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'Black people can’t afford to be neutral about austerity'


THE LAST thing anyone expected this summer is how the Labour leadership contest has energised the public and transformed political debate.

Party membership has tripled and is now standing at more than over 610,000, and polls showing Islington left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn as the clear favourite to win.

Such was the interest in registering to take part that it crashed the Labour party website three times in the final hours before the deadline.

At a time when so many people feel turned off by Westminster politics, it is uplifting to witness such public desire to engage in political debate.
But not everyone has welcomed this upsurge.

It is claimed by many within the political establishment that a Labour party that too forcefully challenges the Conservative government’s austerity agenda will face ‘a generation in the wildernesses’ and confine its appeal only to those on the hard end of welfare cuts.

Tony Blair has gone further claiming a Corbyn victory will drive the Labour party to wreck and ruin and Labour opponent Yvette Cooper claims his economic policies are economically illiterate.

Not according to Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize-winning economist, however.

Stiglitz has supported Corbyn’s criticisms about the impact of inequality and the growing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

The situation is at its most extreme in the United States – with disastrous consequences for African-Americans, no less – but Britain is following close behind: the 100 wealthiest people in the UK now have as much money as the poorest 18 million.

The consequences of moving away from a commitment to a level playing field where everyone can get a foot on the ladder, to one which sees such measures as hindering the operations of the free market, has been to restrict social mobility.

That’s why the generation of today simply do not have the same opportunities of generations past.

Despite Britain being wealthier than ever before, today’s generation are being denied what the post-war generation took for granted: affordable housing, a decent paid secure job, free access to a university education, a fairer society for all.

By restricting social mobility black families are not only being hit hard by austerity now, we will also continue to be hit long into the future too as the life opportunities of our children are further constricted.

We have seen the consequences of this in America, where too many black families are mired in low paid jobs, or unemployed, or in the penal system, where for black communities there is often a deep despair about the future.

It is also a picture that too many black parents are familiar with here.

That’s why this debate about who leads the Labour party is not an internal matter.
It goes to the heart about whether the Labour party actually seriously challenges or makes its peace with austerity, the neoliberal orthodoxy driving it and a political establishment seen to be in thrall to it.

It’s an issue black communities, who suffer the most from the impact of austerity, cannot afford to be neutral about.

Claudia Webbe is a is a cabinet member with lead responsibility for environment and transport at Islington Council. She was a senior advisor to the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and the former director of two independent Race Equality Councils.

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