Levelling up is failing

First the good news: the Office for National Statistics figures released today show that pay is rising at its fastest rate in two decades, with regular pay up by 4.2 per cent in the three months for February to April compared with a year earlier. Now the bad news: such is inflation that, in real terms, regular pay was actually down 2.2 per cent – lower than at any time in the past two decades except for a brief period in the autumn of 2011. So, yes, it isn’t just an illusion: we really are getting poorer. That is a big problem not just for households trying to make ends

Is it an exaggeration to talk of a ‘gender war’?

According to Nina Power’s forceful and rather unusual What Do Men Want?, we in the West are currently engaged in a ‘battle over sex’. And while that has been going on, ‘another war is being waged. This one is against men, the whole damn lot of them!’ To back up this ‘war on men’ idea, Power cites, among other examples, I Hate Men, a book by the French writer Pauline Harmange in which she damns men as ‘violent, selfish, lazy and cowardly… men beat, rape and murder us’. Power’s argument is that the all-out assault on men has gone too far. The mistake, she says, is in ‘treating people as

The rise of the new autocracy

Gstaad Dinner parties are no longer verboten here, so I posed a question to some youngsters my son had over: did any of them feel morally entitled to their privilege? The problem with talking about privilege is that the discussion goes around in circles, original thoughts get lost, and what emerges says more about those conversing than about the subject at hand. Ditto when I posed the question to my son’s friends. There were no straightforward answers. Let’s face it, privilege is so enjoyable that the beneficiaries are mostly seen as undeserving, spoilt lightweights — by the underprivileged, that is. Envy has always been around, as has the urge to

The facts about race and education

Judging from the reaction to last week’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, you’d think it had been written by a group of white supremacists who deliberately falsified the evidence about the prevalence of racism in contemporary Britain. Labour MP Clive Lewis tweeted a picture of the Ku Klux Klan alongside the hashtag #RaceReport, while Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a Cambridge University professor, compared the chairman of the Commission to Goebbels. In fact, only one of the report’s ten authors is white and the chairman, Dr Tony Sewell, says in the foreword: ‘We take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force

The false narrative of white vs BAME

Almost 20 years ago, Michael Howard spoke about the ‘British dream’: that immigrant families like his could come to this country and find every door open for their children. The same was true for Priti Patel’s parents, both refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda. Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has spoken movingly about his father, who was a refugee from the Nazis. Our islands are and have always been a beacon of light for those fleeing darkness, or simply seeking a better life for their families. Over the years, our country’s reputation has drawn millions of people who have settled here in search of the British dream. They have faced headwinds

The false narrative of BAME vs white

Almost 20 years ago, Michael Howard spoke about the ‘British dream’: that immigrant families like his could come to this country and find every door open for their children. The same was true for Priti Patel’s parents, both refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda. Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has spoken movingly about his father, who was a refugee from the Nazis. Our islands are and have always been a beacon of light for those fleeing darkness, or simply seeking a better life for their families. Over the years, our country’s reputation has drawn millions of people who have settled here in search of the British dream. They have faced headwinds

What the next Tory leader needs to know about inequality

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has launched an impressive new commission on inequality. What’s most impressive about the project is not the Nobel-winning array of commissioners, it’s the fact that the IFS is trying to broaden public and political understanding of what inequality is. And in so doing, it also describes a political trap that many Conservatives seem keen to fall into. Start with the definition. Here’s the Deaton Commission’s opening publication: “…inequality is not just about money. Inequality exists in the stresses and strains on family life, which shape the environment in which children grow up. It is the divergence in life expectancy between deprived and affluent areas, and

Fretting over ‘land inequality’ is a waste of time

As if the nation is not already mired in enough scandal, now comes the revelation that half the land in England is owned by just 25,000 individuals and organisations (1% of the population!). How wrong and elitist that sounds when placed beneath a Guardian headline which implies it is a yet another measure of horrible inequality and deprivation. According to Labour MP John Trickett “The dramatic concentration of land ownership is an inescapable reminder that ours is a country for the few and not the many”. But it means nothing at all. We are not an agrarian society. Fewer than one per cent of the population are employed in agriculture.

High life | 7 February 2019

Gstaad   Here in Gstaad there is no worker alienation. Nor are the rich especially worried. The talk is about snow conditions, upcoming parties, the price of real estate, Brexit and, of course, socialism, a disease that strikes those far away from this Alpine resort, but has yet to infect any of the locals. I had a long chat with a friend of mine, born and bred up here, who makes his living teaching people how to ski and fixing their television sets after hours. ‘Don’t you ever mind when you see first hand how plush the new chalets are, especially of those like myself who made it the old-fashioned

Why a four-day working week isn’t such a bad idea

Most people were scandalised by John McDonnell’s proposal to promote a four-day working week. But before we get incensed about giving people more leisure during their working life, we need to ask another question. If it really is so vital to the economy that people spend more time at work, then why does the government spend £41 billion every year (a third of the cost of the NHS) providing tax relief on pension contributions? This merely encourages older and more experienced employees to leave the workforce several years earlier than necessary. Remember, five years needlessly spent in retirement is 20 years that could have been spent enjoying a working life

Justin Welby’s plan for solving inequality wouldn’t work

Ronald Reagan famously proclaimed that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” With the ‘most terrifying’ words already attributed, the pledge of a commission to transform the economy through increased intervention and higher taxes will simply have to be chalked up to misguidance and bad policy. The IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice, released this week, puts forward 73 recommendations for ‘better and more sustainable growth’. Yet a look through the proposals suggests that the commissions members – including the Archbishop of Canterbury and trade union reps – are more interested in tackling perceived issues around inequality than they are

High life | 22 June 2017

A famous epigrammatic nugget of wisdom appears in The Leopard, Lampedusa’s great novel about a noble Sicilian family’s fortunes: ‘If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.’ I thought of the novel as I was driven up to Gstaad during last week’s heatwave. Disembarking in Geneva, I felt I was back in Nairobi, circa 1970, on my way to Mombasa and a romantic interlude among the elephants and wildebeest. The old continent now looks like Africa, especially in airports and public spaces. But things will have to change if we want things to stay the same, I told myself again and again. In the

Home ownership fall is driving wealth inequality

Consider this: 1 per cent of adults own 14 per cent of the nation’s assets. That’s some 488,000 people in ownership of about £11 trillion. At the other end of the financial scale, 15 per cent – 7.3 million people – either own no assets at all, or are in debt. It’s safe to say this throws the UK’s wealth inequality into stark relief. These new figures come courtesy of the Resolution Foundation thinktank which attributes them to a reversal of the spreading of property wealth across Britain in the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. Essentially, the fall in home ownership is fuelling the return of increasing wealth inequality across the country. Conor D’Arcy,

Should we compare pay slips? The inequality of earnings

The most open of folk, who spill saucy secrets about themselves, clam up when asked how much they earn. Revealing your salary, especially to colleagues, is taboo. Conventional wisdom says that knowing fellow workers’ salaries sows discord. I know first-hand how explosive it can be to learn what people you work with get paid. I’d been promoted to a senior management role where I needed to know everyone’s pay. On my first morning my new boss entered my office with an armful of employee files and told me to read them. Closing my door, he said he would return to take me to lunch with a bottle of red wine,

As the rich get richer and Trump takes power, Davos Man should be very afraid

I’ve objected before to the fact that supporters of Oxfam shops are unknowingly funding not only an aid charity but also a left-wing thinktank that promotes its beliefs with considerably more zest and clout than Jeremy Corbyn does. Its latest paper, An Economy for the 99%, issued to coincide with the gathering of the global elite at Davos, offers a killer factoid: that whereas three years ago the richest 85 people on the planet ‘had the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity’, today that equivalence applies to just eight mega-billionaires, led by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Amancio Ortega, founder of the Spanish fashion chain Zara.

Markets start the year strong while Italy totters towards the next crisis

The headline business story of the holiday season was the latest bailout of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. This is Italy’s third largest bank and, according to recent ECB ‘stress tests’, Europe’s weakest — regarded by pessimists both as a potential catalyst for systemic collapse and a symptom of deeper Italian problems that could kick off another euro crisis this year. Monte dei Paschi is also of special interest to me as the world’s oldest bank, having been founded by the magistrates of Siena in 1472 to provide loans at non–usurious rates to ‘poor or miserable or needy persons’, underpinned by wealth from local agriculture. Though it evolved more

Liberal ideology created Donald Trump

Dear Democrat voters, You are probably the most influential and powerful segment of the human race today. In terms of cultural reach, you are supreme; politically you are masters of the universe; you have the ability to shape our world for good or evil, and for most of the past century you and your forebears have done a pretty good job of it. I’m addressing this to Democrats in particular because in the US, as in Britain, liberalism is the prestige faith; the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in American academia is now five to one, and up to forty to one in some social sciences. Eight of the ten richest

Thanks to Brexit, New Yorkers discovered ‘the inequality thing’

A few days before the vote on Brexit, a crowd of Democratic Party grandees gathered in one of Manhattan’s toniest venues. Old friends and allies happily greeted one another, and as liquor unlocked emotions, one of them turned nostalgic about his stint in the Clinton Administration — a happier time, when the party was unified around the cult of political pragmatism known as triangulation. ‘Yes,’ said a misty-eyed associate who also remembered those days fondly. ‘We didn’t have the inequality thing…. How did we miss it?’ Propriety prevents me from identifying the participants, but the clueless arrogance about ‘the inequality thing’ largely sums up the reaction to Britain’s Leave vote

The new PM is right to want boardroom reform, but how can she make it happen?

I spent Sunday at the Sage Gateshead watching an epic performance of Götterdämmerung (I declare an interest, as a trustee of Opera North), so my head was full of it as I braced for more political backstabbing and immolation on Monday. That was very much the way it went as Andrea Leadsom fell, Theresa May rode her horse into the ring of flame that is the forthcoming Brexit negotiation, and Jeremy Corbyn, still clutching Labour’s tarnished ring, was dragged underwater by Angela Eagle, unlikeliest of Rhinemaidens. Enough of the Wagner mash-up: what really caught my ear during the brief moment between Mrs May’s campaign launch and coronation was her attack

One day, two lonely people

Twenty-four long hours, two lonely people, one city in decline. This is the premise of A.L. Kennedy’s new novel Serious Sweet, a work full of anger at what has happened to London since the Thatcher revolution and concern for the city’s isolated, impotent inhabitants. Kennedy’s representative Londoners are Jon, a divorced and fusty civil servant, a ‘passed over man’ plagued by failure, and Meg, a bankrupt accountant and recovering alcoholic who jokes at her own expense that she is ‘Fine: Fucked-up Insecure Neurotic and Emotional’. The novel takes in many contemporary bugbears — the loss of civility, state snooping on private lives, misogyny and child abuse — but like the