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Anyone hearing business and enterprise minister John Hutton this week might be forgiven for thinking they’d been transported back to the 1980s.

All you’d need to complete the picture is Kylie Minogue’s dulcet tones on the radio and Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney sketch on telly every week.

Mr Hutton, in case you’re wondering which millennium we’re in, has been waxing lyrical about ambition.

Greed is good, he almost said. What he did say was that there’s no conflict between aspiring to the lifestyle of the super-rich and tackling child poverty: ‘Our overarching goal that no one should get left behind must not become translated into a stultifying sense that no one should be allowed to get ahead.’

Having just seen my team of super-rich so-called footballers thumped 4-0 three times in succession, I’m not so sure about the value of celebrating huge salaries.

A few months on jobseekers’ allowance would do them the world of good.

More to the point, there’s simply no evidence that the poor are held back because the rich can’t fulfil their ambitions.

That’s classic trickle-down economics: if you have more money than you know what to do with, it creates jobs for butlers and valets.

People thought the slave trade was justified because it created jobs, too.

Mr Hutton declared this week that ‘any progressive party worth its name must enthusiastically advocate empowering people to climb without limits.’ So we should stop bashing the rich.

But ‘bash the rich’ is a slogan I haven’t heard since the poll tax protests. And as Tony Blair has demonstrated since resigning as prime minister, the Labour Party can be as good a road to riches as any.

Yet policy after policy leaves the poor in poverty. And an important paper from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation this week showed how far we need to go to solve that conundrum.

The paper investigated whether people-based or place-based policies were most successful. Its conclusion was that we really don’t know.

Some programmes aimed at the poorest, such as Sure Start, appear to have been hijacked by the ‘less disadvantaged’, it reports (there’s ambition for you).

Others have made a difference, but how much is impossible to tell because there hasn’t been any rigorous assessment of what would have happened otherwise.

Anyone who walks the streets of our poorest areas will know that it isn’t the tax burden on the richest that holds back progress.

It’s the scarcity of support for the frontline services and community organisations that help to generate ambition and aspiration where there is none.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine


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