Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who cares about income inequality?

Not Nick Clegg, apparently.

Achieving income inequality is the goal of 'old fashioned progressives'. 'New' progressives, on the other hand, 'focus on the power and freedom of citizens'. Which obviously has nothing to do with income inequality.

Clegg wants to redefine himself as a proponent of equality of opportunity rather than of income. This is a game try, but I'm not sure it's going to get him very far. The harsh fact is that equality of opportunity is impossible when you have high levels of income inequality. Opportunities accrue to the rich, and they accrue more sharply when the rich are more advantaged compared to the rest.

After all, look at the three party leaders: each in their own way the product of a highly privileged background, both economically and educationally. John Prescott, who pulled himself up by his bootstraps at Ruskin College, was vilified for his Northern accent and mangled grammar throughout his time in mainstream politics.

Of course, this British tradition of class warfare is not Nick Clegg's fault. But how can the huge advantages of the rich over the poor be reduced if we can't even contemplate maintaining a 50% tax rate for incomes over £150,000, a Labour policy dismissed by the LibDem leader as 'political posturing'?

What is Nick Clegg's fault is signing up to the tuition fees capitulation, which saves the state very little (not much more than has been raised by the much derided 50% tax rate) and will almost certainly terrify many young people from low income families into giving up on higher education. Quite how he sells the coalition as a vehicle for social mobility with that particularly calling card is a fascinating question.