Earlier last month I recollected New Labour’s driving principle of ‘power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few’ and questioned the lack of an equivalent from the current government.
One or two of you pointed out that it was worth looking on the front inside cover of the coalition’s programme for government, which I did and where I found the word ‘fairness’.
Yet if you cast your eye across the panoply of government policy, it is hard to see that this is what driving them forward every morning as they arrive at work.
The Lib Dems would like to think fairness is in their DNA, yet they are the ones who copped most of the political fallout for the unfair and non-mandated shift on tuition fees. And as Sarah Hayward pointed out here yesterday, the cuts are falling disproportionately on poorer areas which may remind us of Tory DNA, but doesn’t make us think of fairness.
The point of a driving message is to ensure ministers and the public understand the overall direction and purpose of government. Cutting the deficit – tick. Big Society – well tick in so far as people know it is the PM’s driving message, but untick as to what it means and how it translates to policy. But fairness? I don’t think so.
This is why cynicism surrounds the timescale for banking reform and uncertainty exists as to whether George Osborne will scrap the 50p top rate of income tax later this autumn. People are unsure of the government’s instincts because they have failed to instil a philosophy of fairness balanced across society, the reason for which I believe to be relatively straight-forward: without constant explanataion and clear relation to policy it cannot exist.
This can apply in any area of policy. Take transport. One person’s fairness may be affordable train travel; another person’s fairness may simply be having the option to travel by train; and I am now approaching a personal vested interest, not financial, but an interest in a place close to my heart.
I was challenged this week to see if I could travel by train 20 miles from the growth economy of Manchester to Burnley in under 90 minutes so as then to watch a further 90 minutes of football at Turf Moor. I quickly worked out that I would be unlikely to make kick off as there is no direct rail line between the two, therefore no economic inter-dependence, therefore no sense of ‘fairness’ as all other equivalent towns in the country have such a connection.
Just under £9 million Regional Growth Fund will address this and would subsequently generate around £1 billion for the local economy over the next 30 years. This sounds fair to me, it sounds fair to businesses in Burnley and Manchester too who will create almost 1000 jobs, and yet, all are on tenterhooks; all are hoping their definition of fairness matches that of Nick Clegg, Lord Heseltine, Philip Hammond and others; and all are hoping that at least in one part of the country, the government will seek to embed their underlying philosophy of fairness … by making the right decision.