Alright, he isn’t but I have to get readers somehow.
Today, Ben (amongst others) rolls out the “Isn’t it terrible people in deprived areas vote Labour” line.
Well Ben, I don’t think there are many people who’ll benefit from inheritance tax cuts in Glasgow North East, but there are plenty who’d suffer if there was less nursery provision. Some people call this “dependency on the client state”. I call it Government working to make life better for families.
If you live in a poorer area, the money Labour governments spend on schools, on policing, on child care, on sure start and on tax credits make a big difference for you.
But really, why doesn’t Ben make the opposite argument? We’ve had a Labour government for thirteen years, and people in Surrey, in Hampshire, in Tatton and in Witney have better indices on poverty than anywhere else in the country.
Yet despite this prosperity, they keep electing Tories in landslides. So why is no-one railing against the shortsightedness of these fools who keep voting against a government that has made life in their area so good, eh? Why are they so shortsighted?
Oh, yes, because they know who’ll act in the interest of their community.
Just like the voters in Glasgow.
Isn’t there an implication in this convential wisdom that it’s OK for the wealthy to vote in their own interest, but immoral and foolish for poorer people to do so?
If Ben really wants to know why people in poorer areas think it’s in their interest to vote Labour and people in richer areas think it’s in their interest to vote Conservative he could do worse than start with this chart from the IFS.
Now, I’m not arguing everything Labour’s done is perfect. The IFS report shows although we’ve made a lot of progress in increasing lower and middle income, the massive increase in wealth at the very top has driven inequality. But where does Ben think the voters of Glasgow and Tatton fit on those income scales and so, who is more likely to make working people in Glasgow North East better off?
Now, all this sits alongside a disturbing trend in journalism (fueled, in part, by the fact that most journalists are like me, middle class professionals) that implies that people in Labour strongholds in places like Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool are basically a bunch of welfare munching dole scroungers who are only voting Labour because they have not yet been weaned of the welfare teat.
It’s a load of stereotyped rubbish and should be treated with contempt.
The IFS research suggests that those on benefits alone are not hugely better off under Labour*. Rather, it is the relatively low income workers, the shop assistants, the cleaners, the part-time time nursery nurse, the office assistants and the manual workers who have done better in terms of income.
On top of this, it is groups like this that benefit most from schools that have had more money spent on them, medical provision that has improved, more access to nurseries and so on.
It is these people, too often neglected in media narratives, who make up the vast majority of the population of core Labour seats. Their support for the Labour party is neither irrational nor the lazy suckling of the teat of the state, but a recognition that although imperfect, Labour generally tries to do more for them than the alternative.
History shows they’re right about that.
What Labour people want isn’t “welfare”, but for life to be a bit fairer, just a little less stacked against the family trying to make ends meet.
There is a long and interesting debate about income and social inequality in this country – but we must not start it with stereotypes.
*At least in income terms. People in these social groups probably find their houses might be nicer and their schools better, but I refuse to think of that as, y’know, a bad thing.
UPDATE: Dan Paskins says that there’s no easy dividing line between “Feckless poor suckling on the state” and “upright working man/woman”. He’s quite right – and as he says, the support of the state is vital for those trying to climb the income scale. His critique of the stereotype is probably more accurate than mine.