly complained that he cannot afford life as Prime Minister on the role’s £157,000 salary – admittedly less than his £250,000 “chicken feed” income as a columnist at the Telegraph newspaper. Johnson sold the £3.35 million Islington townhouse he shared with his ex-wife Marina Wheeler in 2019, and now owns a £1.2 million house in south London. He also has a second home in Oxfordshire.

It goes without saying that such wealth is far beyond the reach of most UK residents, with the average wage £25,971 and the average house price £268,349.

Should he become the next leader of the Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak would be the richest Prime Minister the UK has ever seen – at a time when more and more people are facing desperate poverty, exacerbated by 12 years of Conservative-led Governments, and a growing wealth and inequality gap in the country.



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Very Deep Poverty

The legacy of austerity measures and the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the economy have worked together to push increasing numbers of people into poverty since 2010, including children. 

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that 500,000 more children are living in “very deep poverty” compared to 2011, with 1.8 million children living in families in which the household income is so low that it cannot cover the very basics such as food and fuel.

In 2019/20, nearly a third (31%) of children were living in poverty – that’s 4.3 million children or nine in a classroom of 30. Nearly half (49%) of children living in lone parent families were in poverty and 46% of black and ethnic minority children were in poverty, compared to 26% of children in white British families. Three-quarters of children in poverty have at least one parent in work, suggesting a low-wage, high living-cost culture is partially to blame. 

Thousands of children are also homeless – 125,000 live in temporary accommodation such as hostels or hotels. Nine in 10 teachers are concerned about children in their classes coming to school hungry. 

Little wonder then that food bank usage has rocketed since 2010. In 2012, food bank distributors The Trussell Trust provided 0.3 million emergency food parcels a year – now that number is 2.5 million. 

This increase in poverty is set against a cost of living crisis, with energy bills due to rise for all households. Households on low incomes are set to spend around 18% of their income after housing costs on energy bills after April, while lone parents with low incomes will spend even more. This is in contrast to better-off households which will spend an average 6% of their incomes on energy bills. 

As well as fuel, food prices are increasing – with inflation at a 30-year high of 5.4%. The cost of basic food items like bread, potatoes and pasta have gone up 3.5% over the past 12 months. Meat prices have risen by 3%; fruit costs by 5%. 

Wages, meanwhile, remain below their pre-2008 peak. Between April 2010 and April 2018, the median pre-tax weekly earnings of an employee in the UK fell by around 3% in real terms – for self-employed workers it was a similar picture.

The Politicsof Porridge
Sian Norris

During the same period, the richest people in the UK have increased their wealth. At the height of austerity between 2013 and 2018, the richest 1,000 people in the UK increased their wealth by £274 billion

As wages stagnated for most people, the Conservative Party’s welfare reforms have left people struggling to make ends meet.

Cuts to child tax credits in 2017 meant that the benefit was only available for a family’s first two children – third and subsequent children would not receive tax credits with some exemptions, such as if the mother could prove the child had been conceived as a result of rape and that she had left her abuser. 

David Cameron and George Osborne – whose estimated net worths are £40 million and £5 million respectively – imposed a benefit cap of £384.62 per week for couples or single parents whose children live with them, and who live outside of London (£442.31 per week for those in the capital).

Alongside the benefit cap, the Conservatives also introduced Universal Credit, a new benefits system that has been accused of pushing people into debt and facilitating domestic abuse, while a cap on housing benefit for private renters has been frozen even as inflation rises.

At the start of the pandemic, Sunak introduced a £20 uplift to Universal Credit for new claimants who had lost their jobs as a result of the crisis. This was scrapped in October 2021, a move the Citizens Advice Bureau found would push up to 2.3 million people into debt. The cut took up to £1,040 a year out of the poorest families’ budgets.

For many, that £20 is the difference between food on the table and going hungry; the difference between being in the red and being in the black. But it is also symbolic of the difference between those in charge and those on the sharp end of economic and benefits policy.

But if the favourite to become our next Prime Minister has an estimated wealth of £200 million, what does £20 even mean? Is it possible to imagine the difference £20 can make, when your value is 10 million times more than that single cut?




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The post Wealth in Downing Street, Poverty in the UK appeared first on Byline Times.

The Politics of Porridge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 9:35pm in

The Politics of PORRIDGE

With inflation now at 5.4% and the cost of living soaring with it, the humble oat has become an avatar of moral virtue in a right-wing culture war, Sian Norris reports


Is there a foodstuff that holds more political and social metaphors than the humble bowl of porridge? 

From staple peasant food to the gruel demanded by hungry orphans; from a word associated with prison to an aspirational-detox-wellness-glowing-green-eating-clean-eating luxury (posh porridge for dogs now only £50 a bag!), porridge’s most recent incarnation is as a right-wing meme to attack those living in poverty and a way to fix the cost of living crisis. 

The politics of porridge was in the spotlight again after the energy company OVO was forced to apologise for a blogpost that advised consumers to save energy by tucking into a bowl of hot oats. The company said it was “embarrassed” by its “poorly-judged advice”.

The message that poverty can end if the poor eat porridge is one repeatedly voiced by politicians and activists on the right whenever hunger or the cost of living crisis is in the news. 

Take this 2017 tweet from political commentator Isabel Oakeshott, who complained that parents which didn’t provide their children with breakfast were “failing woefully” and should consider buying a “bag of porridge for £1; will last a family all week”. The tweet came a month after reports that up to three million children would go hungry in the school holidays. 

The journalist Marcus Stead also waded into the porridge discourse when he tweeted that we should “stop all this nonsense about people not being able to ‘afford’ to give their children breakfast… A bag of porridge to feed a family for a week costs £1”.

Back in 2014, Baroness Jenkin had to apologise after saying that hunger stemmed, in part, from losing cooking skills, concluding that “poor people don’t know how to cook”. She went on to say that she had “a large bowl of porridge today, which cost 4p” – the implication being the masses could and should follow her example.

A quick keyword search for “porridge” on Twitter reveals how widespread the belief that poverty can be fixed through oats is.

“Food poverty is a myth, it only exists through choices,” reads one tweet that details a shopping list of porridge, yoghurt and tinned peaches. Another tweeter agrees that “food poverty is a choice… feckless, thick parents”. “What is food poverty?” asks another. “The choice to have a bowl of porridge oats at 7.5p per serving or a bowl of chocolatey sugary cereal at a much higher cost per serving?”


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Let Them Eat Porridge!

In the right-wing, libertarian mind, porridge has become the cure-all for food poverty: it’s cheap, it’s good for you and it is imbued with a nostalgia of sturdy old-fashioned British grub. Never mind that this nostalgia seems rooted in Dickensian poverty.

But the commentary on porridge hides an inconvenient truth about the cost of living crisis and the costs of being poor, at a time when inflation has hit a 30-year high of 5.4%.

Let’s take the price analysis first. Whether your bowl of porridge rings in at Baroness Jenkins’ 4p or Oakeshott’s £1 a packet, the cost of porridge goes beyond the oats. It requires electricity or gas to heat the milk or water, it requires a pan to cook it in, it requires time and it requires a topping such as honey, fruit, jam or syrup (plain porridge is no one’s first breakfast choice).

People living in poverty are more likely to be on prepaid gas and electric meters, meaning their energy costs tend to be higher as they miss out on the best fixed rate tariffs. Five minutes on a gas hob clocks up a few kilowatt hours, unlike pouring “chocolatey sugary cereal” into a bowl. 

Around four million households in England are classed as fuel poor, as are 25% of households in Scotland, 12% in Wales, and 18% in Northern Ireland. Now, with energy costs set to soar, a further two million homes are at risk of falling into fuel poverty. This comes at a time when food costs are already going up, including the cost of porridge, and the removal of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit took up to £1,040 a year out of the poorest families’ budgets.

The rising cost of fuel means that low income households are set to spend 18% of their income on energy bills. Suddenly, 4p a bowl isn’t so realistic.

Then there’s access to a hob or microwave to make the porridge in the first place. Nearly 125,000 children are currently living in temporary accommodation such as hotels or hostels. People living in temporary accommodation often have to share cooking facilities or have no access to cooking equipment at all – a situation worsened by the Coronavirus lockdowns. In a survey by Shelter, a third of respondents said that they struggled to prepare food and eat properly during lockdown because of inadequate cooking facilities. 

Speaking in 2019, a homeless mother shared how she couldn’t even go to the food bank to get porridge or tinned goods to feed her daughter “as there was nothing in our accommodation to cook with. We were living off fast food, or what friends could give us”. She and her daughter were housed in a hotel for nine months.

Women with histories of gender-based violence who are housed in mixed-sex spaces have spoken of their discomfort of sharing facilities with men, meaning that they are less likely to take advantage of communal cooking spaces. How can you cook porridge when the kitchen is a threatening place, or when you have no kitchen at all?

Food or Fuel?Human Cost of the Energy Crisis
Sian Norris

The Joy of Food

In the UK today, around 1.8 million children are now growing up in very deep poverty, meaning that the household’s income is so low that it is completely inadequate to cover the basics. This is an increase of half a million in the last decade.

Food poverty is not an individual failing or a choice – it’s not a question of picking Sugar Puffs over porridge. It’s a combination of poor housing, rising energy costs, the cost of food and the time needed to cook and prepare healthy meals. 

In one ironic way, Baroness Jenkin was correct in that there is a lack of cooking knowledge. Such ignorance spans wealth demographics, not just families living in poverty. Cooking rates are highly gendered – only 46% of men cook for themselves every day compared to 71% of women – and 2014 statistics say one in 10 British people don’t know how to cook. There is a need to provide practical advice on how to cook healthy and nutritional meals across the board. 

But cooking skills are meaningless if you can’t afford the oats, and the honey or jam, and when facing a choice between food and fuel. They are meaningless when there are no facilities to cook with or no accessible space to cook in. 

While porridge with honey or fruit is a nutritious and warming breakfast, it is just one meal. It’s hard to believe those preaching the benefits of oats would think of feeding their (real or hypothetical) children the same dish, day in, day out, creating a misery out of mealtimes.

Even children living in poverty deserve a tasty treat, don’t they? 




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Britain’s Immovable Institutions: The Diversity Deficit in the Upper Ranks of the Army

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 7:30pm in

Britain’s Immovable InstitutionsThe Diversity Deficit in the Upper Ranks of the Army

Sascha Lavin reveals new data about the lack of black representation in top army positions, and considers what this shows about modern Britain


Only 0.4% of senior officers in the British Army are black, an investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

A Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Defence found that, in April 2021, Lieutenant Colonel ranks and above were overwhelmingly held by white people (97%). Just four of every 1,000 positions in these upper ranks were held by black army personnel. 

Black soldiers are over-represented in the army, but few are promoted to senior positions. Although black people make up 3.4% of the UK population, 6.7% of army personnel identify as black.

Yet a new investigation found that only 0.4% of black soldiers held top army jobs. Publicly available Ministry of Defence data from 2018 showed that across the armed forces, only 2.5% of officers were black and ethnic minority – an increase of just 0.1% in six years.

In a 2019 interview with the BBC, the first Service Complaints Ombudsman Nicola Williams accused the armed forces of being “institutionally racist” and noted that “incidents of racism are occurring with increasing and depressing frequency”.

Data from the Service Complaints Ombudsman shows that disproportionate numbers of non-white personnel have made complaints of abuse over the past five years. Last year, 15% of complaints were made by people of colour, even though they make up only 8% of the armed forces (including the Navy and the Air Force).

David Nkomo, a former soldier, suffered repeated racial discrimination throughout his four years of service. Speaking to the BBC for the documentary ‘Racism in the Ranks‘, Nkomo described how he was regularly referred to as “Black Dave” and was called a racist and derogatory slur by a senior colleague. 

Two former paratroopers also won a racial discrimination claim against the Ministry of Defence, after a judgment ruled that the army had created a “degrading, humiliating and offensive environment”. The tribunal heard that a colleague had drawn a swastika and a Hitler moustache on photographs of Nkululeko Zulu and Hani Gue. 

The Nationality and Borders Bill is aLegacy of Empire
Dr Maria Norris

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, the most senior military officer wrote to members of the Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, urging them to “refuse to allow intolerance”.

Head of the British Army General Sir Nick Carter said: “We owe it to our black, Asian and minority ethnic servicemen and women, who will be feeling concerned at the moment, to try and look at this from their perspective, to listen and to continue to make change happen”.

However, there are questions about whether the army is doing enough to both stamp out discrimination – and to encourage the promotion of non-white individuals to its higher ranks.

Given the association of the armed forces with the imperialism of the 19th and 20th centuries, it could be said that not enough has been done to signal to people of colour that they are a valued part of Britain’s modern military.

These racial inequalities are similarly witnessed throughout British society, politics and economics. In 2018, it was reported that more people called David and Steve lead FTSE 100 companies than women and ethnic minorities. At the time of the report, nine people called David and four people called Steve led FTSE 100 firms, compared to just five people from non-white backgrounds.

In October 2021, only 52 or 6.6% of members of the House of Lords were from ethnic minority groups, and only 12 of the 220 women elected at the 2019 General Election were black.

Figures also indicate that black Caribbean pupils have in recent years been nearly twice as likely to be excluded from schools than white pupils, as well as being three times more likely to be permanently excluded. Black people also serve prison sentences which are 50% longer than those of white people.

The British Army is perhaps one of the most egregious examples of how black people – and others from non-white backgrounds – are stifled, and discriminated against, within our country’s major institutions.

A Colourblind Ministry of Defence?

Despite committing to racial diversity, the Ministry of Defence seemed unable to provide the Byline Intelligence Team with a clear answer about how many top jobs are held by black personnel. 

In response to a Freedom of Information request regarding the number of black personnel in the army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel or above in April 2020, the the department counted eight high-ranking soldiers, accounting for 0.32% of all senior soldiers.

Yet, according to publicly available Ministry of Defence data, there were 10 soldiers holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel or above who identified as black that year, making up 0.41% of the upper ranks.     

The department was also inconsistent when calculating the number of black personnel with the rank of Major. In response to another Freedom of Information request, the Byline Intelligence Team was initially told that 40 serving soldiers matched the criteria. However, the Ministry of Defence later revised its answer, claiming that there were only 29 black Majors. 

No reason was given for the corrections or disparities. 

THE SEWELL REPORTRace Commission Couldn’t FindSomething It Wasn’t Looking For
Jonathan Portes

The Freedom of Information response explained that the figure given of 29 had “not been rounded as requested”. This suggests that, when calculating the numbers of black high-ranking staff, the department ‘rounds up’ its figures, potentially creating an inflated impression of its diversity. 

The correspondence raises questions around how accurately the Ministry of Defence collects data on race. Without clear information, it is difficult to build up a picture about the lived experiences of people of colour in the armed forces and to create policies that address racial discrimination.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The armed forces continues to work hard to broaden the diversity of our workforce through actively engaging with our employees to drive an inclusive culture at work, attract the best talent and better reflect the society we serve. 

“It can take a number of years for recruits to reach senior leadership positions, which is why we are working hard to increase the number of people from underrepresented groups including, those from ethnic minority backgrounds, women, and LGBT+ individuals.”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.





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Revenge Capitalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 5:03pm in

Is Revenge Capitalism messing up our world?

Ross Ashcroft met up with Author and Teacher, Dr Max Haiven.

The post Revenge Capitalism appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Revenge Capitalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 5:03pm in

Is Revenge Capitalism messing up our world?

Ross Ashcroft met up with Author and Teacher, Dr Max Haiven.

The post Revenge Capitalism appeared first on Renegade Inc.

The Jackpot: How London Became a Concierge for Kleptocrats

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/01/2022 - 8:00pm in

The JackpotHow London Became A Concierge for Kleptocrats

Novelist Cory Doctorow tracks Britain’s domestic scandals back to the capital’s reliance on laundered money from overseas, and the feasting of so many professions on the proceeds


In his 2014 novel, The Peripheral, William Gibson plunges us into a far-future London: radically depopulated, quietly authoritarian and under the iron thumb of “the Klept” – a fusion of the British chumocracy with post-Soviet Eurasian kleptocracy.

The origins of this society – its neo-aristocracy, its captivity to inscrutable AIs called “the Aunties” – are lost to history. They all took place during a time called “The Jackpot” – an interregnum in which huge swathes of records simply vanished amid social breakdown, climate emergencies and cyberwar.

Gibson will be the first to tell you that he is not attempting prophecy with his work, but it cannot be denied that he has an eerie ability to reflect back our latent, inchoate fears about the future through his fiction – something he calls “predicting the present”.

When I emigrated from the UK to America in 2016, I explained my reasons for doing so in a piece called ‘Why I’m Leaving London’. The main driver was the increasing obviousness that the city existed primarily to launder vast, corrupt fortunes, and only incidentally was a place where Londoners could live and thrive.

Since then, the UK – and particularly the City of London, home of the nation’s finances – has doubled-down on its role as an enabler and concierge to the world’s filthiest money, and the psychopaths who come with it. The UK and its overseas territories consistently top the Tax Justice Network’s annual ‘Financial Secrecy Index’.

Not all corrupt money comes from the former Soviet republics of Eurasia, but these countries – and Russia – embody a special kind of corruption: kleptocracy (“a political economy dominated by a small number of people/entities with close links to the state”).

This form of corruption is closely related to the ‘chumocracy’ that dominates British politics as can be clearly seen in the ruling Conservative Party. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the UK, with its Thatcherite and New Labour emphasis on finance, and its political compatibility with kleptocracy, is a linchpin in global kleptocratic money-laundering and corruption.

The March of theOligarchs
Peter Jukes

The Enablers

The connections between Eurasian kleptocrats and the UK political system, its finance sector, its charities, its libel laws, its property market, and its luxury goods sector, is rigorously explored in ‘The UK’s Kleptocracy Problem‘ – a report by the Chatham House think tank.

It shows how the UK is a one-stop-shop for corrupt, wealthy public officials from Eurasian kleptocracies; how the UK’s finance sector launders their money; how the Home Office sells them citizenship via ‘golden visas’; how the country’s estate agents convert their money into multi-million-pound mansions and super-flats; how its charities launder their reputations, recasting them as philanthropists; how its billion-pound mega-law firms and ‘reputation managers’ can destroy their critics and terrorise their publishers, cleansing these people of sin with expert use of Britain’s notoriously bully-friendly libel laws. And it shows how, while this is all going on, the country’s luxury department stores will offer such individuals white glove service as they spend millions on gem-crusted, bespoke trinkets.

But not only do oligarchs buy influence with British governments and regulators, they also use their London-washed money to funnel bribes to politicians around the world. Think here of the Azerbaijani Laundromat, in which $2.9 billion was funnelled through four UK shell companies and converted, in part, into bribes paid to EU politicians.

UK politicians – both Labour and Conservative – have managed to divert interest from this influx of unsavoury plutocrats and instead focus on hard-working, everyday people who come to the UK to do hard, every-day work.

For 40 years, British politics has been dominated by a xenophobic terror of ‘economic migrants’ (a major factor in Brexit), with complaints about foreigners competing for housing and resources. Meanwhile, the issue of ultra-wealthy kleptocrats coming to Britain to buy its football teams, entire swathes of its major cities, its newspapers, and its politicians has largely gone unremarked upon.

Neoliberal economists describe the UK as a post-industrial nation focused on ‘services’ – not the ‘service sector’ (plumbers, waiters, cab drivers), but high-ticket services like wealth management, legal strategy, investment counsel, reputation management, property management, and so on. These ‘service-providers’ should more properly known as ‘enablers’.

The reputation management industry – which draws on all these services – describes its role in helping clients create ‘coherent narratives’ about their identity and wealth, helps them steer clear of ‘out of place’ investments, and identifies foundations and think tanks that they can support to be known as ‘philanthropists’.

Enablers don’t just help craft a public-facing narrative for oligarchs though – they’re just as skilled at creating an opaque bubble of secrecy around the parts of oligarchs’ lives that are less savoury. Britons are fire-hosed with information about kleptocrats’ philanthropic activities and endorsements by members of the British elite, but we almost never hear about the klepts’ private wealth, investment and assets.

Britain’s borders are notoriously hostile to working people, but they are extremely porous when it comes to the klept. The “tier 1 investor visa” is a golden passport by another name – a way to spend a pittance for freedom of motion between the looted, authoritarian states of Eurasia and the UK. Don’t let the “investor” fool you: there is no good evidence that the ‘investments’ required under the scheme have a positive effect on the UK’s real economy.

Profiteering, not PhilanthropyHow Public Schools Abandoned Public Service
Iain Overton

Eroding the Rule of Law

The British political class will tell you the UK has advanced anti-money laundering controls, with scrutiny of politically exposed persons and those holding passports from high-risk countries. These laws are deceptive.

A ‘high-risk’ nation, for example, is one without good money laundering regulations – including countries like Jamaica, which are not particularly prominent in the global corruption industry. Meanwhile, Eurasian countries with strong anti-laundering laws that are never enforced are considered ‘low risk’ – because risk is calculated based on the existence of a law, not its enforcement.

The rules that require estate agents, bankers, and luxury goods dealers to report transactions from ‘politically exposed persons’ (PEPs) are riddled with loopholes and primarily enforced through non-existent self-regulation. A politician’s immediate family, for instance, cease to be PEPs the day the politician leaves office – so a corrupt dictator’s kids can buy a £60 million Knightsbridge property the day their dad steps down, with no reporting requirement.

Even when solicitors, estate agents and other covered professionals are caught ignoring the reporting rules, they face tiny fines and no lasting penalties. Many offer the defence that they didn’t know they were working for PEPs – thus there’s an incentive to simply not ask any questions when someone shows up looking to spend eight or nine figures through your firm.

Perversely, the finance sector goes overboard in the other direction, with an approach that is ‘risk-averse’ and also ‘risk-insensitive’. UK banks flood the financial regulator with “suspicious activity reports” (SARs), filing these whenever a transaction has even a glancing contact with Eurasia. The regulator – grossly under-staffed – ignores nearly all of these SARs and the transactions proceed, with the banks’ asses now covered by dint of having filed the SAR.

Another failing of UK anti-corruption law is its emphasis on identifying and blocking the proceeds of ‘crime’ rather than ‘corruption’. When an oligarch loots, it’s only a crime if the state decides that it is. The Kazakh oligarch Nurali Aliyev loaned himself $65 million from the bank he chaired and used it to buy a Highgate mansion (“there is no evidence to suggest the loan was repaid”). Kazakh authorities did not classify this as a theft, so UK anti-corruption law has little to say about it.

The flip side of this is that when oligarchs fall out of favour and go into self-exile in London, their adversaries back home can use the UK authorities to exact revenge at a distance, by selectively classifying their wealth as criminal assets and ratting them out to the British authorities.

(Of course, oligarch-on-oligarch warfare isn’t limited to pitting rivals against UK tax authorities – there’s also spectacular acts of violence, including assassination by nerve agent and radioactive poison).

Another CountryNot the One I Represented for 30 Years
Alexandra Hall Hall

The Poison Spreads

A key enabler of the klept in the UK is the nation’s great law firms, with waves of mergers producing chambers that generate more than £1 billion in annual billings.

These firms offer full service – papering over the purchases of giant mansions; and suing the newspapers, publishers and reporters who write about them. Britain’s libel laws – much-admired by Donald Trump – are a great help here.

I’ve been on the receiving end of these threats, personally, and was forced to delete a truthful account of a billionaire’s financial stake in a firm that is implicated in human rights abuses around the world. The report cites a British journalist who estimates that “upwards of 50% of critical material about oligarchs ends up on the cutting-room floor” as newspaper lawyers force redactions of materials known to be true.

The British charitable sector is also a favourite source of reputation laundering for kleptocrats, particularly charities associated with the Royal Family, but also great universities and prominent think tanks. Charities and universities have come to depend on private money more and more over the past 20 years as austerity has starved them of public money. That makes them especially vulnerable to co-option by kleptocrats.

As interested as oligarchs are in being associated with the charitable sector, they’re even more interested in funding the UK Conservative Party itself.

The Conservative co-chairman, Ben Elliot, has formalised a ‘cash for access’ arrangement whereby major donors are invited to private events and dinners with ministers and the Prime Minister. Elliot is a natural to court oligarchs for the Conservatives – his day job is running a “luxury concierge service” called Quintessentially, which provides “services” to the ultra-wealthy. Elliot’s spokesperson says that this work is “entirely separate” from his work as co-chair of the Conservative Party.

The Made-in-Britain enablers of the klept will tell you that the fortunes they facilitate are not criminal fortunes, and the Home Office will tell you that its focus is on Eurasian criminal gangs. But, as the Pandora Papers – and other vast finance leaks – show us, the criminal wealth of the former Soviet Union is minute when compared to the oligarchs’ fortunes.

The klept isn’t criminal, because the klept writes the laws.

This is how The Jackpot starts.




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A New Era of Austerity Beckons

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/01/2022 - 7:30pm in

A New Era of Austerity Beckons

For the past 12 years, the Conservative Party’s response to high public spending has always been the same: impose the burden on lower income families, says Maheen Behrana


Few people could have failed to be amused by the news that Michael Gove got stuck in a lift at BBC Broadcasting House prior to an appearance on Radio 4’s Today programme last week. Less amusing, however, was Gove’s quip that the security team had “levelled him up” after more than half an hour of being trapped in the glass box.

‘Levelling up’ is no longer a winning slogan for the Conservatives. As warnings of higher energy bills become more urgent and the Mirror launches a new ‘Levelling Up Watch’ series to chronicle the Government’s broken promises, it is clear that squeezed family finances will imminently violate the party’s promises to the electorate in 2019.

Attitudes towards public spending across society are often polarised, with almost the same number of people believing that the Government taxes and spends too much as the number who believe that it taxes and spends too little. But recent polling also shows that the percentage of people who believe that the Government is getting the balance of taxation and spending right has fallen. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

With the Government planning a National Insurance hike in April, while people are already feeling the effects of inflation and commodity shortages, it is understandable that many feel let down. Britons are now suffering from a combination of overwhelmed public services, rising taxes and rapidly diminishing reserves of disposable income.

A Portrait of Broken Britain
Sam Bright

All this is causing disquiet in the Conservative ranks, with Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, reportedly having privately urged the Government to scrap its proposed National Insurance hike.

Like many of the more vocal Conservative backbenchers, he has recognised that economics decides elections – and may ultimately be this Government’s downfall, superseding questions of morality that surround Downing Street’s approach to its own lockdown rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, people notice when their personal finances are worsening, whereas the erosion of democracy and morality doesn’t affect individuals in such a direct manner.

Moreover, Rees-Mogg is evidently concerned that the Government is breaking the Conservative Party’s historical commitment – or so it claims – to financial moderation. The party has boasted throughout the years that it seeks to reduce taxes, while lambasting Labour for allegedly seeking to increase the boundaries of the state.

But, despite these claims, the Conservative Party has never really been a party of low taxation.

Different Policies; Same Outcomes

Margaret Thatcher famously slashed high tax rates upon coming into power, but the cut in tax on higher-rate taxpayers was far greater than the tax cuts granted to lower earners.

Additionally, these tax cuts were somewhat mitigated by a rise in VAT from 8% to 15% – imposing a greater burden on less wealthy individuals, who pay exactly the same tax rate on purchases as their wealthier counterparts. We also must not forget Thatcher’s doomed poll tax, an attempt to impose a blanket per capita tax on adults across the country.

Fast-forward to today and we can see that many of the taxation choices made by the current Government are in a similarly Thatcherite vein. Increasing National Insurance targets income rather than wealth, impacting all working taxpayers at the same rate – there will be no progressive decreases in the rate as income falls.

The Conservatives refuse to impose a wealth tax, or to levy a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers, who have seen their profits rocket this year as gas prices have increased. Instead, the burden of the Government’s spending during the Coronavirus pandemic – much of which has benefitted private firms – will be suffered by ordinary people.

As inflation mounts and taxes rise, many people will see their real incomes fall – and the Government is so far stubbornly refusing to do anything to compensate.

How the Red Wall Has BeenLevelled Down Since 2010
Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin

Ultimately, the Conservative Party believes in alleviating the tax burden for the richest: it is a low-tax party, but primarily for the elite. It doesn’t believe in a redistributive system of taxation, that would reallocate resources from the richest to poorest, because that offends the party’s rigid economic ideologies.

Conservative thought isn’t about low taxation, just as left-wing thought isn’t necessarily about high taxation. The two standpoints differ on the targets of taxation. Conservatives place the tax burden, and the burden of under-funded public services, on the poorest individuals. They believe that, by reducing taxes on the richest, wealth will miraculously ‘trickle down’ throughout society, rather than being siphoned-off through offshore havens and shareholder dividends.

A decade ago, then Prime Minister David Cameron proposed paying for comparatively high public spending by slashing state services. Now, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak propose paying for the pandemic through higher taxes. The policies are different but the outcome is the same: a new era of austerity for low-income families.

Labour failed to make headway during Cameron’s time in office – it will be interesting to see whether this changes as families begin to feel the pinch under Johnson and Sunak.

Maheen Behrana is a senior campaigns and policy officer for the campaign group ‘Best for Britain’. This article is written in a personal capacity 




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Book Review: The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past by Mike Savage

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/01/2022 - 10:53pm in

In The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past, Mike Savage explores how inequality has surfaced as a pressing cause for concern over the past decade, offering an ambitious interdisciplinary re-theorisation of inequality and bringing a historical understanding to the table. Its deeply contextual approach, theoretical breadth and historical consciousness make this hugely generative book a major contribution to understanding inequality today, writes Jo Littler

The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past. Mike Savage. Harvard University Press. 2021.  

Book cover of The Return of InequalityFind this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

Mike Savage’s new book is long and weighty, as befits its subject: the return of inequality as an issue to be understood in all its contemporary grotesque complexities. Savage is probably best known for his work on class and social stratification, including the BBC collaboration The Great British Class Survey and the Pelican book Social Class in the 21st Century, as well as for his work on the sociology of culture and the history of social methods. His new book starts from the premise that inequality is now once again a major topic of public and academic concern. Unlike the start of this century, it argues, when public discourse was saturated with ideas that we were, by and large, advancing into a progressive future via social liberalism, technological globalisation and knowledge-based economic growth, today the stark, unavoidable realities of economic and social inequalities, democratic breakdown and climate crisis have set a new tenor, a new normal. No longer can social science take refuge in the comforting delusion that we exist in an era of reflexive modernisation at the end of history.

The introduction discusses how inequality has surfaced as a cause for concern over the past decade. There has been a ‘turning of the telescope’: an increasing sense that the rich, rather than the poor, might need to be the subject of scrutiny, and indeed might be the main social problem, as evinced by both the Occupy movement and the rise of ‘elite studies’ in sociology. Today, it argues, inequality now even bothers the wealthy much more: elites cannot use wealth to guarantee their own security in a world they can ‘no longer predict and control’. It points to the mainstream success of books on inequality, and in particular Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (with which it is fascinated). The book discusses the problems of the social sciences: its siloed nature, rigid disciplinary boundaries, the fetishisation of big data devoid of social and historical context. Inequality ‘has come to prominence precisely as the anomaly that troubles conventional social science models’.

The Return of Inequality therefore sets out to provide an ambitious interdisciplinary re-theorisation of inequality and, in particular, to bring a historical understanding to the table. It argues that the accumulated ‘weight of the past’ has surfaced in a myriad of contexts, from Black Lives Matter to right-wing nationalism to #MeToo. Savage’s undergraduate degree was in history, and the book is at pains to emphasise both that sociology is ‘not fundamentally different from history or geography’ in its scope and that the imbrication of the humanities and social sciences is crucial and necessary. Appropriately, each chapter takes as its point of departure a particular graph, image or table – from the Gini coefficient, to Pierre Bourdieu’s spatial map of distinction, to a photograph of Rhodes Must Fall – and uses it to launch its exploration into a different facet of inequality. There is an ongoing engagement with the power of the visual.

Two ladders, one taller, one shorter

Photo by Biao Xie on Unsplash

The Return of Inequality is split into three parts. The first considers established theories of inequality; the second analyses its various different dimensions; the third weighs up what is to be done. Part One is where Savage is by far on surest ground. Its three chapters pivot around the work of Piketty, Bourdieu and Karl Marx respectively, but range well beyond. They feel like instant seminar room classics, providing magnificently lucid analytical overviews of the different historical techniques and traditions used to measure economic inequality, cultural and social capital and wealth accumulation.

The latter section places wealth rather than just income inequality fully into the picture of today’s rentier-driven, asset-based economy. Savage writes of how, in most ‘developed’ nations, ‘50% of wealth is now inherited’. Because we are now returning to a world with higher capital stocks, ‘the weight of the past is returning, and along with this comes resurgent elitism, patronage, discrimination, and the entrenchment of inherited privilege’.

Part Two of the book is the longest and is more experimental than the first. Its six chapters range across different dimensions of inequality (imperialism and the nation state; the body, ‘race’, class and gender; cities and space; changing dynamics of data and knowledge). The key argument is that inequality trends are associated with elite formation amongst competing global powers, which it traces back through the formation of nation states as well as to past and present imperial projects.

Along the way, this section argues against identity politics, and instead for an approach examining how ‘visceral inequalities’ of the body become more profound as relative social inequalities decline yet historical inequalities remain unaddressed. It is critical of the post-war liberal vision of social mobility, of its expectations of evaporating inequality ‘in the hot sun of affluence driven by economic growth’. It analyses the changing inequalities of cities, arguing that they are now less modernistic and dynamic than receptacles for sedimented capital. And it discusses how the widespread practice of ‘de-reading’ and rise of shorter digital attention spans has been harnessed by elite corporate wealth.

Part Three suggests what should be done. Policy alone can’t cut it, Savage argues, at a time when politics is returning to the parameters of the nineteenth century: characterised not so much by left and right divisions as by ‘intra-elite axes, often organised around religious or geographical divides’. In such a context – within the fraying fabric of nation states and resurgent nationalism – appeals to ‘effective skilled management’ are themselves part of the political problem. Instead Savage gives us a five-point plan: reviving radicalism; de-centring economic growth; holding capital to account; redistributing wealth; and cultivating ‘sustainable nationalism’.

The Return of Inequality is a hugely generative book. Its deeply contextual approach, theoretical breadth and historical consciousness make a major contribution to understanding inequality today. It is excellent to think with. Inevitably there are issues in need of much further discussion. For instance, gender is well considered as part of the ‘visceral inequalities’ section, but overall plays a relatively minor role. The book would benefit from including the work of more female sociologists who have written about this topic (like Sylvia Walby’s Globalization and Inequalities) and more on global gendered inequalities. Similarly, environmental crisis and sustainability are rightly emphasised at the beginning and end of the book, but this could do with much greater development and emphasis throughout.

I also have some issues with the prescriptions of the final chapter (whilst finding them good overall). The book advocates ‘sustainable nationalism’ whilst dismissing both nationalisation (on the ground that it’s authoritarian) and cosmopolitanism. This is problematic, both because cosmopolitanism has a more multifaceted history than Savage acknowledges, and because any consideration of a sustainable nation state surely needs to be accompanied by overt commitments to cosmopolitanism and transnationalism, to avoid all the obviously exclusionary dangers the nation state brings. Plus, explicitly throwing out any form of nationalisation as political strategy is an ideological relic from the very era of neoliberal third way politics that Savage is critiquing (at a time when the NHS urgently needs recommitting to nationalisation, and when collectivising ownership of broadband and energy would address many problems the book identifies). More engagement with pre-existing suggested solutions, both academic (such as Andrew Sayer’s book Why We Can’t Afford the Rich) and from the work of think tanks and NGOs, would also be useful at the end of the book.

Such quibbling is in part the product of different perspectives, positions, generations; our entry points into the issue of inequalities are not the same. For instance, I was part of a generation of social theorists participating in the European Social Forums in the 2000s where inequality was already very much on the agenda (despite the best efforts of much social theory). We all have different geographical and generational perspectives because of where and how we were thrown into the conjuncture. What makes this book so good is how it situates the inequalities of the present by rigorously extending existing theories, by imaginatively joining so many historical dots together and by capaciously expanding this difficult and necessary conversation. At the same time, there is clearly plenty of work still to do.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.