Thursday, June 08, 2006

BBC NEWS | Politics | Cameron outlines new 'equality'

Equality is not, of course, always a bad thing. It is important that everyone has equal rights in law, for example. It is right that different ethnic groups, different age groups and that men and women have equal rights. It is a good thing to promote more equal opportunities in education (e.g. by giving poor children access to scholarships and by having sensible selective education which allows the talented poor to rise). But equality is not good in itself.

Every footballer should not have an equal right to play for Liverpool FC or for England (although I would personally be quite happy for Scotland's football squad to be selected at random on the principle that every Scot should have an equal opportunity to play). It would be entirely unjust for the less-talented, less experienced and/or less hard-working members of my team at work to be paid the same as the more talented, experienced or industrious. If I had to run my business on Socialist principles, I would quit - immediately.

Mr Cameron is really pushing the boundaries in his exercise to break the traditional Tory image. I don't have a problem with that. Nor do I have a problem with him associating the party with the idea of equality. It is a fact that a free market not only (by efficient use of capital) tends to produce higher average incomes, it also tends to produce a narrower range of lifestyle disparity than a centrally-planned economy. The notional income of a Communist apparatchik may have been officially the same (ignoring the secret envelopes of cash), but his access to a whole range of privileges and luxuries ensured that he was part of a very-well served elite. That elite enjoyed power over fellow citizens (consider Beria and the "flower game") that money could never buy.

To bring it closer to home, John Prescott enjoys - as a political prize - a lifestyle his talents could never have earned him in the real world. The Prescott vision is not of greater equality, but of inequality organised upon lines that allow him to win.

I am disappointed though that Mr Cameron mentions redistributive taxation approvingly. It is right that those who earn more should pay more towards public services. It is also inevitable that social services and benefits favour the poor, so that there is an element of redistribution. But to make the act of redistribution a goal - a "good" in itself - is dangerous.

David Cameron is pleasing the press, raising his approval ratings and making Labour very nervous. He is also keeping Conservatives on the edge of their seats, as they wait to see what policies result from the broad matrix of principles he is slowly outlining.

BBC NEWS | Politics | Cameron outlines new 'equality'

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