“Go easy on equality”

The UK’s Communities Minister has said that equality isn’t necessarily the best goal. OK, I’m thinking, maybe he’s going to discuss the Difference Principle (Rawls’ principle dictating that inequalities are allowable only if they’re to the benefit of the least well off)- that would be an interesting thing for a political to do! But no…

Basing fairness purely on “society’s response to those in greatest need” risked being unpopular, he said.

Hmm, that actually sounds pretty close to the Difference Principle so that’s definitely not what he’s going for. What, then, is this Labour politician arguing?

He told the Fabian Society: “We must confront the difficult truth: that this form of egalitarianism, the one that defines fairness solely in terms of society’s response to those in greatest need, is badly out of step with popular sentiment.
“A rejection of inequality – both absolute, relative and of opportunity – is absolutely core to who we are. But we will be more successful – not just electorally but in challenging unacceptable inequality – if we adopt and own a different, more nuanced view of fairness and equality.”
Mr Denham said Labour had to relate to the aspirations of people on middle incomes, adding that this group felt excluded by policies and language aimed at ‘the poor’.
He said this group were in fact more concerned about those in higher social classes.

Rejecting inequality is core to who we are, but we need to adopt a *different* view of equality. One not so concerned with, well, equality. What should it do instead? It’s very unclear– but looks like the idea is to focus on the aspirational middle class. So there you go. (Thanks, Mr Jender!)

9 thoughts on ““Go easy on equality”

  1. A genuine question: Do “those in greatest need” include a lot of immigrants of color?

    I took a quick look at Obama’s March 08 speech on racism; it seems a good thing to stress including others within the gov’t’s concern rather than casting it in terms of lessing the concern for some. I wonder why he didn’t do that.

  2. Probably, now that you mention it. So this may be trying to placate (some of) those who voted BNP. Gack.

  3. Not convinced – think they’re trying to claw back some of the middle-class vote that is swinging to Tory.

  4. Actually, Monkey, that seems right. One thing I found surprising was the explicit invocation of the middle class- totally ubiquitous in the US, much less so here. That only makes sense on your hypothesis.

  5. I don’t think it’s to do with race or the BNP. The BNP vote was pissed off working class people whose trades have been disrupted by the influx of cheap Eastern European labour, or who are out of work and have been led to believe it’s because there are too many immigrants in this country. But the middle class vote swung towards Tory in the last elections. Jender is right – ‘middle class’ doesn’t mean the same in the UK as it does in the US. Some sectors of the middle class see Labour as focusing on the poor at their expense. Some of the complaints aren’t *entirely* unreasonable either. Middle-class families can sometimes be too rich to be eligible for benefits of various sorts, but not rich enough to be able to afford things comfortably. I used to work, e.g., on the reception in a law firm. Middle class people weren’t entitled to legal aid (not poor enough). But depending on their income and the length of the case, some really struggled to pay the lawyers’ fees.

  6. Of course, it might end up being indirectly about race depending on the racial composition of the classes. But going on the views reported in the news and so on, I don’t think – as a generalisation – that the disgruntled middle-classes are much bothered whether the poor they see as being helped at their expense are white or otherwise.

  7. Of course, none of this would be a worry if every job was valued in the same way. But I won’t get into that now.

Comments are closed.