As the late, great Frankie Howerd once said, my gast has never been so flabbered. I’m not normally able to read Owen Jones’s tweets because the Corbyn outrider has blocked me. But this tweet popped up on my timeline and I had to read it twice. Then three times. Then four. He really was suggesting state owned restaurants offering state subsidised food. We used to have these in Britain: they were called soup kitchens.
What was Jones thinking about? Not very much, as far as I can tell. And that’s always the way when the hard left think about anything at all. On the face of it, it seems harmless enough. No one in our relatively wealthy country should go hungry and we as a society should take steps to ensure no one does. This suggestion adds nothing to the debate.
The idea, one would think. is that the government would set up restaurants for poor people. It would pay chefs and waiters and poor people could come in and eat. Easy enough, but there are a few snags.
These new restaurants would have to means test customers. Perhaps the maitre d could check people as they come through the door, or even do a means test over the phone or on-line. After all, if the government was running a restaurant for poor people, someone would need to be on the door to ensure people who weren’t so poor couldn’t get in. And which nurses would be allowed to eat? Those on the top of the pay scale, which is circa £34k per annum, might just be able to afford to buy some Hovis on the way home, but perhaps not the nurse on median salary which is nearer £23k per annum. By and large, care workers earn little more than the minimum wage so they might be grateful but what if their husbands (care workers are usually women) earn a good wage? The care worker turning up at ‘Corbyn’s’, as we shall call our chain of state owned restaurants, would need to bring along her husband’s last few wage slips. We can’t have people taking advantage, can we?
Can you imagine walking along your High Street and passing Corbyn’s, looking in at the people who might as well have ‘poor’ tattooed on their foreheads? “Oh look: there’s Mrs Scoggins, who works at the local care home. I didn’t know she was that skint. Poor love.” And does Jones actually suggest the poor visit these restaurants every single night in order to get a good meal? Christ, I know enough people who are not, technically at least, poor who rarely eat out because they can’t afford to. We’re not all hipsters, you know.
Jones might have ideas to extend his scheme. Reduced bus fares, cheaper petrol, discounted sun tan lounges. The government could even produce a special loyalty card so people could prove they were poor. Or maybe actually address the problem of poverty in our society.
It is typical of the modern Labour Party to come up with half-arsed ideas like this. Labour is controlled by the hard left, yet its middle class leaders and outriders have few ideas how to bring about greater equality. State owned restaurants for the poor will no more address poverty than putting up the minimum wage to a tenner. It’s tinkering around the edges.
The equality we need will surely be founded upon the principle of the equality of opportunity and not paying everyone the same. But saying that the government will need to address the obscene disparity between the have lots and the have next to nothings. This will require a different tax regime, it will require big changes in how we look at social mobility. It will be far more complex than giving someone a subsidised meal in a state run restaurant.
This is such a stupid idea, I am surprised Jeremy Corbyn didn’t come up with it first. And I am amazed that his mentor and inspiration, Tony Benn, didn’t think of it back in the 1980s when he was doing his bit to destroy Labour as a serious alternative government. Benn was the king of simplistic ideas, the master of slogans and rhetoric. He’d be so proud.
Over a million people used food banks last year and many more millions live in real poverty. The idea that opening branches of Corbyn’s for the poorest people in the land represents a serious answer to far more complex questions shows poverty of another kind: the poverty of ideas on the far left.