The ‘Independent Group’, the seven MPs who have quit the Labour Party has posted a statement of principles on its website. (Not only do they have a website, they’ve even got a Wikipedia page; not bad for a movement that is less than one day old. ) The site opens on a positive statement of values, which they invite people to agree with. Presumably they think the principle have a general appeal and that the statement places them somewhere near the political centre. That may be true, but if so, the centre is a lot further to the right than it used to be.
Ours is a great country of which people are rightly proud, where the first duty of government must be to defend its people and do whatever it takes to safeguard Britain’s national security.
The idea that the first duty of government is defence comes straight out of the neo-conservative playbook, and it’s highly contentious. The first duty of government should be this: the welfare of the people is the highest law (or salus populi suprema est lex: when it’s in Latin, you know the sentiment has been around a long time). In the course of the last thirty years we’ve seen a proliferation of new states, and while defence matters. it comes well down the list of priorities. What people want from their governments is practical benefit, and that’s a long way from what any government in the UK has been trying to do in recent years.
A strong economy means we can invest in our public services.
This one has it the wrong way round. Investing in public services, and investing in people, is the way to have a strong economy.
The barriers of poverty, prejudice and discrimination facing individuals should be removed and advancement occur on the basis of merit, with inequalities reduced through the extension of opportunity, giving individuals the skills and means to open new doors and fulfil their ambitions.
Meritocracy and an emphasis of opportunity – the platform of the Conservative Party in the 1960s – are arguments for an unequal society. Even the United Nations has been able to sign up to something more promising than this, pledging that no-one should be left behind. Anthony Crosland, who many people think of as being on the right of the Labour Party, wrote:
“in Britain equality of opportunity and social mobility … are not enough. They need … to be combined with measures, above all in the educational field, to equalise the distribution of rewards and privileges so as to diminish the degree of class stratification, the injustice of large inequalities, and the collective discontents which come from too great a dispersion of rewards.”
Back to the Independent Group.
Individuals are capable of taking responsibility if opportunities are offered to them, everybody can and should make a contribution to society and that contribution should be recognised.
It seems that everyone should make a contribution to society. But some people can’t. Some are left out, some are shut out, some are pushed out; some will never be able to fill the gap. When people are vulnerable and disadvantaged, it’s not a good time to look for a contribution. Some of us believe that people should be protected. Some of us even think that people might have rights.
I share many of the Independent Group’s concerns about the direction that the Labour Party has taken. The direction they propose instead is not, however, the direction I’d want to take.