Why income inequality implications of May and Corbyn Governments may well be similar
The assertion that implications for income equality of May and Corbyn Governments are likely to be similar admittedly sounds contrarian. There is a very simple reason why this is a reasonable assertion however; social class no longer predicts support for the Conservatives or Labour.
Social scientists agree that the policies espoused and implemented by political parties generally reflect the socio-economic statuses of their bases. Labour Governments have therefore tended to adopt redistributive policies because their electoral bases have tended to be comprised of lower-income citizens, not because Clement Attlee or Harold Wilson were good blokes. For the Conservatives, the inverse is true; these Governments have tended to lead to regressions in income equality because their supporters are richer. A truly fascinating thing has happened in British politics recently. For the first time ever, there is no longer a tendency for the poorer to support Labour and the richer to support the Conservatives. Instead, there are now a lot of poorer Tories (often older) and richer Labour supporters (often younger) who complement the traditional bases of the parties. A more salient dividing line in UK politics is now age. This is attested to by a range of evidence.
Given that this is the case, it is reasonable to expect that the implications for income equality of future May and Corbyn Governments would be broadly similar. Effects on different groups would of course differ, but overall effects would be likely to be about the same. Recent developments appear to suggest that this expectation is valid. Not only have the last two Conservative/coalition Governments redistributed resources to poor pensioners and certain other categories of low-income workers (as I wrote in my last post), but recent policy announcements of May and Corbyn are consistent with this hypothesis. Not only is the Labour manifesto weak on benefits for the poorest (Torsten Bell draws attention to this on Twitter), but the emphasis seems to be on redistribution from richer classes to the middle-classes (particularly the younger, struggling middle classes). The Labour manifesto therefore proposes abolishing tuition fees and nationalizing rail; these are two policies which tend to benefit more affluent demographics, as opposed to the poorest. There have also been strong signs in recent times that Theresa May will continue emphasis on so-called ‘just about managing’ citizens, therefore perhaps intensifying the tendency of recent Conservative Governments to redirect resources to certain groups of poorer citizens. Glen O’Hara has even speculated on Twitter that the effects of a Corbyn Government in terms of income redistribution may be more regressive than those of a May Government.
Do I think that a May Government will have equal/less severe implications for income inequality than a Corbyn Government? Probably not. Though the structure of party support is the main factor social scientists should take into account when pondering such questions, there are also factors related to ideology/party history etc.; in the short-term, these may well mean that the effects of a Labour Government are less regressive. There is also the issue of policy on public services. There has not been enough time for exhaustive analysis of implications of party manifestos to have been conducted, but I am certainly under the impression that the public services programme of Corbyn’s Labour will do more to promote income equality.
It may well be that a Corbyn Government does just as much/little as a May Government to promote income equality however, particularly in the long-term. In line with new dividing lines in UK politics, it may instead be that the primary effect of a Corbyn Government is to redistribute wealth between generations, rather than social classes. Party manifestos give only limited clues. Particularly crucial is the manner in which Governments react to crises; bases are normally protected in such times and it is likely that a Corbyn Government would prioritize their younger core supporters in moments when resources are scarce. The observations I have made in this post are indeed so simple as to be obvious. I especially don’t see how Marxists, for whom the link between the socio-economic bases of parties and actual policy is bread and butter, can disagree with them. More broadly, there are two conclusions one can make:
Firstly, assessments such as this lead to the reflection that Corbynism is primarily a movement of young, middle-class citizens who are under economic pressure. Such citizens have had it tough in recent years; no one needs to be reminded about tuition fees, housing prices, youth unemployment etc. There is also no problem that these people have a political movement; it is just that it should be clearly recognized that this is not the radical working class movement which some (highly problematically) claim. One could even argue that the emphasis on issues such as rights to freedom of movement and opposition to imperialism, which have been a hallmark of Corbynism but admittedly seem to have been downplayed recently, makes serious redistribution less likely by turning working classes away from the Corbyn Labour party.
Secondly, I am afraid that this a further reason why I take objection to the shrill tone of many Corbynistas. If you are a young person who is upset with tuition fees and the cost of housing, the consequences of a Corbyn Government may be much better; however it is far from axiomatic that this is true across the board. Therefore the notion that a vote for Corbyn is a sort of vote for good over evil (I have seen people on social media formulate the choice in this election in terms almost as crude as this), is difficult to say the least.
Would love to enter into dialogue with people about this issue. A satisfactory answer to this question would involve serious research, but I do think that the matters I raise in this post are reasonable.