In the run-up to any war, there’s usually a rhetorical battle, a froth of words designed to bring the masses to a politically desirable point of inertia.

The next war between the Conservatives and Labour has already begun, with both sides trading insults over what is set to become a hot political plaything: inequality.

In recent weeks the Conservatives have disinterred oft-quoted figures to show that the current administration has presided over widening inequalities, saying nothing of the fact that inequalities also widened under the previous Conservative regime.

According to an Institute for Fiscal Studies report earlier this year the growth of incomes at the very top of the pack outstripped those at the bottom under Labour, and under the preceding Conservative government.

‘However, income growth as a whole has been more equal under Labour than under the Conservatives.’ Still, the important thing is to do what’s right politically – find plenty of ammunition to keep the salvos going and remember to say, ‘No, I never’ each time your opponent says, ‘Yes, you did.’

With inequality remaining impervious to the government’s spending spree and trade unions warning that it ruins as many lives as poverty, the issue is currently making headlines.

What I’m not sure about is whether Joe Average gives a damn – or whether this political hot potato will ever provide food for those working to promote equality locally.

During the last election I recall the Tories holding a televised debate that basically argued equality was bad if it meant taking from the white British and giving to the non-white British and other ‘foreigners’.

And didn’t Labour back away from equality when the allocation of regeneration funding was blamed for unrest in the north of England, and support the idea that single group funding was a threat to cohesion?

It seems tackling inequality isn’t the same, politically, as promoting greater equality.

Under the former it’s possible to talk about uncontentious issues such as health, housing and the life chances of children and older people. Under the latter things can get messy. Besides, equality is all so 70s, so old Labour.

The political fashion now centres on an idea of equality as ‘fairness’, which has pushed a more redistributive definition of equality onto the sidelines, offering jam-for-all in line with middle ground political sensibilities.

What I’m not sure of is whether it will make our neighbourhoods better places to live in, under any government.

Susan Downer, assistant editor, New Start Online magazine

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