Why is Labour so quiet and timid about the super-rich, those on more than £3,000 a week, and the ultra-rich, the FTSE-100 bosses who now average $.4 million a year remuneration, or to put in more readily used terms, £86,000 a week? There are 3 good reasons why Labour should open up a major broadside against the very rich and the stratospheric rich. One is that it would be very popular. The public hostility towards the bankers and their multi-million bonuses (NB the outrage of some bankers reported a few weeks ago that they were only being given bonuses of £4 million compared with the £6 million given to some others) and the visceral hatred felt towards the greedy profiteering of the Big Six energy companies are an open invitation to Labour to go over on to the attack relentlessly and persistently, and not just because it would be popular, but because it’s right. There is no justification for these obscene levels of pay and remuneration appropriated by the wealth elite, it has nothing to do with the national interest, it is no reflection of merit – it is simply a reflection of their power in the market-place and their insatiable self-interest. That’s why the public hates them so much and why they offer such a tempting target to Labour on moral and ethical grounds and not just for funding reasons.
The second reason was spelt out forcibly by Cameron in the Guildhall last month and by Osborne in the Commons yesterday. Cameron told the assembled plutocrats that the Tories intended to shrink the State indefinitely and the Autumn Statement yesterday put immediate flesh on that by announcing that they would put an arbitrary (but low, and maybe steadily reducing) cap on benefit into statute. They have already put caps on housing benefit which lead to social cleansing and on the Social Fund, the last resort for those in desperate need. Now they’re extending it across the board. Just as Thatcher’s (and Blair’s) neoliberal capitalism – let the market rule, untrammelled – has hugely boosted inequality in the economy, the Tories are now forcing through similar measures in society. And the only way to stop them is to take them on where their strength centrally lies – a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
The third reason is that in the last analysis this isn’t about riches, it’s about power. The super-rich are where they are, not because they’re worth it, not because Britain needs them, but because they’ve secured a key alliance between money and power. Their economic system, the de-regulated capitalism of the last 3 decades, has effortlessly increased their own assets, diminished the wage share, and weakened Labour’s capacity to resist through the trade unions. Thatcher took on Labour’s power, first the miners and then at Wapping, and even now the current Lobbying Bill is still trying to undermine the forces of the Left. The Tories know what they’re about and go for it full-tilt. Until Labour does the same, goes for the very wealthy and their seizure of governance, Labour may win the election, but they won’t win real power.