Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Rethinking our values

This article is part of a series of articles written by candidates for the Progress strategy board elections. The publishing of this article is not an endorsement of the candidate. You can read Adam Hurst’s candidate statement here

Emphasising the importance of equality of opportunity is not something we should shy away from, argues Adam Hurst

A piece of research – which is part of a project led by the University of Sheffield exploring Thatcher’s legacy – was recently bought to my attention. The survey indicated that two-thirds of Britain’s young adults aged 25-34 embrace Margaret Thatcher’s values and show support for her policies and beliefs.

I am not actually that surprised. The fact is that if you are aged 25-34, you were born between 1984 and 1993. The country has throughout that time been run by governments that haven’t challenged the fundamental beliefs of Thatcher or her legacy, with Tony Blair claiming to be Thatcher’s successor.

Most in the Labour party would agree it would not be popular to limit the ability of people to buy property or have policies that appear to put a cap on people’s ambitions. While some (me included) would question the sincerity of Thatcher’s commitment to equality of opportunity and condemn her cruelty towards people left behind, we should recognise that she struck a chord with many working people who believed her administrations offered them opportunities for advancement that previous governments had failed to do. Her successors in David Cameron and Theresa May have been far more blatant in supporting the very richest to become wealthier at the expense not just of the poorest, but also of those earning middle range incomes.

The progressives and centre-left in politics, need to come up with a challenge to something that is the received wisdom for most people. I think we need to start concentrating on the inequalities of wealth and the fact that people in the middle-income range are the ones who are most hurt by, for example, charges for adult social care, tuition fees and cuts in services. At the same time, the current government is increasing not just tax allowances for people on high earnings but also raising the amount people can inherit without paying inheritance tax. A graduate whose parents could support them through university for example will start their working life with no debt. A graduate who relied on loans and with the same earning potential will have a debt of approximately £60,000. It will be almost impossible for such a person to catch up in acquiring the wealth their debt free colleague may acquire over a lifetime and this flies in the face of equality of opportunity.

I think that labour should start to concentrate on challenging the privileges accorded to those who already have substantial wealth. For example, income from investments is not subject to national insurance and many who inherit significant estates do not pay tax (up to £1,000,000 can be inherited in some cases). People on incomes of over £50,000 per year only pay two per cent national insurance on income above this amount while middle income earners pay 12 per cent on their taxable income. Having polices aimed at addressing these and other similar anomalies would I think be popular and would not contradict supporting a meritocracy which is what many of those who believe they support Thatcher’s legacy want to see. Labour needs to point out that those who have wealth handed to them on a silver plate must not be treated in a privileged way that working people are not.

This view can – I believe – prove popular with middle England while appearing not to undermine the individualistic values which I believe were a key to Thatcher’s popularity.

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Adam Hurst is a candidate in the councillors’ section of the Progress strategy board election. You can read his candidate statement here

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Adam Hurst

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