Monday, 23 May 2011

Who ate all the jam?

He may be up against David Cameron's latest (fourth, we think) relaunch of the Big Society, but Labour leader Ed Miliband is to expand in a speech at the Royal Festival Hall today on his mission to restore "the British promise" - that each generation aspires for its children to have greater opportunities - and how this risks being broken for a next "jilted generation".

Miliband believes that this should be central to the optimistic vision for Britain which he believes must be central to Labour's pitch that it should govern the country, as he told Progress on Saturday.

The Labour leader was among the interviewes for Anne McElvoy's recent The Jam Generation Radio Four series, expanding and updating the analysis which she first set out in The Spectator. That captured the generational influences on the teenagers of the 1980s who currently dominate all of the three major parties at Westminster.

The danger may also be that the dominance of the politics of austerity may give rise to an excessively pessimistic politics - "Jam Yesterday", so to speak.

Miliband's argument is that the opportunities which the Jam Generation expected, and perhaps took for granted, are becoming squeezed out for what risks becoming the "jilted generation" which follows it, adopting the title of a recent book by journalists Shiv Malik and Ed Howker, which was itself in some ways a response to David Willett's challenge to the baby boom generation.

If there appears to be a growing engagement across the political spectrum with the idea of intergenerational justice - from what it costs to go to university and the distribution of housing wealth and assets to climate change - there is a sharp political and policy difference about what that means for the biggest policy issues of the day.

The government argues that future generations are the beneficiaries of seeking a rapid path to deficit reduction (if it works). But it would seem undeniable that the sharpest direct and psychological pressures of the falling living standards of the "squeezed middle" will be felt, across the educational and class spectrum, by those who have not yet got a foothold in their careers, still less thought about mortgages and assets, while the quickly increasing shadow of student debt makes the idea of getting a deposit for a mortgage a much more distant prospect for many, even if credit hadn't become much tighter too.

The age of first time buyers has been rising, especially for those without access to the 'bank of mum and dad' for help with a deposit. Miliband is expected to warn that it could soon rise to over 40.

In the week which ends with his marriage to partner Justine, Ed Miliband will make probably his most personal remarks about his own young sons, exemplifying a concern

“For us, our boys, Daniel and Sam, will be the most important people at our wedding and I’d like to speak today, not just about them, but about the prospect oftheir whole generation.

I suppose every father says this, but becoming a parent changes your outlook on life.

Sometimes it’s too easy to be sucked into work, into the day-to-day, but when you begin a family, your perspective broadens, you begin to consider thekind of future you might wish for your children.

I am worried - and every parent should be worried - about what will happen to our chidren in the coming decades. About what the future holds for us, our children and our country. About what sort of place Britain will become.

David Cameron has set out his benchmark of success: dealing with the deficit.

It is the over-riding concern to which all others are sacrificed.

But his claim to be protecting the next generation by making this his only priority is blown apart because they are bearing so much of the burden for his decisions: from cuts to sure start to the end of educational maintenance allowances to the trebling of tuition fees.”

I want to be equally clear with people. I have a different benchmark of successand the next Labour government will have a different benchmark of success.

It’s not enough just to deal with the deficit. Our country will be stronger only if we act to restore The Promise of Britain for the next and future generations.”

The speech appeals directly to an increasingly politicised younger generation. But they will want to know whether and how the promise of jam tomorrow can be kept.

So what the "British promise" and the commitment to intergenerational justice means will be a major issue for Labour's policy review, still in its early stages.

The centrality which the Labour leader is giving to the "jilted generation" should be music to the ears of the Young Fabians, who are making the theme of "squeezed youth" central to their engagement with the policy review.

The case for a high priority to ensuring young people get jobs is strengthened by evidence about how an early period of unemployment creates a lasting "wage scar" on future earnings.

It will surely also be difficult to raise the issue of intergenerational justice in an era of tight fiscal constraints without opening up the issue of whether those who benefitted most from windfall gains in the value of property, assets and wealth will need to contribute more to give the next generation a fair shot too.

The younger Miliband was rather more reluctant to engage with this issue in the leadership campaign than his elder brother, David, who was at least in this respect slightly more "red" than Ed, in being prepared to propose a variant on Vince Cable's Mansion Tax. The Cable policy was considerably more popular with the public than the newspaper editors (who do not, as it happens, tend, themselves, to form part of the 'jilted generation', and who may also be at least partially confident of trying to protect their own children from some of the consequences).

Getting the politics of intergenerational justice is tricky - but not impossible.

Returning to the issue of whether those with most assets must constribute a little more will have to be an issue addressed by anybody who wants to spread the jam more fairly across the generations.


Cantab83 said...

"Returning to the issue of whether those with most assets must constribute a little more will have to be an issue addressed by anybody who wants to spread the jam more fairly across the generations."

Which is why a Mansion tax must be part of the solution. My only problem with it is that Vince Cable's proposal doesn't go far enough. As I pointed out many months ago, any such tax should really be set at about 2% of capital value with a much lower threshold than £2m in order for it to be consistent with Council Tax and current income tax rates. Of course you would need to phase it in gradually, which is why Vince Cable's proposal would be a good starting point.

To some extent though, this is a side issue. The real issue is the overpriced state of housing in the first place. That is where the squeezed middle comes from. Double income families working long hours just to pay the mortgage. Yet it does not have to be like this.

Why can we not have control of house price inflation as one of our major macroeconomic policies? Why do politicians always leave it to laissez-faire free markets when those markets are actually artificially constrained by planning rules and vested interests? Why are politicians and economists so reluctant to tackle the issue when the wider economic problems that housing booms cause (i.e. recessions) are always so devastating.

We can control house price inflation, as I have explained before. Such a policy would yield positive benefits across the economy. This policy should therefore be central to Ed Miliband's new politics.

Harry Barnes said...

For Level-headed Labour Lefties -