Identity politics has taken the centre stage, of left-leaning and liberal political spheres, all over the Western World. At the most basic level, identity politics has an important role to play in society. Civil rights movements for Women’s rights, BME rights, and LGBT rights has brought us to an era where people are more socially equal than ever before. There’s still genuine work to be done within identity politics, racism is still rife, and transgender equality is still in its infancy.
However, today’s identity politics has taken a toxic form. The new wave of; microaggressions, thought-policing, and reliance on hyper-identification, placing people into tightly defined boxes, has become alienating. Even those who genuinely mean well are at risk of the pitch forks at a minor slip of the tongue. Opinions can be shut down, without intellectual engagement, with a swift labelling of privilege, or by packaging the questioner as a cis-White-X-or-Y. On counter-balance there are some situations where it would be more appropriate for speakers of relevant life experience take on the arguments, however that mustn’t invalidate another opinion, nor their right to express an opinion.
How does this translate to the wider populace? We must remember that it’s a political party’s responsibility to win elections, to bring around both social and economic change in our perceived positive direction. The identity politics of today is a poisoned knife to the heart of economic justice, people can become blinded by the division it creates. Having been told their opinion as a; white man, cis-gendered, middle-class, racist, xenophobic, mislabelling, is worthless creates animosity towards the wider movement the accusers are often associated with. (Note, the previous sentence applies where people are attacked for perceived, but not real, cases of racism or xenophobia, actual racism must always be challenged.)
Notice how being a ‘white man’ replaces intellectual engagement in this conversation (skip to 1:00).
Animosity generated by aggressive identity politics leads people to disregard their own economic self-interests, and vote for the empowerment of those who would make them poorer. The case for economic justice must be made clear, there are never been a greater need to rebalance society in favour of the many.
The Bloomberg billionaires index, as reported by the Guardian, tracks the World’s wealthiest individuals. The richest 500 people have increased their wealth by $1tn so far, this year, Global inequality has reached a 100-year high. The idea of people being wealthier than others is not an issue, in the society we live, those that work harder should enjoy a higher standard of living, at least that’s how the theory goes. The small text will you that 30-40% of billionaires inherited their wealth, others had a significant leg-up in life. The ‘self-made’ man is a myth at the top echelons of society, the few that do truly make it themselves are falsely held up as the posterchild to protect the landed elite.
Wealth envy is not a reason to ‘punish’ the rich, many in-between the working person and the ultra-rich are; small business owners, family businesses built up through generations, and high-valued professionals, all of whom do work incredibly hard. The real need for economic justice, and why it must feature as the central platform in left-wing politics, comes when the hoarding of wealth at the top begins to have demonstrably catastrophic effects on the rest of society.
The Economist put forward OECD data into a neat summary showing that in Britain, and other developed economies, working people are getting poorer, whilst the rich get richer. This comes at a time we’re told we’re in it together, living in austerity, to ‘fix’ the economy.
Another figure below, is one of the clearest demonstrations where today’s vast inequality has come from. Wages have disconnected from productivity, as a society we have constantly produced more (although UK productivity is stagnant right now), however with hourly compensation meagrely increasing, the rising cost of living has made working families at risk of real poverty. How many months away from being homeless are you, if you lost your job tomorrow?
To compound this problem, jobs are becoming less secure. Long gone are the days where people were guaranteed full-time hours as the norm. Zero-hours contracts are reaching the million mark, with underemployed stripping people of the ability to plan for the future, be that saving for an overpriced home, or starting a family. When the ONS informs us that house prices have increased by 259% in the last twenty years, the property ladder has become a pipedream to younger generations, who will begin their careers saddled with an excess of £50,000 in student debt. Economic inequality is now creating generations of children who will be poorer than their parents for the first time.
To truly witness the damage being caused by brazen inequality in our society, look to the young and vulnerable. Despite the UK being the 6th/7th richest nation on the planet, Unicef research shows our children are at the highest risk of going hungry, within Europe. So much of our nation’s wealth is tied up at the top that more of our children are going hungry than in; Greece, Italy & Romania, economies far smaller than our own.
Unicef figure on children under 15 living in households severely at risk of food insecurity, defined as having to skip meals and go hungry. When moderate risk is also taken into account, the UK is still near the top of the list.
Food banks handed out 41,000 food parcels in 2010, that number has risen to 1,200,000 in 2016/2017 (source). 3.8 million of us who are working age, now live in poverty in the UK, and more than half of those in poverty are in working households (source). Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010 (source). The number of children without a home has skyrocketed to 120,000 (source). What do these facts tell us about our society? We have become a grossly unequal county, where work is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty, the corporations, big business and the banks have people at their mercy.
Economic justice must come first, for many people there is no room to squabble about safe spaces and microaggressions, not when their child is at risk of going hungry. It’s time to redirect the conversation in left-leaning politics.