We have huge problems of inequality in this country. Inequality blights lives, and dooms futures.
We need to talk about inequality. We need big sweeping policies that get to the core of why we value economically useful skills over socially useful skills. We need to talk about how we reward socially useful work when our entire system of reward is based on finance; How better to share the proceeds of growth between all who contribute economically and socially; How to manage the risk of loss where it can have the least damaging societal impact.
But all too often when we have these conversations we end up talking ourselves into tiny cul-de-sacs. We talk about internships and Oxbridge rather than work and reward and universal education. We talk about boardroom and political representation and not cultural mores and societal prejudice.
While equal access to the most elite institutions is a vital part of working towards equality, it will not be the daily lived experience of inequality for most. Most people who struggle on low wages or against ingrained prejudices do so at far lower levels. Tinkering at the top has little effect on their lives.
Labour have come again to accept that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Why do we not yet accept that trickle-down sociology is not the answer either? Role models are great and very important. But they are only one of many policy levers we should be investigating. An over-reliance on high-profile tinkering distracts from the greater need for societal change.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want Labour to abandon programmes that have done well in increasing our own diversity and the opening up of opportunities to all. But we need to accept that we were too focused on treating symptoms, and were not focused enough on treating the causes of inequality.
Yes, we do need to be technocrats. We need to bring in solutions to parts of the whole. We can’t be so blinded by the scale of the problem that we lose our ability to take steps along the road.
But we also need to be visionaries. We need to have a truly inspiring goal that these technocratic solutions are working towards. We need to have no boundaries to our thinking and our belief in the journey. The steps we take should be about marching towards an eventual aim not skirting around the issues.
I don’t claim to know all the answers. But I am worried that we have stopped asking the questions at all.