The Budget Report for 2003 announced by Gordon Brown was entitled "Building a
Britain of economic strength and social justice". This idea was confirmed by the
Chancellor presenting the 2003 Pre-Budget Report on December 9th.
Social Justice is indeed a noble goal. Unfortunately, what Blair and Brown actually mean by social justice is not very clear. You would have to wade through 300 A4 size pages to find out what the Blairite concept of justice envisages, so we will save you the bother of having to read this long report, and tell you what we have found. For the Blair government "social justice" implies that everybody should be able to compete "fairly" in the labour market when looking for a decent job. A cynical critic might wish to say that this is the equivalent to stating that foxes and hunters are free to compete with each other for a "fair deal", but this would be an unkind judgement. After all, the Report states the government is actually building a "fairer society".
Blairism has a feature that it shares with many Social Democratic leaders and many right wing trade union leaders around the world. It invents new words, or gives new meanings to old words, not in order to make things clearer, but to hide what they are really doing. The more they attack the gains of the working class, the more they try and camouflage what they are doing with a kind of Orwellian "newspeak". So if we try to understand what they are doing from listening to what they say about themselves we wouldn't get very far. So let us leave these words to one side and get down to the facts.
Every year the Office of National Statistics publishes data about how wealth is shared out in the UK. The latest data available is from the year 2001, so we cannot fully appreciate what Blair and his colleagues have achieved in the last two years and how far they have gone down the road of building of a "fairer society". However, as they have been in power since 1997 we can at least draw some conclusions.
In 1996, just before the election of the first Blair government, the poorest half of the population owned 6% of overall wealth. By 2000 this had been reduced further to 2%. But one year later, in 2001, it had "increased" to 3%. So, one might be tempted to say Gordon Brown's strategy was working at last. Unfortunately, it just isn't true. You can play some funny games with statistics. This increase was merely a numerical game that depended on the collapse of the equity bubble. The nominal value of the wealth of shareholders was reduced by the collapse of the stock market values. Thus in proportion to the wealth of the richer half of society the poor seemed to get richer. In reality there was no real growth in the well being of the less wealthy half of the population of the country. Over the last couple of years, due to the crash of the stock markets, big capital was diverted to the housing market. If you look at the data that includes the value of homes you realize that the poorest half of Britain actually lost 1% of its wealth from 2000 to 2001. So much for the so-called "rising standards for all", that is the Budget Report's apparent objective.
Ok, that is enough of talking about the less wealthy half of the country. Let us turn to the other half. The most wealthy 25% of the population owned 81% of all wealth in 1996. By 2001 it owned 86%. This means that the remaining 75% of the population now owned a mere 14% of the overall wealth of this country. Quite "fair" wouldn't you say? As we go up the social ladder the situation gets worse. The wealthiest 10% of the population owned 63% of overall wealth in 1996. This had increased to 72% by 2001. Far from there being a "fair" distribution of wealth in this country, 90% of the British population has to make do with owning more or less a quarter of the wealth of the country. That is less than what the richest 1% owns. This tiny minority of the population actually owned 33% of overall wealth in 2001. So you have a situation where, in market terms, more then 90% of the British population is worth the same as the wealthiest 1%.
So here we have the real situation. If this is the meaning of "social justice" for this government, we dread to think what its idea of social injustice could be.
The problem of this government is that it seems obsessed with the minority of wealthy people rather than achieving genuine social equality. As a result of this its popularity ratings have been going down over the recent period. Instead of prettifying the situation with words that hide the real situation, the government should be concerned about that 90 per cent or so of the population that is not rich. Surely this would be a sufficiently large constituency to assure electoral success?
The Blairite leadership of "New Labour" likes to boast of its practical, realistic, "pragmatic" approach. Well, surely it would be more "pragmatic" to concentrate on improving the standard of living of 90% of the population rather than running after the privileged elite? Instead of cutting funds to local councils, forcing them either to increase the council tax bills of ordinary working people or to cut services, surely a "fair" society would do the only decent thing and that is to tax the rich and not the poor. Surely a "fair" distribution of wealth would involve taking from the rich to give to the poor? The wealth is there for the taking. The problem is that it is in the wrong hands. What this government needs to do is to renationalise without compensation all those companies that have been sold off at bargain prices to the rich. The wealth must be placed in the hands of the workers. That can only be done by expropriating the capitalists. As socialists, that is how we see the building of a society based on genuine "social justice".
Instead, what did we get from the recent Queen's speech? We were told about university top up fees, the privatization of the NHS, more "flexibility" in the labour market and so on. How all this can be seen as moving towards a "fairer society" is anyone's guess.
But maybe we have misunderstood Blair. After all Blair is a very religious person, and as it is nearly Christmas we should have more of the festive spirit about us. We should be more aware of the "next life", the one after we leave this material world. That is where we will all be equal. Maybe we are being too cynical, but is the Blair government planning to speed up our journey to that world, by cutting back on healthcare, making our public transport more dangerous, and contributing to making the world a more dangerous place to live in with his Iraqi adventure?
We leave the last word to our readers. We wish you all a happy end of year break. We'll be back in the New Year to take up the struggle to put an end to this unjust society and replace it a rational socialist one!