Mr Blair on Inequality
The Sunday Times on 7 April recalled Tony Blair’s words at the beginning of his second term: "As a nation we are wasting too much of the talents of too many of the people. Our mission … must be this: to break down the barriers that hold people back, to create real upward mobility, a society that is open and genuinely based on merit and the equal worth of all." Unfortunately, the last six words of this passage are in bleak conflict with the rest of it: the sabre-toothed meritocracy which he is shamelessly advocating ("real upward mobility… genuinely based on merit") flatly denies "the equal worth of all", sending the weak and vulnerable to the wall. The "equality of opportunity" which is here by implication sanctified as society’s guiding principle is a deeply Tory concept, unless accompanied by a firm commitment to equality of outcomes: far too revolutionary a concept, alas, for New Labour. Of course no-one, even the most Utopian, advocates total equality of wealth and income for all; but if there’s to be any justice and humanity in the way society is ordered – real respect for "the equal worth of all" – it’s essential that the state should intervene actively in the economy to minimise the gross inequalities which ‘equality of opportunity’, market forces, flexibility in the labour market, and the rest of the capitalist shibboleths automatically produce. According to the Sunday Times Rich List published on7 April, Britain’s richest person, the Duke of Westminster, is worth some £4.7 billion, while the eleven individuals who bring up the rear in 740th place boast a mere £51 million each. Envy is no doubt a deplorable emotion, but those of our fellow-citizens who have to get by on the minimum wage, and who agonise over whether to lash out on a leg of lamb for themselves and the kids once in a while, might be forgiven for wondering what justice there is when a few hundred people enjoy wealth on such an unimaginable scale while others of "equal worth" spend their lives worrying about the weekly supermarket bill. New Labour’s commitment not to raise income tax rates – much the simplest and fairest instrument available for redistributing wealth – is incomprehensible and unforgivable.