The politics of fairness

Labour have understandably decided to make “fairness” the test of government policy. The Coalition government has decided to dance to this tune. Everything that is done has to be fair – fair between different groups in society, fair as judged by a general goal of greater equality, even fair between Lib Dems and Conservatives. If we are to live through austerity, the politicians argue, we must show that policy is fair. Those with the broadest shoulders should take the heaviest load.

Let me disappoint some of you. I do not think a government should set out to make unfairness part of its policy. Far from it. I do however have two worries about this test or doctrine. The first is, there is no consensual or agreed view of fairness. The second is, the government should not do things in the name of fairness that might delay the recovery, stand in the way of sorting out the mess, or deny the reality that the state has run out of money. To do any of these will add to unfairness and unhappiness in the longer run, not reduce it.

Fairness is to some extent in the eyes of the beholder. Labour and the government argues that it would be unfair to increase benefits for the unemployed by less than price inflation. After all those benefit levels do not permit lots of luxuries. Many people going out to work for low incomes ask is it fair that out of work benefits go up by 5.2% when their wages may be frozen, or rising just 1-2%? Politicians tend to say that it would not be fair to impose strict conditions on receiving benefit concerning how strenuously people should be looking for work, and on what type of jobs they should be prepared to take. Others in society think there should be stiffer requirements, as they have to go to work and do not feel they have the option to stay at home.

Politicians think bankers are paid too much. They argue it is not fair that bankers get such large basic salaries and often large bonuses on top, simply for doing their job. Yet Labour wrote contracts for the top people at RBS which were generous by normal standards, and the Coalition accepted it needed to honour these commitments. This action resulted in the bonus row this year for the CEO of what remains a loss making bank, dependent on txpayer support. They do not seem to take the view that footballers are paid too much, even though some football Clubs end up bankrupt thanks in part to the very high salary bill.

The danger of fairness policies is they can end up requiring yet more tax revenue to pay more out in benefits and subsidies to those people and policies which the fairness judges think are worthy of such help. We have talked many times on this site about some of those decisions that get in the way of economic recovery or industrial revival. Whilst I agree fairness is important, in current circumstances I think successful recovery is even more so as it can deliver the jobs that fairness and solvency require. The best way to narrow income differentials is to raise the levels at the bottom, and that requires more to go to work.

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  1. Steve Cox
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    When I was working in the UK as a contractor through my own one-man limited liability company, we were attacked by Gordon Brown and his foolish IR35 proposal. In the best spirit of our democracy, the Revenue and Treasury refused to listen to objections from individuals, but would only accept advances from representative bodies. Well, of course, as independent one-man entities we had no representative body until a gent named Andy White set up the Professional Contractors Group (PCG) and did a splendid, if ultimately unsuccessful, job of taking on Brown’s mob over IR35. We were granted a Judicial Review and I well remember the first day at the High Court. The presiding judge (I am not sure but I think his name was Burton?) seemed quite sympathetic, but his opening statement went along the lines of: yes, I have read the implications of IR35 on your members and I agree that the proposal seems rather unfair to them compared with individuals working as sole traders or directors of large companies. Unfortunately, fairness is not a principle that is enshrined in English law, and it is therefore not possible for you to argue against IR35 on that basis or for me to make a judgement based on its fairness.

    • a-tracy
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      All individuals should be taxed in the same way because we have several different systems this will lead inevitably to “unfairness” in someone’s eyes depending which scheme they pay though.

      For example, I would argue why do employers have to contribute 13.8% over the lel if this is not for a the employee’s pension, unemployment benefit cover, sick pay, and healthcare contribution. It is simply a tax so why should employers pay it but not the self-employed? Why different levels of stamp? Someone earning £20,000 pa is actually costing their employer £21,728.

  2. ian wragg
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Fairness as defined by the government is appropriate to everyone except the silent majority.
    Foreigners, welfare cheats, gays, single teenage parents all must be treated fair.
    I don’t think it’s fair that at 67 years I am up and at work at 6am because the government thought it fair to destroy my investments savings and pensions.
    I don’t think it fair that the government borrows money in my name, then taxes me to repay it and uses the money to improve Turkeys sewers.
    Many things this socialist coalition is doing are unfdare and alas rthe reason why you
    will not be elected next time.
    I believe the days of the ruling duo are numbered and smaller parties or a truly national party will emerge and cast you out at long last.
    The betrayal of Britain has to and will stop in the not too distant future because in this age of instant communication your weaknesses are all too obvious.

    • A Different Simon
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Take a look online at the NOTA party which is planning on contesting the 2015 General Election .

      NOTA = None Of The Above

      You are right . Soon someone or some party will come from somewhere and the UK populace will register their disgust .

      My instinct tells me that it could take another inneffictive Government to follow this one before the British People realise that they really are in the last chance saloon .

      So expect people to actually do something about it in 2020 – if we haven’t been absorbed into a country called Europe or are under Martial Law by then .

    • fedz
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      ….and in addition the dishonesty and unfairness in denying the electorate the promised and subsequently reneged upon EU referendum.

      • A Different Simon
        Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

        …. what irks me is when Cameron rubs it in by telling us that Falkland Islander’s have the right to self determination but British Citizens do not .

        Someone should show him up over that .

  3. Cliff Buckley
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    The fairness argument is one that Mr Osborne, Mr Cameron and Mr Maude have consistently used to justify public sector pension reform. In the current debate around child benefit both the proponents and detractors of government policy are deploying fairness to make their case. I tend to agree that government policy should be judged in the round by the electorate and not picked over policy for signs that one group may benefit more than another however no front bench politician can help themself from appealing to this on the face of it laudable aim.

    • a-tracy
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      The fairness argument isn’t the correct argument to make they should use the facts:

      It takes a £250,000 pension savings pot to give an annual income at 65 of £10,000 per annum at current rates of annuity (that is assuming that they do not take their 25% tax free lump sum). The same pension potential should be available to all workers pertaining to what they and their employers contribute full stop.

      If the government of the day had to ring fence the supposed contributions made by them on behalf of public sector workers I think they would think twice before continuing the current levels of support – so why should this be kicked into the long grass for our children to sort out and honour. This is not about fairness, this is about economics.

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        Indeed there is a huge unfairness in the pension system between the state sector and the private sector. It is suggested it might well get even worse in the budget. It is also set against the self employed, who may not be able to contribute in some lean years, and they are often limited in good years.

        • Cliff buckley
          Posted March 10, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

          So you believe that fairness should drive policy?

          • lifelogic
            Posted March 10, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

            I would like a level playing field not enforced equality of outcome.

  4. norman
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    You’re right, it’s so difficult to decide what is fair, a little like trying to decide whether or not the country is happy – trying to measure either of which would be a fatuous exercise.

    In the spirit of the times maybe the government should set up a fairness commission / quango to help decide on these things, including national surveys / referenda.

    After all, is it fair that politicians get to decide what is fair? Surely relying on their judgement is unfair on the rest of us who have no input in the matter.

    Or we could be governed competently. Nah, just joking, smoke and mirrors is the way to go.

  5. Mick Anderson
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Fairness is subjective. The average person only considers that something is fair if they have come out ahead, because they have won an edge that is unfair.

    The best form of fairness would be if Government learnt to leave everybody alone. It’s entirely fair, because it treats all equally.

    Those who see their freebies being taken away will squeal, though. They will never understand that they didn’t deserve them in the first place.

    • waramess
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Surely “fair” would mean that those in work should be able to live a more comfortable life than those who rely on state benefits. Those who perform a work function that many others can do should be paid less than those who perform a work function that few can do…… and so on.

      It is when the concept of fairness becomes distorted by socialist thinking that it becomes an unreasonable concept and actually rewards people unfairly in the name of fairness.

      I think this is your point but I suspect Camerons view is more than slightly towards that of the socialist’s

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        I suspect Cameron’s view is more than slightly towards that of the socialist’s too he certainly uses the language of happiness, fairness, discrimination, wanting equal numbers of woman, disabled and the like – even when they clearly do not want to work on an oil rig or the like.

        Why is he a socialist I wonder? Is it written in his genes from birth, is it that he feel guilty for being born rich, is it Eton or Oxford PPE or is it just that his focus group tell he to be so?

        I tend to think it is because he probably never did a paper round, never had to build his own bike from cast off bits or had to work for money until after Oxford. Perhaps I am wrong but, just in case, perhaps I should start being much more mean to my children and perhaps take them out out of the private school – just in case.

  6. lifelogic
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    As the saying goes: Life isn’t fair get over it.

    Nor can governments ever make if fair. Equality and fairness are just a ruse to create pointless jobs just like Cameron’s silly happiness index.
    It is fair that people win the lottery (and always people daft enough to buy a ticket) the government seems to rather like this unfairness machine as it generates taxes for them to waste.

    Is it fair that some are very ill, some are beautiful or have inherited huge wealth or both?

    Perhaps every person should pay the same the same fixed tax for public services the government provided (about £9000 per head cost per head to the government though real value actually delivered to the public perhaps less than a third of this). Clearly that would only be “fair”. Just as they pay the same price for say a chair or a sandwich.

    Is it fair that the feckless get free income and services but the hard working have to pay a fortune many times their value for them. Is it fair that some have social housing others pay the market rates?

    Is it fair that state sector workers earn more and have pensions about 8 times the size of the private sector?

    We want what works not what is fair. What works is some basic safely net for the sick and those unable to work and some fairly flat low rates of tax. Rates that encourage wealth production and leave money with capable people so they can invest or spend it efficiently. Also a minimum of regulations, a small state sector, no pointless wars and less market rigging such as currently exists in energy, banking, transport, education, law, health and many, many more areas.

    • Disaffected
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Fairness would be achieved if every body was made to work (especially those who want receipt of unemployment benefit) and were not given luxurious hand outs to prevent them wanting employment. This policy has worked in reducing unemployment in some states of America and other countries. There should not be an option for people to choose to be welfare lifers for nothing in return. Of course there is the elderly and truly disabled that might need help from the state, however, most have families and it would force society to act properly towards their relatives and those less fortunate than ourselves. But it would be our choice.

      It is not fair for Greece to retrospectively change contracts with bond holders or for the EU to impose such conditions without recourse to the judiciary or sovereign parliaments. The EU dictatorship is out of control and none of the 27 parliaments are doing anything about it in the interests of democracy or fairness.

      The veto that NEVER was did not block the fiscal compact going ahead- if it was a veto it would have blocked something. Cameron not signing the fiscal compact Treaty blocked the UK population from having an EU referendum, as promised and required, if he signed the Treaty.

      Most people did not realise he was misleading them and surveys suggested his popularity increased because people thought he was standing up for Britain when the opposite was true. This was not fair because his aim was to prevent an EU referendum taking place in the UK (as he did in October 2011) and to prevent his back bench MPs forcing the issue. It was not fair Britain was deceived and prevented democracy taking place. Wake up Tory MPs and get rid of Cameron before it is too late.

      • uanime5
        Posted March 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        Forced labour only reduces unemployment because everyone forced onto this scheme is not longer declared unemployed. It doesn’t help people get real jobs or reduce welfare costs.

        If you don’t want people to be on welfare their whole life you need to create enough jobs for everyone to work in. At present over 2 million people will remain unemployed because there are simply not enough jobs available.

        “It is not fair for Greece to retrospectively change contracts with bond holders”

        The alternative is that Greece goes bankrupt and these bonds become worthless. Greece is treating its bondholders the same way a company in financial difficulty treats its shareholders, which is one of the risks investors take. Investments do not provide a guaranteed return.

        • libertarian
          Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

          As normal you are wrong. There are more than enough jobs for the unemployed to do. There are skills shortages and the last Labour government imported more than 1 million overseas workers to fill those job shortages. Socialism huh !

        • Richard
          Posted March 10, 2012 at 1:12 am | Permalink

          You say “you…. need to create jobs”

          This is free country

          Why dont you start your own company… think of a product or service you can provide and then create these jobs?

          I did it for over 30 years

    • lola
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink


      “It’s not right and it’s not fair!”
      “What isn’t?”
      “Joe Louis left leg”

      Acknowldgement to Spike Milligan.

  7. Cliff Buckley
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Staying with the issue of fairness, would it not be fairer and much simpler to boot, to introduce a flat rate of income tax? For the sake of argument lets call it 25%. the man who earns £100 per week pays £25 in tax and the man earning £1000 per week pays £250 in tax. The man lucky enough to earn £100,000 per week such as a top footballer would pay £25000 in tax. Where is the unfairness in that? Lets do away with Ni, personal allowances and differential rates. I believe this would also benefit social cohesion as we could all look each other in the eye and know we were all paying in according to our means.

    • Andy
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Exactly what we need: a Flat Tax. I would set it at 20%, like VAT. There would be just a personal allowance and nothing else, and I would also radically reform the State.

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        20% flat income tax and 20% vat is surely more than enough to provide all that is needed from the state. It is also “progressive” the more you earn the more you pay for the services you receive.

        So then we can get rid of IHT, NI, fuel duty, stamp duty. landfill, car tax and all the countless other taxes that kill enterprise in the UK.

        They would probably take more tax too in the long term as the economy would actually grow quickly.

        • Phil Richmond
          Posted March 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          I remember reading an article by Professor Patrick Minford about exactly that. I think he calculated that a £12K threshold with a 22% flat-tax combined with 20% VAT would maximise revenues (no exemptions).
          It is so brilliant yet so simple therefore it will never happen as no politician would ever do anything that would be so beneficial to the people. But remember we are their servants.
          (honorable exception is Nigel Farage who has this as a policy but then he worked in the real world for 20 years so what does he know?)

          • lifelogic
            Posted March 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

            Professor Patrick Minford was usually right on most things, I am please he thought so too (though he seems to be 2% out).

            Also think of how many state sector workers dealing with all the other duties, NI, stamp duty etc could be released to do something useful (and those in the private sector too dealing with all the absurd contrived complexity) another bonus of the policy.

          • lifelogic
            Posted March 9, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

            Also VAT should just be a simple 20% sales tax as VAT is an absurdly complex tax, from factory, to distribution, to consumer, largely thanks to the mad EU. Wide open to fraud too as we have seen.

          • uanime5
            Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

            According to Professor Minford himself this cut will result in £21 billion less tax revenue unless there is massive growth, large scale job creation, a 6% yield from owner-occupied housing, a £1 billion reducing in tax credits, and large numbers of wealthy people come to the UK.

            Personally I feel that it will lose huge amounts of money because there’s no guarantee this growth or job creation will occur just because the rich are being paid more money.

          • lifelogic
            Posted March 10, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

            Much growth would clearly occur and many in the state sector (and private sector) could be released to do something useful due to the tax simplification.

            That alone would create growth.

      • lola
        Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        Not ‘like VAT’. Instead of VAT.

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 9, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          Indeed a UK sales tax.

      • backofanenvelope
        Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        I would abolish all allowances including the personal one. There are too many people in this country who think money grows on trees.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      A flat tax is better than what we have – but is it “fair” for the footballer to pay £25,000 a week plus spending taxes too just to have his bins emptied and a bit of defence law and order etc when this all cost less than £200 per week to provide per person. He probably won’t use the NHS or state schools either?

      It just gives the government more to waste on buying votes, happiness indexes, green bling subsidies and the like.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      The problem is that a person with £75 per week will struggle to live while the person with £75,000 per week will live in luxury even if they pay a higher rate of tax. Flat tax is only fair when there is a low level of income disparity.

      • Richard
        Posted March 10, 2012 at 12:45 am | Permalink

        Perhaps the flat tax might be an incentive to do better

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 10, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        That is not a problem it is the solution they will work harder.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Surely tax rates should even go down as people earn more … to achieve a fair amount of utility!

  8. davidb
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Is it fair that someone who has never paid taxes should enjoy welfare benefits? Is it fair that someone who uses their own initiative, their own capital, and works all the hours god sends should be asked to pay higher taxes than anyone else? Is it fair that someone should be fined for not sending the Inland Revenue a form ( and just a form mind, the taxes have been paid ) on time? Is it fair that people who advocate the ultimate denial of human rights, the death of others, should be allowed to stay in the UK because of our concern for their human rights?

    Fairness? Pants.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      Is it fair that there aren’t enough jobs? Is it fair that most people don’t have the capital needed to start up their own business?

  9. lojolondon
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    A good article, John. Fairness is an angle that will run and run, because obviously we will never be in a position where everyone lives in the same house, drives the same car and takes the same vacation, so the fact that Labour goes on and on about fairness shows how few ideas they have.
    Again, as you accurately state, the coalition is dancing to Labour’s tune here – a definite mistake (but not something the LibDems can resist!).
    Dave should say life is not fair, do the best you can with what you have. That has always been the British way.

  10. Devil's Advocate
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I, and everyone I know who has previously voted Conservative, find Cameron and Osborne’s apparent obsession with superficial fairness over genuine tory-principled sound economic policies to be a great frustration.

    Labour claim that only they are the party of the poor and working class while the Tories are the party for the rich. If this were true then surely it could be argued that it would be FAIRER for the poor to shoulder more of the blame as punishment for voting in a labour government that wasted all our money, in order to teach them the consequences of their actions.

    For me, Cameron’s job is to clearly explain to a worried electorate why traditional conservative ideas on tax and business growth will benefit everybody in the long run. It would be FAIR for labour voters to listen to him at the very least, after the mess Labour made. However, I’m not dure Dave is capable of this, or genuinely understands it. And unfortunately I fear that even if he did, he needed to do it two years ago. Seeing the light a few months before the next general election simply won’t wash.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Indeed Cameron is a frustration his happiness indexes and “fairness” are not what wins elections.

      He needs to concentrate on delivering what actually works – not fairness and silly PR gimmicks.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      “For me, Cameron’s job is to clearly explain to a worried electorate why traditional conservative ideas on tax and business growth will benefit everybody in the long run.”

      I’ve be more impressed if he could prove conservative ideas on tax and business growth will benefit everybody equally. After all why should anyone support something that might only bring them a minor benefit but will bring the wealthy a major benefit.

      • Richard
        Posted March 10, 2012 at 1:05 am | Permalink

        I agreemwith you, the Government has not explained to voters like you that you need to encourage business owners to expand and create jobs

  11. Richard1
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Voters should blow a loud raspberry whenever a politician talks about ‘fairness’. Arguing that the reason for a policy is fairness is a tautology – just as when Gordon Brown used to say ‘we’re doing this because its the right thing to do’. Of course no politician will ever say they do something because its the wrong thing or is unfair. As you point out, on most occasions ‘fairness’ is invoked it is by politicians on the left wanting even more public spending, or in support of envy-driven tax policies.

  12. Antisthenes
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    In the name of fairness the left in large part contributed to the economic and social crises we face today. As you say fairness is in the eye of the beholder and more often than not is seen through the glasses of self interest. It is impossible to be truly fair as there are so many opposing needs that conflict with one another. Labour calling for fairness only shows how out of touch with reality they are and why every time they are in government they make such a hash of it. It also shows why the gullible so often vote for them in large numbers as they make populist but unrealistic promises. However following left wing policies and practices has now given Europeans (rapidly being followed by Americans) dysfunctional economies and societies.

  13. zorro
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Football clubs are not taxpayer funded and if they are stupid enough to bankrupt themselves, that is their problem.

    Workers are suffering inflation driven abasement of salaries, not withstanding pay freezes or lower salaries. It is not ‘fair’ that benefit claimants are more protected. They can look at buying in sales or cutting back on fags and booze like everyone else.
    “Fairness” is a great word for the politically corect as it can mean whatever they want
    in practice, far better than “equality” (too obviously socialist).

    Anyway John, what are you worrying about growth for? You should be with it like Cameron and proselytise about gay marriage or try and up the ante that Iran, that notorious imperialist aggressor and invader of many countries, could nuke us before we’ve had breakfast. Establishing economic growth and freedom is difficult to achieve. It’s far easier to bomb and kill people with shiny weapons.


    • lifelogic
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Football clubs are in a difficult position they buy and pay the big players and take a gambol on extra income generated, their fitness, resale values, taking etc. or they do not go down the league and go bust that way.

      Some are bound to go bust given this system.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      Given that many people who work full time in low paying job claim benefits, such as tax credits, not all workers are upset about benefits rising in line with inflation while their salaries are stagnant.

      Good to see there’s someone else who doesn’t believe the lie that Iran hasn’t invaded anyone in several millennium. Iran has repeatedly invaded Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan. Iran only stopped invading it’s neighbours because of the Great Game.

      • Richard
        Posted March 10, 2012 at 1:02 am | Permalink

        Speaking as someone who works, I am upset that I benefits will rise by over 5% when pay for those who work is static and inflation is over 4%

  14. sym
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Every time I hear a politician talking about fairness I have an overwhelming urge to clutch my wallet.

    • A Different Simon
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      I get that urge when I hear a politician say “Britain is leading the World” .

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Hi sym! Nice one, made me chuckle.

      • Martyn
        Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        and I start counting the spoons….

  15. Martin
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the other problem deeply rooted in beliefs that we can all live in a sort of garden of eden. This has lead to the rise of the Nimby. No power station, road, railway, runway or mobile phone mast within twenty miles of my little garden of eden. New houses – they too are detested. As for a factory – don’t even think about it. Yes the imagined world of the bread commercial is more important than making money.

    More work and hence more entrepreneurs are needed. We all however have to accept we have allow much more of the work within twenty miles of our back yard. Nimbys cause dole queues and should they be treated like benefits cheats and tax dodgers?

    • Winston Smith
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      I find the use of ‘NIMBY’ to demonise opponents, frankly pathetic. Its a term that fits the lazy, narrow minded thinker and is often motivated by their own prejudices. It has been a natural human trait to protect ones own environment since man settled in the fertile crescent 10-20 thousand years previously. There are enough jobs and there is sufficient infrastructure. The problem is too many people arriving and breeding, combined with the universal socialism of the politcal establishment and the greed of the elite.

      • uanime5
        Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        There are 455,000 jobs and 2.67 million unemployed people. We need more than 2 million jobs for their to be enough jobs for everyone.

        • Richard
          Posted March 10, 2012 at 12:49 am | Permalink

          Well start your own business and create some jobs for all these people
          Dont just leave it to us wicked capitalists

  16. Stewart Knight
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    When you said The Coalition government has decided to dance to this tunethat just about summed up Cameron and the Government when dealing with just about any minority group or anyone who may label them in any way, including Labour and the media.

    Fairness as you explain it is just the latest facet of this problem of Camerons. I’m growing more disenchanted with him and the Tory hierarchy, and having spoken to a couple of Tory MP’s recently when I was doing work for them, they feel similarly.

    If Cameron got on with what the majority of people in this country want, and need, instead of indulging what tiny minority activists want and demand, he wouldn’t be looking at getting wiped out at the next election. Nobody, in the big scheme of things, cares about fairness, outside liberal elite world, and he should get on with the job he was elected to do, and started doing before whimping out….jst look at the shambles of various bills from health to tax all watered down to assuage the sensibilities of the like of Balls.

  17. Alan Wheatley
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    According to Roget, FAIRNESS is listed under the Heading “right” (antonym “wrong”) in the Section “moral, obligation” within “Class VI, Affections”.

    As to the politics of fairness, I guess most would see this in more practical terms: from whom and in what proportion government gets its income and who benefits and to what degree from its distribution in money and in kind. Of course all things in life should be fair. But how?

    If all the fairness issues were listed and their interconnections plotted, and then they were weighted one against the other by a suitable scheme there would be revealed something of such complexity it would be unfathomable. We are destined to live in an unfair world. Life is, indeed, not fair.

    Perhaps the most that we can reasonably expect of politicians is not to make matters worse and to ease that which is clearly unacceptable.

    It seems to me that if fairness is made the primary criterion we are likely to be living with the consequences of a lot of bad decisions.

  18. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Is it fair that politicians make promises in their manifestos to get elected and then renege on them? Is it fair that politicians ask for our votes to govern the country and then pass the powers with which they have been entrusted to an anti-democratic EU? Is it fair that politicians conive with the BoE to protect and reward the imprudent at the expense of the prudent? My answer to all these questions is “No” but how many politicians even care?

  19. Winston Smith
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    The fairness rhetoric is just a continuation of the Marxist dogma of political correctness and cultural relativsim, which has been embdded into our education system since the 1970s. Education is where you improve people’s lives and foster aspirations. The Left have controlled education for too long. Only in 1996, after 17 years in Govt, did the Tories do anything about it, with the core curriculum for teacher training. Far too late.

    Look no further than the choices made by the political/media elite for the education of their chldren: selective and private schools for everyone of them.

  20. rose
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    The fairest way to bring up childen is to teach them early on that life isn’t fair.

    • a-tracy
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Very true!

    • uanime5
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Unless you’re wealthy, then you teach your children that life isn’t fair for other people.

      • Richard
        Posted March 10, 2012 at 1:18 am | Permalink

        No, totally wrong as usual
        Wealthy people teach their childern to create more wealth, employ others and contribute something positve to society

  21. Mactheknife
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    The concept of “fairness” is difficult to define and subjective. This is precisely why the Left Wing have pushed the concept into the forefront of public and government thinking. It allows them to twist and turn and use convoluted reasoning to individual cases where fairness is in question. The whole thrust of most of the far left bloggers and political wonks is a marxist ideaology where everyone is reduced to the lowest common denominator. I’ve argued long and hard with these people on line and when eventually you point out the paucity of their arguments you are blocked. Here’s a genuine situation for the contributors to ponder:

    Three months ago I was in Kwick-Fit to have a tyre changed. A brand new BMW Coupe car (about £35K cost) pulled in driven by a young man who walked with a limp. He asked for someone to check his tyre and he was advised that a new tyre was required at a cost of £209. No problem came the response “just book it to Motability”.

    Should disability benefit be of such a large amount that the person on benefits be able to procure a £35K car and is it fair to low paid workers and tax payers ? Discuss !

    • uanime5
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      Depends on whether the young man was an employee of Motability, in which case it’s only fair that Motability pays for his transportation to and from their clients.

      • Mactheknife
        Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

        Bearing in mind he was with another young man and both were dressed …lets be generous and say “casualy”…then I think they are not employees of anyone.

        Its interesting that you have no response to this “fairness” example. Perhaps you need to consult HQ and find an answer ?

      • Richard
        Posted March 10, 2012 at 12:57 am | Permalink

        How generous you are with other peoples money

  22. wab
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately people are selfish and believe that the only tax in life that is fair is one that other people pay. (But services should be infinite.) Even more unfortunately, politicians and the media continually pander to this sentiment.

    Indeed, the BBC ran an amusing story a few days ago which said: “Changes to child benefit are “hugely popular” with most voters, a Treasury source has told the BBC. The source said only 15% of taxpayers would be hit, and polling suggested 77% of voters backed the move.”

    What a surprise. The N% are happy for the (100-N)% to get hit.

  23. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    There is nothing particularly “fair” about the productive subsidising the unproductive. It has consequences. The following figures are computed from data on the web site that uses Treasury sources. All of the figures are %s of GDP.

    Year Total PE Health Welfare H+W
    2001 35.8% 5.3% 5.6% 11.0%
    2008 40.2% 7.1% 6.0% 13.1%
    2010 46.0% 8.1% 7.4% 15.5%
    2011 45.3% 7.9% 7.2% 15.2%
    2015 40.8% 7.0% 5.9% 12.9%

    The period 2001 to 2008 were when Labour “failed to fix the roof while the sun was shining”. 2010 was the year when the effects of the recession had worked through. 2011 was the first full year of Coalition government. 2015 is a projection – presumably the government’s.

    Between 2001 and 2010, total public expenditure as a % of GDP rose by 10.2%. During the same period health + welfare rose by 4.5% of GDP, getting on for half of the total.

    During 2011, the coalition’s progress in containing public expenditure has been fairly limited. By 2015, the projection is that public expenditure will be 40.8% of GDP, still higher than the pre-recession peak.

    Between 2010 and 2015, public expenditure as a % of GDP is forecast to fall by 5.2%. Health and Welfare is expected to fall by 2.6% of GDP, half of the overall decrease.

    It isn’t rocket science to conclude that, if we want to shrink the state, health and welfare expenditure must be contained, whether it is “fair” or not.

  24. Peter T
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Pensioners with small nest eggs invested in an ISA really think that they have been treated fairly by this government and the previous one. Meanwhile, those with mortgages have no cause for complaint because they have seen their mortgages subsidised by the pensioners with small nest eggs. Yet when these pensioners were buying their houses mortgage interest rates were allowed to reach double figures and they just had to cope. Was that fair? What is fair for one is almost certainly not fair for another and always will be.

  25. oldtimer
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    As others have already pointed out, fairness is in the eye of the beholder, or as often as not in the pocket of the beneficiary. Its current manifestation is to tax the “rich” so that everyone else can have some of their wealth – that is a current definition of “fair”. This construct is defined by politicians seeking to buy votes with other peoples money.

    Other words whose definition has become skewed by politicians on the make include “investment”, when they are really talking about current spending, and “human rights”. This morning I heard someone claim that it was their “human right” to have a free university education. No consideration there for those unfortunates who are expected to cough up the cash to pay for this “human right”. These redefinitions of the English language are clear evidence of a political agenda, of attempts to frame discussion of issues onto ground favourable to its advocates. We hear it every week from the political class. Unfortunately there are few successful attempts to deconstruct this abuse of the language.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      Well if those who receive a university education earn more money they’ll end up paying the more tax and contribute more to the cost of university education.

      • APL
        Posted March 11, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        uanime5: “Well if those who receive a university education earn more money .. ”

        Many won’t earn any more money as a result of their ‘university’ education.

        The benefit of a university education has been devalued in direct proportion to the increase in variety and decrease in quality of the courses, nevertheless the end result will be many students leave ‘university’ heavily indebted and with little actual prospect of enhanced earnings as a result.

  26. Neil Craig
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    There are some who would think it fair that if they earn money they should have it. I presume that definition of fairness will not be considered. Indicates a common problem in politics, to which Orwell referred – that people redefine the meaning of words that have a high approval rating to claim it for themselves. The only way to fight that corruption of intellectual debate is to actually fight it.

  27. Graham
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I think it only fair to point out that many people feel that politicians, just like the bankers, are overpaid and contribute little to the wellbeing of the population.

    Don’t include you in that though John!

  28. sm
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Indeed fairness is an alien concept something i have discounted completely when dealing with most aspects of live.

    1) Voting & democracy – i expect to be misled 2) Inflation targeting – i expect to be misled 3) Insurance- i expect to be misold 4) Pensions – i expect less back than i save (before inflation) 5) Benefits- i expect none 6) Health – i hope the NHS is available but i worry it wont 7) I dont expect or demand a bailout.

    What i expected was that our government and banks would not become so entwined as to not be able to tell where one starts and the other ends. I expect a government to function as a government with sovereignty resting with parliament on loan from the people. I expect control of our borders,defence and safety. I expect people not to sleep on streets, eat and not die of cold.

    I expected we would regulate markets so that fraud and bad practice was eliminated and losses would be allowed to fall on those who made the bad calls.

    I expect sovereign control of money creation for the benefit of the people as a whole, not an industry of rentiers.I expect politicians to act independent of donors and vested interests and represent the people. That is not fairness that is our right.

    Money creation is power -power should rest with the people – it does not at present- parliament is a sham its discredited.

    Is it fair that millions cannot work because money is controlled by private publicly subsidized banks? Is it fair that insiders get inflation protection? Is it fair house prices are being held deliberately high?

    We have allowed capital to take control, welcome to the new order

    I t wont last long though and the end wont be fair , we are heading for revolutions.

  29. John B
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    It is “fair” to promote a woman or give her a job instead of a male for no other reason than she is a women, but it is not “fair” to do the same for a man, nor is it “unfair” that the man loses out for no other reason than his gender.

    Most people these days did not fight an war against fascism which is:

    – an authoritarian government system, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, human behaviour, deciding morality and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.

    Any of that sound familiar when reviewing the behaviour of our ruling elite, their advisers, bureaucrats and those in positions of authority and influence.

    I offer: shift of power from the People into the hands of non-elected officials; hate and thought crime laws; erosion of equality before the law to use the law to favour certain minorities at the expense of other minorities or the majority; legislation and taxation to determine what we may eat, drink, think, marry; restricting our energy consumption and free movement; abuse of habeas corpus; rendition to other jurisdictions of citizens accused of crime without due process of law; centralisation of wealth by taxation for redistribution; centralised control of business via increasing regulation.

    Have I missed anything out?

    Are we not in a near fascist State – the EU?

    • Martyn
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      Well, you might have added the politisation of the police forces leading to loss of public confidence in them, degrading the education systems (here, I welcome Mr Gove’s entrance onto the education stage and wish him luck) with repetetive changes of curriculum and direction and fiddled exam results, perhaps plus the abandonment of common-sense by an army of ‘elf and safety merchants who enforce ludicrous restrictions on otherwise sensible people.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      Nope the EU’s not fascist because it has a democratic government system and promotes free speech.

      • Richard
        Posted March 10, 2012 at 12:55 am | Permalink

        You don’t really believe the EU is democratic do you

        They sacked an employee who reveaed wasteful spending.

        Is that what you want to flourish?

  30. Magnolia
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    The coalition’s obsession with ‘fairness’ sounds a bit too much like a ‘a future fair for all’ to me and we all know how that was abbreviated!
    I’ve spent much of my parenting explaining the unfairness of life to children and it’s brother in emotion, the equal share, which does not mean having the same thing at all.
    I’ve done this because I’ve found it to be how the world and nature works and I try to be adaptive and work in the child’s best interest. What works for the child will work for the population.
    We are constantly told that the child benefit of the wealthy should not be paid by those on lower incomes or that those on the lowest incomes must get an increased tax allowance because we don’t want to reward people who hark back to a 1950s ideal of the family.
    How stupid do they think we are as a population?
    Stirring up envy in order to get a socialist cheer is as bad as encouraging nationalism in my book.
    We should not be encouraged (brainwashed) to just work for the taxman.
    The wealthy pay for their own child benefit because they pay more tax and the stay at home parent with a pre-school child is doing what comes naturally, often so that the other parent can give all to their career/business/job. It is not efficient or rational to punish this behaviour in the name of ‘the poor’.
    I agree absolutely that the poor need jobs with good wages and that in an ideal world a single wage should support a family without depending on the state.
    The sooner the taxman realises that he’s less important to each individual than their own family, then the sooner there will be good jobs for everyone.

  31. English Pensioner
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    The concept of what is fair is different for every individual and it can never be achieved for everyone as we are all different. For politicians to try to pretend that they can be fair to everyone is just plain stupidity. Taken to its limits, fairness becomes Marxism, which I’m quite sure would not be acceptable to most people in this country.
    The present concept of fairness tends to look at what is fair to particular groups of people, whilst at the same time failing to look at any unfairness that this might cause to others, particularly those who have to pay for it.
    Personally, I believe that benefits should be indexed to average wages after tax, that way those on benefits, including pensioners like myself, would have to take the rough with the smooth and would also be affected by tax increases like everyone else

    • forthurst
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      “Taken to its limits, fairness becomes Marxism, which I’m quite sure would not be acceptable to most people in this country.”

      Nevertheless Cultural Marxism is what they’re getting and what they’ve got. Hadn’t you noticed?

  32. Gary
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    The “Fairness Plan” comes right after they release the 5 year “Tractor Plan”.

  33. Mike Fowle
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I think that David Cameron is betrayed by his own kind impulses. Fairness sounds nice and something to aim at. A Conservative should say – IMHO – that freedom is more important than fairness.

  34. Phil Richmond
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    John – your party has allowed the left-wing BBC/Guardian alliance to dominate the language of politics.
    When the left continually talks about “fairness” or “social justice” what they mean is socialism. Why dont you and the your fellow Tories grow a pair and fight back and stop them dominating the agenda.
    If elements of your party ever do aquire a backbone as well then get Dan Hannan into Westminster and make him leader asap. He is the best orator since Churchill and happens to be Conservative unlike the present quisling Vichy-Con occuping No.10.

  35. peter davies
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I think Fairness as an argument has too many flaws – for a start it can be used too loosely and robbing off one group will benefit another.

    Is is ‘fair’ that labour were allowed to run riot with the economy and let the banks bring us to our knees so we spend the next 10 years paying for the mess?

    The judgement should be when decision has been made for a specific reason – then leave it up to the people to decide if they judge it to be ‘fair’.

  36. Bill
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Fairness would be looking at the Barnett Formula again ,Just as diddy Dave said he would ?

  37. Will
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    punishing people for success isnt fair.

  38. David Langley
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    My Mum told me as a child when I whined about some apparent unfairness, “Lifes not fair” so get over it. I felt incensed that I was living in a world of unfairness and frustrated beyond my years that I could do so little about it. Nothing seems to change and boy I have tried to change things for myself. There are always sheep and there are shearers, which one do you want to be?

  39. therealguyfaux
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    John Rawls, hardly a paragon of right-wing thought, came up with a calculus of “justice” which essentially was to allow inequality to exist where any attempt to redress the balance only worsens things for those who were least well-off to start with. While this does seem to encourage a certain academic hair-splitting, in the sense that the formulation appears to allow for attempts to better the situation of the worst-off which leave the best-off in place or, more radically, allows the best-off to become even better-off in absolute terms but lowers their trajectory relative to the worst-off (one interpretation), or allows the “rising-tide” hypothesis to operate (another), his essential point was that a Hippocratic do-no-harm ethos should guide us. He was no Social Darwinist, quite the opposite to be sure, but even he realised that in any attempt to pull those above you on the ladder down, you’re liable to have them knock YOU off the ladder too, and land on you, an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences which any Leveller type must deal with. With this formulation in mind, have any policies of any Party whilst in Government ever bettered the lives of the worst-off in an absolute-value (not comparative) way? And conversely, have any policies worsened the situation of the least-well-off? These are not rhetorical questions; let us have the intellectual honesty and intestinal fortitude to confront them squarely and decide just what policies we ought to have and which not, based on their EFFECT, not INTENT. We all know which road is paved with good intentions.

  40. uanime5
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    I found two interesting stories in the Daily Telegraph today.

    It seems the Conservative West Sussex County Council spent £100,000 on 92 videos telling people how to wash and use a mobile phone.

    Also Andrew Langsley has finally been forced by a tribunal to reveals to Parliament the risks associated with his NHS reforms:

    • Bazman
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

      It ain’t called ‘Tory Graph’ for nothing.

  41. Caterpillar
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink


    less fair, more laissez-faire

    As Thoma Sowell (admittedly from one side of the argument) pointed out on his Bloomberg interview, the US recovery seems to have kicked in once the US government ran into gridlock.

  42. David
    Posted March 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Labour that fairness is important.

    However I can’t believe that they have the check to say that. I got my first permanent job under Labour and despite decent savings, I still could not afford housing of a similar that a pro single Mum I know got for the sleeping with a man she did not know well.

    I found out a couple of years later that she had lied to successfully get Asylum in the UK.

    In case anyone is interested I know live in better housing although I am sure that there are still some pro single mums who get better.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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