The Thick of It


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poverty: better or worse under Labour?

According to David Cameron it has got worse and that because of Labour's reliance on the "big state". He proposes that charities and community groups should step in and boost social mobility. This was the Thatcherite message of the 1980s, one that failed disastrously. The result of 13 years of Labour government is that poverty has decreased, or at least increased less, depending on how you measure it.  

Channel 4's Fact Check has published a detailed analysis of Labour's record on poverty. I'll paraphrase the key parts here. 

"When looked at as a proportion of the population as a whole, the percentage of people in poverty drops by either eight or 10 percentage points, depending on whether housing costs are taken into account...there would be some more traction in Cameron's claim if judged only on the poverty figures in recent years."

It is true to say that Labour hasn't eradicated poverty. However, the picture is at worst cloudy and at best showing a clear effort to bring people above the poverty line. The increase in relative poverty that began under Thatcher in 1979 has slowed for the frist time, under Labour:

"This increase (of the last three years) pales into comparison with that which took place under Margaret Thatcher. Cameron's claim on poverty just doesn't wash - the number of people in general, and particularly children and pensioners, in poverty have reduced since Labour came to power, although progress seems to have stalled in recent years.

"It's worth noting too that Labour's tax and benefit reforms have been redistributive (Robin Hood-like). Had they kept the same system they inherited, there would be far more people in poverty today."

Richard Wilkinson of Nottingham University has been widely quoted by Cameron. He himself admits, unlike Cameron, that: "if Brown's budgets hadn't been redistributive then things would be worse than they are now."

That Cameron is talking about poverty at all shows that 13 years of Labour government have shifted the parameters of political debate. During the 1980s and 1990s the Tories consistently said that relative poverty didn't matter. If they have learnt one thing from being in opposition, I'd hope it was to admit that relative poverty does matter. I doubt however that they have the answers or the desire to eradicate poverty.

Liam Bryne thinks that Cameron's approach amounts to "little more than crossing your fingers." Cameron has no plan and no answers, and as such, he is wrong to make such play of poverty.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I shielded myself from the onset of winter with a couple of weeks in Cyprus. I have visited the island many times. Politics runs through the island.and I have over recent years started venturing into the Turkish occupied Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkish troops have occupied around 37% of the island since 1974, while British troops occupy 3% with two Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. I was pleased to read today that Britain is to propose returning half of the SBA land, to both sides of the divide, in order to help achieve a lasting peace.

Having only been divided 35 years ago, the occupation is still felt by many. The unresolved issues of compensation for land for people who had to move away, on both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot side is still to be resolved. For many years there looked to be little hope for a mutually agreed solution. The rejection of the Annan Plan in 2004, which sought to unify the island as a confederation, looked to hold back peace.  The election of left wing leaders on both sides of the border, both committed to negotiation offers a chance for peace. 

The holiday itself was immense fun and included watching Apollon versus Omonia on the Saturday night. The crowd made for a wonderful spectacle, the football somewhat less so. Playing for Apollon was English journeyman Junior Agogo, formerly of 14 clubs, including Bristol Rovers. It made me think, if I was a mediocre English league player, I'd much rather be a relative star and live on a holiday island. Playing on the Greek side, Agogo will get a few more plaudits and the chance to play in UEFA competition, something not yet available for his counterparts in the North's Birinci Lig.