What the new UK opposition leader thinks about inequality

For those of you who don’t track the highs and lows of the UK Labour Party in as much detail as I do: they have a new leader called Ed Miliband, and he was talking about inequality in his first interview on Sunday.1 This promises to be a key part of his agenda, and this is what he had to say about it:

Polly Toynbee [a leftwing commentator]: You said you wanted to stop inequality getting worse and even to reduce it. Do you think you can persuade people that it’s possible, that it’s do-able?  Because Tony Blair, New Labour, they always said “That doesn’t really matter, it’s not important, we’ll [just] do something for the poor.” But for inequality itself, do you think people are alarmed it’s getting wider?

Ed Miliband: I think people have been alarmed by the excesses they’ve seen at the top, by the unacceptable face of people’s rewards and what they’ve been doing. We’ve got to tackle this and address this as a country. Because if you look round the world Polly, and you know this better than I do, those countries that are healthiest, happiest, most secure, it is the more equal societies. Now there’s no single bullet to deal with that, but it is about the way you think about responsibility and whether it’s at the top as well as at the bottom of society, and about a whole range of other issues.

David Aaranovitch [another commentator]: It’s not just a single bullet, I’m not sure that there are any actual bullets. What you seem to be talking about is moral example. Now that’s fine, I’m actually in favour of politicians saying there’s a moral example to be set here, but I cannot see what the things you actually do are that, for instance, take very high levels of pay down.

Ed Miliband: I think the way that people make decisions about salaries, for example. There was a suggestion made during the leadership election campaign, I think by my brother, that on every board of a remuneration committee there should be an ordinary worker, who would get to actually have a say in the way those decisions were made. I think there’s all kinds of ways in which – not just through moral example, but through the way these decisions are made – that you can make a difference.

So the challenge to the research community seems to be: show me what we can do to tackle inequality.  Clearly we’ll be coming back to this over the coming months…

1. The interview is available until next Sunday from here (UK only, I think); this conversation is about 54 minutes into it.  If you’re outside the UK and want to see what Ed Miliband is like, then his acceptance speech is here.

About Ben Baumberg Geiger

I am a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR) at the University of Kent. I also helped set up the collaborative research blog Inequalities, where I write articles and short blog posts. I have a wide range of research interests, at the moment focusing on disability, the workplace, inequality, deservingness and the future of the benefits system, and the relationship between evidence and policy. You can find out more about me at http://www.benbgeiger.co.uk
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4 Responses to What the new UK opposition leader thinks about inequality

  1. Ben,

    This is interesting. It seems like he’s channeling some of the Wilkinson and Pickett stuff (in his comment about comparing societies). Are there any reforms on the table right now regarding executive compensation?


  2. Ben Baumberg says:

    And there was similar stuff in Ed Miliband’s first major speech yesterday – which you can watch here and read in full here .

    Brendan – he’s not being much more specific than this yet. But it seems like actual policy proposals will come over time. And the references to The Spirit Level are very strong, and pretty much follow this exact wording each time – Wilkinson and Pickett’s influence has been quite direct here.

  3. Astley Henry says:

    Interesting blog!

    I remember hearing a BBC interview where they asked him who the ‘squeezed middle’ were. He struggled and uttered some non-response. Sad for a number of reasons.

    I hope Labour get it together and define how they will grapple with inequality and social mobility.

  4. Pingback: What the new UK opposition leader thinks about inequality | Inequalities | this 'n that

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