The party’s vision of the future involves punishing the haves for the sake of the have-nots, says Simon Heffer
The Prime Minister must, we assume, have reached that stage in fatherhood when one of his sons protests: “It’s not fair!” As any parent knows, there is only one rational answer to such a complaint; and there is no point in storing up trouble for the future by not coming straight out with it: “Life isn’t fair.”
It isn’t. We all know it. Whatever we think should be our just deserts, there will always be someone who gets them instead. So how can Mr Brown possibly justify the fatuous, meaningless, drivelling, recycled garbage of a slogan – “A future fair for all” – on which he has decided his party will fight the election? He knows, unless his delusion reaches heights most of us cannot imagine, that nothing can be fair: and even if that were not the case, he must know that fairness could never be enforced by a government. For him or any of his henchpersons to suggest otherwise is an enormous lie.
This is not a comment on government’s – any government’s – incapacity to do anything except cause trouble, incompetence and further unfairness on top of that generous helping already ordained by time and chance. It is because the concept of fairness, as this appalling administration and its socialist doctrine interpret it, is not about ensuring that each person gets what he or she deserves. It is about each person getting what the government thinks he or she deserves. This inevitably means redistribution of resources: or, where redistribution is not feasible, the reduction of privilege among those who have earned it to a level common with those who have earned none at all.
There is a contrast, too, inherent in this ludicrous slogan, which is the implication that other parties can only offer a future unfair to all. We should be revolted by the arrogance of this assumption, were it not for the fact that we have already discounted as charlatans those who have professed it. It is only because of our familiarity with the downright dishonesty of Labour that we are not more upset. We are inured to it. We couldn’t care less.
It is a safe bet that the narrowing of the Conservative Party’s lead in the polls – down to 6 or 7 per cent now, and the cages starting to rattle at Central Office – has nothing to do with this alleged work of literary genius. No slogan will win an election. Indeed, it is hard to believe that this one would persuade anyone who is not educationally subnormal to switch his vote to Labour. That such sophisticated minds as Lord Mandelson’s and Mr Brown’s should imagine anything else is incredible. In designing and agreeing to it they have just gone through the motions; they have done the little expected of them; they know that in an age of such profound disillusion with politicians and politics as this, all that is required to gain advantage is to exceed their opponents in the arts of vilification.
The so-called bullying furore has been an object lesson in this. By yesterday Labour had managed, with some success, to depict the villains of the piece as being the Conservative Party and the anti-bullying helpline that was supposedly contacted about fear and loathing in 10 Downing Street. Lord Mandelson, who continues never to let a fact stand in the way of mendacity, had suggested that the Conservative Party had orchestrated the smearing of Mr Brown by putting the unfortunate Mrs Pratt, the helpline’s founder, in touch with the media. In fact, as the BBC has publicly testified, Mrs Pratt put herself in touch with them long before the Tory party woke up to it, literally late in the day last Sunday. Ah, if only the Tories’ media operation were as slick, suave and on-the-ball as Lord Mandelson would have us believe.
But let us go back to that slogan, and its watchword: fairness. It is a word that radiates cynicism. It imputes the lowest of motives to its target audience: which is that they will want to be governed not by a party that gives them a fair crack of the whip, but by one that gives them a fairer crack than they truly deserve. They will get this fairer crack at the expense of others who, in a mirror-image of their own experience, must make do with less, often much less, than they deserve. What is fair about that?
It is also a high-risk word for an incumbent party to use, especially one that has been in office for 13 years. If it had the power to enforce fairness (which, as we have already established, it hasn’t) then one might have thought there would be little cause still to be promising its advent after 13 years. Yet if the public, after Labour has minced the economy and the future economic prospects of this country, won’t show itself as being prepared to inflict a greater punishment on Labour than the party’s mere six- or seven-point deficit in the polls suggests, what harm can an admission of a failure to enforce fairness – so far – do?
For all its meaninglessness, or, if you prefer, its anodyne quality, fairness is a word that brings with it real danger. It is what Lenin, Mao and Pol Pot sought to impose. It is what Orwell satirised, in the most deadly fashion – as we might now put it, all voters are equal, but some are more equal than others. It was what Ayn Rand, in her anti-collectivist novel Atlas Shrugged, attacked under the name of the Fair Share Law: the means by which those who could not, or would not, succeed by their own efforts wanted the state to allow them, by force, to live off the efforts of others. As such, fairness undermines the capitalism
whose success we need not only if we are to see our economy revive, but if we are to raise the revenues that will pay for the things that politicians promise us, or offer to bribe us with: the NHS, schools, winter heating allowances and so on.
I heard a Labour politician saying before Christmas, in relation to Miss Harman’s mad Equality Bill, that fairness had to be taken to new levels. There had to be “work” done on those families in which children do not have parents committed to their welfare and educational progress, who ensure homework is done and even supplement it with the odd book or mind-improving outing. What alarmed me was this: that the idea seemed to be not that all children should have such parents, with greater access to books and to trips to stately homes, museums or zoos, but that those children who had an unfair advantage in this way should in some way be penalised for it – perhaps by not getting into the best local school at 11, or by being pushed down the queue for university entrance at 18.
We are not all equal. We cannot be made equal. All that is “fair” is that we all have an opportunity to excel, and to go as far as our talents will carry us. That is not what Labour means by fairness: what it means is taking away from the haves and giving to the have-nots, and seeking political approval for doing so. Some of us remember how life was behind the Iron Curtain. It is not a model, however fatuously, that a government should seek to promote as a reason for it to be re-elected.
Published in the Telegraph: