During the Labour party conference Sadiq Khan wrote in the Evening Standard that holding the office of Mayor of London meant he could “ensure that London’s growth is shared more equally, with a real living wage, plans to improve gender pay inequality and a laser-like focus on tackling inequality.” It is refreshing to have a Mayor who regularly talks about inequality with such emphasis.
Last week Theresa May, our new Prime Minister, told us that ‘change is going to come’. Of course it’s almost beyond irony that a Conservative leader should choose to steal one of the rallying cries of the American Civil Rights movement, during a week where her colleagues repeatedly sought to blame or demonise migrants. However in her closing speech to the Conservative Party Conference the Prime Minister spoke repeatedly of fairness, of the gaps between old and young, between London and the rest of the UK, and most of all between the 1% and the rest. Despite her party's 40 year pursuit of the policies that led Britain to where we are today, Theresa May drew a line under that era and said that a strong state and a fair society were fundamental objectives for her administration, that business took too much, that she was concerned for the working class, and that a change was going to come.
At our September meeting we discussed where the politics of economic inequality has got to (and thanks to My Fair London activist Greg for stimulating such a rich discussion). Back in 2009, when ‘The Spirit Level” was published and we first came together, while the problem of gross and growing economic inequality was discussed, it was largely the preserve of left-leaning groups, academics and think tanks. Now we have a Conservative Prime Minister talking about the problems facing working class people and identifying inequality as a fundamental problem. And past global guardians of neo-liberal economic policy – the World Bank, the OECD, the IMF, not to mention the Bank of England – all publishing reports on the problem of economic inequality, the risks it poses to the economy and to the safe functioning of democracy itself. There is even widespread recognition that economic inequality is bad for productivity.
So the inequality debate has moved on and those of us who believe that a more equal society will be better for everyone seem to have won the argument: that inequality is bad, economically, socially, politically. Now the area for debate and discussion is what to do about it.
So what is My Fair London doing?
We have agreed that a fundamental priority for My Fair London continues to be to influence the Mayor of London. We need to do all that we can to encourage him to turn his words into actions. At the same time we have to recognise that although he is the Mayor his direct powers to achieve a really significant narrowing of inequality across the city are limited. In many ways his voice and advocacy for the cause of economic equality will be as important as any of the specific policy changes he can implement during his time at the Greater London Authority.
We have agreed to focus on a number of priorities over the next few months.
- My Fair London colleagues are busy working on a new pamphlet that will summarise the economic debates, and set out the economic arguments for greater equality. We hope this will be the first in a series of short, themed pamphlets describing how inequality underpins so many of the problems facing London: the housing crisis, youth unemployment and intergenerational inequity, poverty and low pay, crime and social cohesion, environmental harm and climate change.
If you’d like to get involved in creating these mini-manifestos please get in touch.
- We have had a warm initial response to our approach to Sadiq Khan’s office, and we expect an early meeting with his new Deputy Mayor for Social Cohesion, Matthew Ryder.
We’ll let you know when we have a meeting date with the Deputy Mayor, and we hope he will agree to come and speak to one of our meetings. Watch this space.
- We will be preparing a summary of the key policies that we believe the Mayor and others should adopt to start to move London onto a path to greater equality - drawing on our own manifesto for the recent Mayoral elections, and the work of the My Fair London promoted London Fairness Commission. http://londonfairnesscommission.co.uk
Again, please get in touch if you would like to help with this task.
- And we will be seeking to make common cause with other groups across London who recognise the links between economic inequality and other social, economic, political and environmental problems.
- On this last theme, My Fair London is pleased to host a book launch and evening discussion on Wednesday 19th October. Author Bob Hughes will present the core arguments in his new book, 'The Bleeding Edge: why technology turns toxic in an unequal world'. My Fair London activists have long felt there is an intrinsic link between the global environmental crisis and inequality. Bob's new book tries to explain just how these connections work. There are still a few places left. Reserve a place by booking a ticket here https://www.eventbrite.com/e/inequality-and-the-environment-at-the-bleeding-edge-tickets-28287588940
- Finally, My Fair London has been asked to give evidence at a public session of the London Finance Commission, on Friday 21st October. The Mayor has reconvened the Finance Commission specifically to help him better understand the potential consequences of Brexit for city finances, but he has also written into its terms of reference a fundamental concern for inequality. If you have any particular views on city taxation and revenue raising that you think are important for inequality, please get in touch with My Fair London chair, Alex Bax. And do come along to the meeting to show your concern. There’s more information at https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/business-and-economy/promoting-london/london-finance-commission
Come along, get involved, help us make London a fairer city for us all.