Just listening to Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, who is going to announce in a speech to the annual conference that a Labour government would reduce child benefit in order to demonstrate to the electorate that it was serious about “balancing the books”. The total saving over five years? Er, £400m.
And then I read this splendid rant by Owen Jones.
British politics, and much of Labour, has become a sport, a professional ladder to climb like any investment bank, even if the top salary only puts you in the top 3% of earners rather than the top 0.01%. You can always use a future ministerial position as a launchpad for a lucrative job at a private healthcare firm or defence giant anyway.
But this is why the Labour conference feels so unreal. Britain is an extraordinarily rich country. Here’s the proof. In the last five years of the most protracted economic crisis since the 19th century, the wealth of the richest 1,000 people has more than doubled. That surge in wealth – of about £261bn – is worth about two and a half times Britain’s annual deficit. Tot up their fortunes and you come up with the sum of £519bn, or about a third of Britain’s annual GDP. And yet in the sixth biggest economy on earth nearly 1 million people have been driven to food banks to feed themselves. The Red Cross has distributed food packages to British families for the first time since the second world war. Perhaps there is something about these facts that has failed to puncture our consciousness, so it is worth stating them succinctly. In Britain, in 2014, hundreds of thousands of people can no longer afford to feed themselves.
Only a sociopath would design such a society from scratch, and yet our political elite maintains and defends this grotesque order and portrays the dissenters as the real cranks and extremists.