Gordon Brown speech: a fair Britain for the new age?


9:30 pm - September 23rd 2008

by Dave Osler    


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Of course it’s never enough to judge a speech simply from reading the text on a PC screen. You have to be in the hall, or at least watch the whole thing on television, to get some idea of its impact.

So I cannot offer a definitive verdict of Gordon Brown’s address to the Labour Party conference this afternoon. Instead, I’ll confine myself to a few observations on the main themes.

I lost count of the number of times the prime minister – pictured above in full flow – used the words ‘fairness’ and ‘fair’. I expect somebody out there is even now totting up the final figure, but even without a tally, most of us will have got the message.

The word fairness has become a New Labour staple, and with good reason. It represents the bare minimum defining value to which everybody from the far left to the centre left can subscribe, while remaining entirely ideologically open-ended.

A speech that very largely trades on the concept is at high risk of either banality or simply meaninglessness. No-one in politics openly advocates unfairness.

Nor did the repeated insistence on Britain’s standing as the best country in the world go unnoticed. As one of those who has never quite understood what it means to love a country, the markedly patriotic subtext left me cold.

And while no-one questions Brown’s insistence that New Labour remains ‘pro-enterprise, pro-business and pro-competition’, couldn’t he have found it in himself to utter the words ‘trade unions’ just once?

But let’s forget the rhetoric. I suppose it is up to a prime minister to choose the benchmarks he or she wants to be measured against. Let us compare the vision to contemporary society.

It’s all very well proclaiming that being on the side of hardworking families is the only place you ever want to be, and then go on to praise NHS cooks and cleaners, porters and paramedics. But how fair is it to expect these very people – along with millions of other public sector workers – to take a pay cut at a time of rising inflation?

How fair is it that British workers still have the poorest employment rights of any industrialised countries? How fair is it to allow employers to sack staff by text message? How fair is it that cleaners pay a higher marginal rate of tax than hedge fund bosses?

How fair is an education system that allows the de facto systematic purchase of class privilege? How fair is a health service still subject to post-code lottery and queue-jumping by the rich?

How fair is a society with sweeping differentials in life expectancy between those living on sink estates and the more prosperous parts of the country? How fair can it be that 22% of the population live in poverty?

How fair are Britain’s undemocratic electoral mechanisms that leave perhaps millions of voters without adequate representation of their political beliefs?

Don’t get me wrong; Labour remains fairer than the Tories, in many of the small but important ways that Brown emphasised in the better parts of his oration. Far, far better a nugatory minimum wage than no minimum wage at all. It’s just that with the requisite political courage, Labour could and should be somewhat fairer still.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


‘Fair’ is relative.

For some ‘fair’ means keeping the fruit of your labour.
For others ‘fair’ means pooling the fruit of everyone’s labour and sharing it equally.

Totally meaningless word that means anything to anyone. Pointless.

“‘Fair’ is relative.”

Ah yes, Charlotte. Just like one persons justice is anothers’ repression.

I saw some of the speech. It didn’t impress me terribly.

BTW. Did anyone shout “Dead man walking”, when he took the stage?

Meow.

“Fair” is like “progressive” – it means whatever you want it to mean.

Or fascist…

Numbers crunched

Britain – 20
British – 14
Blair – 0
Change – 17
Children – 15
Country – 29
Fair – 19
Fairness -22
Iraq – 1
New – 55
People – 56

Even allowing for context, there is a pattern.

Our emplyment rights are so prescriptove no-one employs anyone any more god knows what country you live in , have you tried getting rid of anyone recently ?Anyway , this was clearly a swing left.The Brown speech was a retreat to safety. There was nothing about tax which is the electoral touchstone ( See Lib Dem bounce and the electrifying effect of IHT reform by Osbourne ). A few welfare baubles thrown out ,with National debt in the state it is in, looked like inappropriate clowning .The sub-text was yet more tax and borrowing .I am going on the reviews, but academies ,welfare to work , and other mini steps to modernity seem to have been shelved .This was Old Labour .
Brown’s attention should have been on the tax payer woo-ed by Blair .In fact did nothing to allay fears that his accession would be their financial death warrant (. He may not be in a position to any more.) Public Sector union bosses smiled like hungry Lions,and wildebeest voters will spring in the opposite direction.
It was a political ‘Princess and The Pea’ moment …(bear with me )….The story of ‘The Princess and the Pea.”, is a version of Cinderella , a narrative endlessly re-worked from King Lear to Pride and Prejudice . It dramatizes a persistent human dream……“ If you knew who I really was then you would love me”. The heroine reveals her true self and is rewarded by love allowing the reader to indulge child like wishes suppressed in adulthood .
Under stress there is a tendency to indulge vestigial infant. The Conservative Party did it by returning to their deepest prejudices when confronted with rejection. They said …”No no ….this is me …surely now you love me … the real me “. No-one did . The Labour Party are doing the same. They cannot believe that they, the real Labour Party, are unpopular .It must be a matter of ‘presentation’. Brown was played to child-like denial and will shore up his position as IDS did, alienating everyone else along the way
For Political Parties ,and for us all ,the lesson that it is we that must change not the world is a hard one . It is one the Labour Party are ,as yet, unable to face, and by this choice they have doomed themselves to defeat.

Doomed

have you tried getting rid of anyone recently ? ~ newmania

Yeah. I sacked someone in May.

His attendance and performance were below my expectations. I carried out reviews and disciplinary hearings, and then gave the person objectives. They failed. I terminated his employment.

If he appeals I know I have nothing to worry about.

It’s all about being professional.

How fair are Britain’s undemocratic electoral mechanisms that leave perhaps millions of voters without adequate representation of their political beliefs?

Who?

How fair are Britain’s undemocratic electoral mechanisms that leave perhaps millions of voters without adequate representation of their political beliefs? ~ newmania

Don’t tell me, it’s Noo Labour’s fault.

Are you advocating PR? If so, welcome aboard.

I was quoting the article Aaron and asking the writer to explain who it was he felt was not represented. I abhor PR

Okay, Newmania… understood.

I have italicised your post, but “quotation marks” work just as well, if you are unsure of the HTML code.

His attendance and performance were below my expectations. I carried out reviews and disciplinary hearings, and then gave the person objectives. They failed. I terminated his employment.

Your expectations ?!!!!! The mind boggles . Never fear, such an individual will be well qualified for the Public Sector where no-one is ever sacked . For teaching its positively a requirement .I shall take care to relay your comments to my clients who are for the most part builders scaffolders small business and the like and do not have the time or the inclination to jump through whatever infantile hoops this government set up to thwart business which they have successfully achieved .
It has nothing to do with professionalism it is to do with employing another parasite of the state books in the guise of personnel . In my business it is usually outsourced wholesale to paper pushing specialists who just send the bill .Larger companies have their own in house idiot . This is why there has been little real job creation in ten years of growth. Labour have absolutely no understanding of this world a world that employs over 70% of the working population .

Incidentally if you are going to pretend to know anything about it I shall ignore you. In twenty years of dealing with thousands of SME s I have never not once met a Labour voter and certainly not the sort of luxury issue poseur you are .I shall simply assume you are lying and if you are not then a walking dog does not have any general implications .

Labour’s Constituency is Public Sector and few Guardian readers welfare collectors immigrants and those working in the subsidised North. It has disappeared elsewhere for the very good reason it has absolutely nothing to offer anyone who works for a living ( Especially if they are married Southern English white male and heterosexual ) In fact all; in all I m lucky to be allowed to live .Brown `s speech was from another planet .
(Anyway I had better actually do some work )

I suppose this is fair comment on the speech.

Totally meaningless word that means anything to anyone. Pointless.

Charlotte, that is why politicians who want to be re-elected keep using it.

How fair are Britain’s undemocratic electoral mechanisms that leave perhaps millions of voters without adequate representation of their political beliefs?

Who?

The 77% of the electorate who didn’t back the winning party, perhaps?


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