The Treasury minister with a soft spot for Lenin

Among the ministers at today’s Fabian Society new year conference – Peter Mandelson, Ed Miliband, James Purnell – was Angela Eagle, exchequer secretary to the Treasury.  Last year Ms Eagle made herself rather unpopular in front of a BBC audience when she defended Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate by insisting that the Budget had to be fair to everyone, and not just a few (million) low earners.

Well, tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis*. Today, the minister spoke at a fringe meeting on “unjust rewards” (coincidentally the title of a book by Polly Toynbee, who coincidentally was speaking at the same meeting, and coincidentally on sale at the bookshop downstairs). The subject was what to do about the rich, in the context of making Britain fairer for everybody.

Nobody can have been surprised when Toynbee called for crowds of people banging pots and pans to demonstrate against inflated bonuses and multi-million pound pay packets for the richest**. But then Angela Eagle said this:

“After decades out of power, perhaps New Labour was trying to accommodate to the consensus that was forged by our failure”. [i.e. in 1979 and thereafter]We’re now in a third era since the Second World War to make structures that are far more progressive.”

“The collapse of Soviet communism and the Berlin Wall in 1989 left no example of something different [to the capitalist model]”.

And then, when Eagle rejected the idea that markets could just be abolished:

“Even Lenin realised it wasn’t working before his untimely demise.”

So there we have it. George Galloway isn’t the only MP to look back wistfully on the collapse of the Soviet Union. I wonder if the Treasury subscribes to the Morning Star?

On a more serious point. These comments, coming from a minister who is more determinedly on-message than some, seem to show that the sands really have shifted in the Brown government in the past three months. Rewind to last November, when Harriet Harman at another public meeting appeared to shrug off the mantle of New Labour slightly, but little more than that. Some people at that meeting (not Labour MPs) said that the Government needed to change the political atmosphere, so that the public would reject the free-market consensus created by Thatcher and welcome more left-wing policies. Harman walked away from that meeting telling people how she would think hard about what had been said.

Now we have Angela Eagle actually criticising New Labour itself for accepting that consensus, and firmly depositing it in the dustbin of politics.

Nobody should get too carried away by that, of course: Eagle did not join in calls later that day for a maximum wage law, and don’t expect them to stop building PFI hospitals either. But when you take such comments alongside the Government’s social mobility white paper, it’s hard to argue that they’re not trying to change the terms of the political debate and confront the danger of being perceived as ‘loony left’.

The message  – or the spin, if you prefer – from ministers today was clear: We are into social engineering, and we’re proud of it.

*”Times change and we change in them”. Sorry, I did Classics and it sort of sticks.

** Apparently to be in the richest 0.5% of the UK population, you need to earn £500,000 or more. A lot of people overestimate the threshold. To be in the richest 10%, you need only earn £40,000 or more.

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One Response to “The Treasury minister with a soft spot for Lenin”

  1. Enoch Was Right Says:

    Typical of this socialist government and its l;efty ministers.

    I’d happily vote them out but “Dave” is so far to the left that you can barely see his feet coming out of Stalin’s arse.

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