To the Milibands (and other leaders who believe they speak for the working class)- from a disillusioned ex-Labour voter...
“I recently heard David Miliband say that he, believes in a market economy, but does not want a market society. I do not think it is possible to separate them. As a citizen of this country I would like to set out to you, a person with more influence than me and potentially soon to have increased influence as leader of the Labour Party, my argument for why I think market economies are failing to achieve prosperity, equity and sustainability. I also believe that there is a sizeable and growing but unfortunately unheard proportion of both UK and global citizens who would equally now agree that markets do not work.
I fundamentally believe that the earth is not a commodity to be bought owned or sold but rather by birthright, a jointly shared resource. Market economies, which prioritise profit before life, cannot respect this belief.
There are three fundamental lies of capitalism. Firstly that continued growth in consumption is sustainable. Secondly that it enables a meritocracy and thirdly that the pursuit and generation of monetary wealth benefits all by trickling down.
For me it is clear that continued economic growth is not sustainable as it relies on continued consumption of finite resources, which are now running out.
It is also clear that capitalism can no longer be presented as the system which rewards hard work, in some respects this is the cruellest of all lies. Social mobility has decreased in this country as restraints on markets have loosened. I offer my own history as an example of how disadvantage accumulates over a life course and to show how difficult it is to escape poverty even with the luck of academic ability and hard work.
I come from a very poor family and grew up in an area of priority treatment on the west coast of Scotland during the time when Thatcher was in power and everyone I knew believed in the decency of the Labour Party. I was the first person in my large extended family to go to university in 1992. As a result of the low self-esteem that commonly accompanies poverty I became a single mother at the age of 22 although did manage to graduate. I trained in film editing following my degree. However it was clear to me that unless you had a family that could financially support you through the inevitable lean times of an early arts career it was very difficult to become established. I therefore decided to study medicine at the age of 27. Now aware of the statistics, I know it is remarkable that, as someone who grew up in a home without books and juggling being mum to a young child, I managed to graduate in the top 10% of my class. I have worked very hard but life is still difficult. Disadvantage is cumulative, poverty, low self-esteem, motherhood, student loans, no choice massive mortgage (42% of my income) mean that despite unceasing hard work I still struggle to make ends meet and I am relatively fortunate I know – how difficult it must be for others.
It is also equally clear that there has been no trickling down of wealth for the vast majority of people who continue to be denied their fair share of our joint resources and live in conditions of resource poverty. This can be seen on local, national and global scales where at each level capitalism has created islands of wealth surrounded by seas of poverty. In this country income inequality has continued to widen, under a market economy, and with that inequality in educational attainment, life expectancy and quality of life. On a global scale a tiny proportion of the people control the majority of the resources while the majority of people do not have basic human needs met or basic human rights respected. I think it is indisputably immoral that millions of children are starving and that millions of people die of preventable disease with our level of technological advance. To take the latter issue this is a direct result of pharmaceutical markets, which prioritise profit before human life.
In May 1997 I was 22 and wept with hope for a landside victory I had been scared to hope for. I thought things would be so different. I know that at times in the last 13 years the intentions were good but overall I feel very let down. I understand and sympathise with the work of Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Gordon Brown, compromising to achieve some good but the compromise has gone too far.
In a recent academic course a professor of public health stated that we are living through a “change of age” as has happened in the past due to necessity from hunter-gatherer to agrarian, from agrarian to industrial and from industrial to post-industrial. We now stand on the precipice of another monumental shift born of necessity once again. A necessity arising from population growth and ageing, peak oil and climate change. The Miliband brothers are right to say that the most important question now is what our values are because this will determine our response. I think there is much evidence that people are appalled by the injustice and inequity that market economies have wrought but also unfortunately easily manipulated by a right-wing media which sells the lie that increased consumption will give us the happiness which continues to elude us and persuades us there is an element of deserving in misfortune.
I am not interested in “next Labour” but rather ask of you the courage to accept markets have failed, vision in articulating prioritisation of people and our planet, beyond individual gain and profit and energy, resilience and determination in provoking an inclusive debate on alternative ways to share our resources and organise our global social system."