The Guardian ran an excellent article on Saturday on the recent attacks mounted on The Spirit Level – the ground breaking book by Prof Richard Wilkinson and Prof Kate Pickett. Such attacks have been elad by the likes of the Taxpayer’s Alliance and, more surprisingly supposedly mainstream Tory think tank Policy Exchange.
I have read some of the attacks. I think them without foundation and academically and statistically weak . But as the Guardian notes:
Wilkinson was shocked by what he believes is part of a worrying trend in political discourse, also happening in the US, where a few people, often attached to right wing institutes, have set themselves up as professional wreckers of ideas.
"Do they even believe what they are saying?" he said today. "I suppose it doesn't matter if their claims are right or wrong; it is about sowing doubt in people's minds."
The authors fear the attacks have scuppered any chance of removing the inequality debate "from the left wing ghetto".
Wilkinson said: "It is now something for the left and we would rather have avoided that. People on the right will feel relieved knowing they don't have to treat this seriously and will be happy to know it has been rubbished."
That is the nub of this. Equality is an issue for everyone – as Wilkinson and Pickett have proven. Everyone gains from it – of that I have no doubt. So of course it should not just be for the left. But now it is. A tiny coterie on the right have confirmed that equality is something they not only do not care about – but that it is something they do not believe in.
The same is true of other issues. The Tax Gap for example should be an issue for all in the UK. If it were tackled we might have better public services at lower cost and have lower tax, all at the same time. But the right dismiss it as an issue. They are only interested in the maximum of £1 billion that might be collected by tackling benefit fraud. Tax evasion is £70 billion a year.
The same is true if unemployment too: low unemployment benefits all. And yet the right is going out of its way to increase it as fast as possible.
Note too all the stories in the Observer this weekend about the enormous problem for so many people in securing housing. Again, this is an issue for everyone (I’m of an age where I know many apparently secure middle class parents who are fretting like mad about this one) but the ConDems sail on – ignoring the issue.
Which makes me note what Nick Clegg has to say today:
We are restoring a plethora of rights to liberty and privacy and have set out an ambitious programme for lasting political reform.
I agree that the aim is lasting reform. This government is intent on promoting the right of the individual – which is its definition of liberty. But it is not the right to liberty within society they are promoting, it is the right of the individual over society that they promote.
So the individual can speed now without fear of being caught by a camera. the right to speed for the irresponsible motorist comes ahead of the right of the child to life itself.
The right to wealth must come without responsibility to others or to pay tax attached.
The right to health is rationed so a few will make extraordinary profits at the expense of the rest of us.
The checks and balances – such as the Audit Commission - are scarped to ensure profit profit is maximised.
The right to work is denied – so long as some can benefit from the removal of that right.
The right to a home – one of the most basic of rights, is undermined in the name of the market and the need to preserve baking stability.
This a the exercise of so called liberty without the exercise of morality.
This is the right to impose fear.
This is the thinking of the gated community.
This is the thinking of those who hate society.
And who hate government.
And who put themselves first, always.
This is thinking that no major religion has ever endorsed – because there is no moral basis to it.
This is thinking that the great enlightenment thinkers – Kant and Adam Smith come to mind – could not endorse.
This is thinking that threatens more than our well being, it threatens our society, our democracy, our political stability, in thinking term even life on earth.
This is the amorality of the right.
This is the ConDem government.
This is what the left has to challenge.
At least it looks like a barn door when set out like that.