Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

A chance for the coalition to show they understand fairness

Posted on 9 September 2011 | 7:09am

Earlier last month I recollected New Labour’s driving principle of ‘power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few’ and questioned the lack of an equivalent  from the current government.

One or two of you pointed out that it was worth looking on the front inside cover of the coalition’s programme for government, which I did and where I found the word ‘fairness’.

Yet if you cast your eye across the panoply of government policy, it is hard to see that this is what driving them forward every morning as they arrive at work.

The Lib Dems would like to think fairness is in their DNA, yet they are the ones who copped most of the political fallout for the unfair and non-mandated shift on tuition fees. And as Sarah Hayward pointed out here yesterday, the cuts are falling disproportionately on poorer areas which may remind us of Tory DNA, but doesn’t make us think of fairness.

The point of a driving message is to ensure ministers and the public understand the overall direction and purpose of government. Cutting the deficit – tick. Big Society – well tick in so far as people know it is the PM’s driving message, but untick as to what it means and how it translates to policy. But fairness? I don’t think so.

This is why cynicism surrounds the timescale for banking reform and uncertainty exists as to whether George Osborne will scrap the 50p top rate of income tax later this autumn. People are unsure of the government’s instincts because they have failed to instil a philosophy of fairness balanced across society, the reason for which I believe to be relatively straight-forward: without constant explanataion and clear relation to policy it cannot exist.

This can apply in any area of policy. Take transport. One person’s fairness may be affordable train travel; another person’s fairness may simply be having the option to travel by train; and I am now approaching a personal vested interest, not financial, but an interest in a place close to my heart.

I was challenged this week to see if I could travel by train 20 miles from the growth economy of Manchester to Burnley in under 90 minutes so as then to watch a further 90 minutes of football at Turf Moor. I quickly worked out that I would be unlikely to make kick off as there is no direct rail line between the two, therefore no economic inter-dependence, therefore no sense of ‘fairness’ as all other equivalent towns in the country have such a connection.

Just under £9 million Regional Growth Fund will address this and would subsequently generate around £1 billion for the local economy over the next 30 years. This sounds fair to me, it sounds fair to businesses in Burnley and Manchester too who will create almost 1000 jobs, and yet, all are on tenterhooks; all are hoping their definition of fairness matches that of Nick Clegg, Lord Heseltine, Philip Hammond and others; and all are hoping that at least in one part of the country, the government will seek to embed their underlying philosophy of fairness … by making the right decision.

  • Ehtch

    Coalition aside, since and since the Rugger World Cup is kicking off, Hayley Westenra doing native, some could say….

    Good luck to NZ for an excellent tournament, which it will be no doubt.

  • Sandra_ayres

    Well Alistair – I am bitterly disappointed at the events of this week. It’s a strange time to be undertaking an analysis of ‘fairness’. When have the Tories ever been interested in fairness? Not in my lifetime. You quote: ‘ New Labour’s driving principle of ‘power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few’ . It didn’t happen, though, did it? What a wasted opportunity. 

    A better topic for the week may have been the disastrous NHS reforms or the glaring democratic deficit that is undermining the people of this country. Or an investigation into where the current Labour Party stands on fairness. 

    I am very angry and very frustrated (but don’t compare me to the Dorries witch – please.)

  • Olli Issakainen

    We need a new economic model based on moral economy with emphasis on fairness.
    Capitalists, socialists, liberals and conservatives have shared a common belief: linear progress of human civilisation.
    It is true that science and technology have produced material wealth, but we are now heading for decline.
    Governments can no longer protect their citizens. Markets can be cruel and irresponsible.
    But democracy depends on there being competing sets of positive possibilities.
    Higher taxes and lower spending will impoverish people conditioned to believe in progress.
    Keynesian economist Hyman Minsky wrote in 1974 that deregulated financial market has an in-built tendency to produce wild boom-bust cycles.
    We are now facing a crisis of conservative ideology.
    Real wages are decreasing, and inequality has increased.
    Yet politicians, bankers and business leaders want more of same.
    1986 big bang deregulation of stock market started the dominance of financial capital.
    But capitalism needs settlement with wider population.
    The postwar Keynesian settlement depended on rising real wages. Neoliberalism contained deal based on access to cheap credit.
    But neoliberalism is not democratic! Politics has been reduced to technocratic role.
    Individuals have believed that hard work, education plus life choices would enable them to reap the benefits of economic growth. But people have been cheated – globalisation has only served the interests of super-rich.
    Capitalism can destroy itself by shifting income and wealth from labour to capital.
    Monetarism has ran out of tools in the current crisis.
    Keynesians see the solution as more quantitative easing, less fiscal austerity and public infrastructure projects to kickstart demand.
    Britain´s output is 4% below the level before the financial crisis.
    Not so secret plan of the Tory-led government and the BoE is to let inflation loose to wipe out debts.
    On 15 August 1971 Richard Nixon cut the link between the US dollar and gold. We are now paying price for abandoning the gold standard.
    Our current system stands on sand.
    Capitalism – free exchange of goods, skills, services and ideas – is also a moral enterprise. But it has ignored the virtue of self-discipline and degenerated into self-interest.
    Once again people are losing their trust in economic system that serves only the elite. Once again people have started to have doubts about democracy.
    History tells us that if capitalism fails, then it allows extremism to thrive.

  • Danielmkelly1

    What ever way you cut it the Tories have delivered their policies to their electorate….the top twenty per cent will be considerably better off and will continue to fund this super class protectionism where vested interest consumes the common good. 

  • For me fairness is about having my reasonable and intelligent concerns heard and considered as policy is created or at least there being democratic representative routes by which they could be heard if I could persuade those who represent me of their validity.

    Governments need disciplined systems of consultation.  We do not MPs who turn up at consultations to talk rather than to listen and think that is appropriate behaviour.  They need to learn to put in the effort which is require to understand those who understand the systems they are creating policy for.

  • MicheleB

    Whether we like it or not there are different ‘takes’ on fairness.

    Most people equate it simply to being a human with entitlements to education, quality of life and health/care and to hold one’s own opinions with no need to acquiesce to others’.

    Others have had more material conditioning.  There are different takes on ‘earned’; I don’t believe that some salaries or incomes should be described as ‘earnings’, ‘made’ is very different to ‘earned’.  Earnings are related to effort and profits made on the stock market or as a result of hype/publicity/mania/panic are not earned, they’re luck.

    Osbo’s shockingly crude attempt at ‘reaching’ the audience with his vulgar joke at a presentation ceremony this week shows how out of touch he and his ilk are with (ha ha) THE common people.


    Yep R, I DO know Mandy was on the same yacht.  OK?  No need to waste a couple of posts titting4tatting.

  • MicheleB

    Grrrr am having that logging in glitch again and one of the text boxes I just had to copy was itself a little lewd in its Oirishness 🙂

    Anyway, unable to re-find the report about Osbo’s ‘joke’ I did find this which I’d not read before.
    How sickening.

  • Richard

    The removal of the £0.50p tax rate in this parliament will not happen, would be the end of coalition, and it’s discussion is a smokescreen to turn attention away from NHS reform. Non mandated Dogma versus weak, discredited opposition is a recipe for disaster. That is what we are faced with.

  • PeterC

    Thank you for the link Ehtch. Great video. Suggest you view/record  ITV Sunday morning 4am  the Os v Italy game. My two grand-daughters will be singing both anthems in the choir which usually stands just behind the two teams. ( English girls fluent in Maori, Italian and Os) They will be heard but unfortunately not seen in close up as the cameras only seem to focus on the players. But worth listening to and the game might be worth watching.

  • Janete

    ‘power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few’

    This for me has always separated the political left from the right in Britain. It’s not that Tories don’t understand this concept of fairness, they just don’t want it. If power, wealth and opportunity is spread across all the population, less can be retained by the traditional ruling classes or their modern equivalent.

    For the capitalist elite to maximise their profits, a large pool of cheap labour, foolish consumers and uninformed electors need to exist. Tory policies invariably seek to retain this bank of, in one way or another, impoverished people.

    I’m not a Marxist but his analysis of capitalism is essential to understanding the mindset of the Tory party. They haven’t changed at all, they are just trying harder to pretend to have concern for the common man. The only thing we have learned since the coalition came to office is that the Liberal Democrats are pretty much the same.    

  • Richard

    Until you drew attention to it, I did not know Ed Balls had a stammer.

  • Richard

    Same words different cast. (“Labour” sub for “Tory”)

    Blair, Mandy, Two Jags and Brown had nothing to do with and no knowledge of “The Common People” either. How we laughed! 

  • MicheleB

    I ‘drew attention’ to Ed Balls having a stammer?

    Because how, why? 

    Do entertain me with another of your ‘Wah wah wah I want me Mam’ interludes along the lines of who said what first.

    I rather think that what I actually drew attention to was Osbo’s mockery of him for it.

  • MicheleB

    OK yaaahhhh, whatever you say Rich.

    You give off the whiff of one of those people that think voting Tory is a status symbol, rather like the redneck Americans that vote Republican in the mistaken ‘concept’ that to believe in equality one must surely be  presently below it……LOL.

  • MicheleB

    You just don’t get the nuance between rightful ownership via having  EARNED and the other type via MADE (or even born to) do you Richard?

  • Dave Simons

    ‘The Conservative Party exists to conserve; it is the party of the status quo. Unfortunately for it and its adherents all things change – the flower withereth and the grass fadeth. In another world perhaps these things are restored and made new, but in this world the process of change poses a fundamental challenge to Conservatism as a political force. Many of those who vote Conservative do so because of an instinctive distaste for the consequences of change, but for a Conservative Party some accomodation with this process is inevitable – if only to ensure political survival. There is, then, a tension between instinctive Conservatism and expediency.’ ( John Charmley – ‘A History of Conservative Politics since 1830’  – chapter 1, page 1 – Palgrave MacMillan – 1996).
    I quote this to illustrate the tension within what is often called the ‘Modern  Conservative Party’ between the Viscerals and the Pragmatists. Ian Duncan-Smith is a good example of the latter, but the Viscerals are currently getting very restless, and they’re fed up with the LibDem alliance. The Viscerals want the ‘good old days’ back, but the Pragmatists realise that you have to accept and accomodate ‘the long march of Everyman and Everywoman’, 1832 to 1928 and beyond. Cameron is of course very much on the side of the Pragmatists. I remember Jimmy Reid once referring to the Tories when Ted Heath was Prime Minister as ‘political cavemen’. Today’s political cavemen want to look trendy with their blond hair, glamorous wives and TV charisma, but they remain, at heart, political cavemen. Read any of Boris Johnson’s books and you’ll see what I mean.

  • Janete

    Many people have rightly likened Cameron to Flashman but Osborne seems to have escaped the same sort of criticism.

    I don’t know the novel well enough, but did Flashman have a sidekick? Someone who is so desperate to ingratiate himself to the unpleasant bully, he is prepared to do Flashman’s bidding no matter who gets hurt. Someone who has himself been bullied and is eager to turn the fire elsewhere. If so, this sums up Osborne.

    At PMQs he hangs on Dave’s every word, he wants to be seen laughing at every joke and put down. When speaking himself at the despatch box, he never misses an opportunity to insert a personal jibe at opponents,  focusing on their weakness and attempting to humiliate where possible.

    I heard him ridicule David Miliband in the house a few weeks ago, for failing to win the Labour leadership. This in the middle of an economics debate. It showed what an odious little man he is.  

    Good comments about the pair of them at:

  • Dave Simons

    The joke’s on you. Are you seriously suggesting that ex-seaman, John Prescott, had nothing to do with and no knowledge of ‘The Common People’? I’d recommend you arrange to meet him and have a chat. I’m pretty sure he’d agree that ‘The Common People’ are generally uncommon and quite distinctive, more so usually than your Princess This-and-That and Sir What’s-His-Name’. What utter rubbish you come out with!. I agree though that Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, possibly Gordon Brown,  would have benefited from more contact with what you call the common people. But I’d apply that to most people of middle class extraction.

  • Ehtch

    Will do. Good luck to them – tell them to sing their hearts out.

    Been watching a couple of games already this morning – brilliant entertainment. Scotland had a bit of a scare for a while with Romania, and the the Fiji-Namibia game was top drawer, almost a point a minute.

  • Ehtch

    Excellent vid post MicheleB. He did the sell, got in by the skin of his teeth, but has to lick Clegg’s boots and hopes he keeps his corner of the deal under control. It bemuses me, the Lib Dems since May last year. Quite baffled at them in fact. But with May last year, who bought it for this present situation in UK politics anyway, you could say?

  • MicheleB

    I daresay there’s a different reason why the 50p tax rate won’t be ended by this Govt.

    It will give its payers an immediate pay rise as their employers would have made allowance for deductions when deciding gross pay rates. 

    Had the 50p rate not existed, those pay levels might have been lower and I’m sure it stacks all the way back through companies’ accounts.

  • MicheleB

    Yep Janete, Flashman had a sidekick 🙂

    Took a look at the Toxicgraph link and it’s an interesting OP.

    Don’t think I’ll be looking further there though, I used to post among it and see the gangbanging is still occurring on ID fabiansolutions from snide types. 
    I can never understand why observers of a scrap are incapable of leaving arguments as 1:1 and need to pile in with their cowardly penn’orths.

  • Ehtch

    This World Cup rugby will be a classic, though, I am afraid to predict, NZ will fall flat on their faces in the knock out rounds. Sorry to be the grim reaper, kiwis, but on the world stage, you are just simple creatures, no matter how well you beat La France tod



  • Ehtch

    Gutted for Scotland this morning – they played the better. Wayne Barnes, the english ref(!), is taking a slaughtering on rugby forums since, missing the blatent offside on Dan Park’s last drop goal missed attempt. Ah well, there goes Mr Barnes chances of getting the final, that is if England get there, but as a welshman I have to say, I do not think so somehow. Oz v. Wales in the final, he says……

  • Ehtch

    Gutted for Scotland this morning – they played the better. Wayne Barnes, the english ref(!), is taking a slaughtering on rugby forums since, missing the blatent offside on Dan Park’s last drop goal missed attempt. Ah well, there goes Mr Barnes chances of getting the final, that is if England get there, but as a welshman I have to say, I do not think so somehow. Oz v. Wales in the final, he says……