My Philosophy

“Ask Not What The State Can Do For You.  Ask What You Can Do For Society” *

* I apologise to both JFK and David Cameron for that mash-up.

It is true though.   In Britain over the last dozen or so years we’ve become a country where for every chunky problem is there is a ‘Big State’ solution. Chuck tax payers money at it.  Sit back.  Let the government sort it out.  Moan about the government it if doesn’t.  Take it easy.  Harriet and Gordon are on the case.

This attitude drives me nuts.  Thank Heavens the expenses scandal has shaken the nation from its sleepwalk to apathy. True, it’s swapping apathy for outrage, but at least the outraged are engaged again. Annoyingly, those engaged don’t believe there is much difference between the parties: ” They’re all centreish”, goes the thinking.  “So it comes down to competence rather than philosophy and they’re all incompetent, right? And all on the take. So what’s the point?  They’re the same”.

This is wrong.  They’re not the same.  Yes, both parties have gravitated towards the centre. Yes, both parties need many MPs kicking out.  But the difference between ‘Centre-Left’ and ‘Centre-Right’ is not one of nuance, it is one of substance.

One key aim in my ramblings in this blog is to draw out those differences.  I’m no right wing-nutter or zealot.  Far from it.  At heart I’m a liberal that has been mugged by reality.   I do strongly believe there is a role for government.  But it is a subtle role –  more of a referee than a player.

I believe in Social Justice and Social Mobility.  I don’t believe the left should be allowed to claim a monopoly on those values and I don’t believe either can be forced upon the population.  Certainly not through quotas or other well meaning, misguided attempts at ‘positive discrimination’.  No, the only route to Social Justice and Social Mobility is to sow the right seeds and let them flourish organically. There aren’t easy short-cuts, but there are faster routes.   The key is to harness the powers of Free Enterprise, Meritocracy, and Individual Responsibility whilst at the same time blunting the sharper edges of each. I put it to you that after general security the primary purpose of  Government is to create then maintain the conditions for these powerful forces to do their magic.

  • Free enterprise and market forces can only be a power for good if competition is in place and monopoly abuse is denied.  That needs some regulation.
  • True meritocracy will only come when we have equality of opportunity to access to a quality education.  We’re miles from having that. We need a radical rethink of education policy and the funds to support it.  That also needs the Government to take a lead in creating the right conditions – though it does not need the government micro managing what goes on in the classroom.
  • Individual responsibility is the hardest for the government to promote.  I admit that relying on individuals to take responsibility and deliver things we now lazily expect the state to provide requires a big leap of faith.   But hey, I have that faith – I have huge optimism in peoples’ ability.  Despite all the wickedness in the world and all the bad apples – I genuinely believe the majority of folk out there are fundamentally decent.   Empower them, give them the tools to tackle their own problems and they will solve them.  And they will take pride in doing so.   And when this has caught on…….

….Then we will have a civic ‘society’ rather than a ‘state’.  And this society will be far more enriching to live in – spiritually and materially – than the Britain we have now.

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11 responses to “My Philosophy

  1. The one area where socialist/statist intervention is absolutely justified is in providing educational opportunity for children, who are not yet free actors in the social realm. We can never provide a Rawlsian level playing field for everyone, but we can aim to give everyone a good start.

    Conservatives ought to be focussing on education as a matter of urgency.

    The devil is in the details, but we need to grapple with the devil.

  2. Iain Swan

    i agree with everything you say , Guy , but the phrase “social justice ” confuses me . Where is the social injustice ?

  3. Hi Iain, I’m not that comfortable with the phrase ‘social justice’ either. It is all things to all people. I tend to always say ‘Social Mobility and Social Justice’ as a pair, because for me, barriers to social mobility are the root cause of what I define as social injustice in the UK. I bang on about one current example here: http://wp.me/pHMG9-1m.

    The trouble with the term ‘social justice’ is that it is such a warm, fuzzy phrase no one is going to say they are against it. With the left claiming the whole vague notion of ‘social justice’ as their own it makes anyone slightly to the right vulnerable to the swing voter who thinks both sides are the same, but hey – Labour are the ‘Party of Social Justice’ therefore the Tories are not. Vote lost. We need to reclaim the phrase. So my way of reclaiming it is to try and tighten the definition by tie-ing it to Social Mobility, and Labours whole approach to that subject is genuinely well-meaning but 100% flawed.

  4. I think we have a (weak) moral sense which includes some primitive concept of fairness, and this is where the idea of “justice” comes from, which involves equality before the law; and then the Left point out that social circumstances and access to the good things of life are very unequal, and this triggers our sense of fairness. I don’t know. But as a practical matter, the Right should stress our desire to see social mobility (that is, the removal of barriers to same) and work out if we are opposed to all and every form of forced income redistribution to achieve it. If we are, then we need to come against any form of state education, including vouchers. If a kid is unlucky enough to have parents who are too poor and/or feckless to send him to school or teach him to read or write, tough luck. Not my idea of decent politics but I suppose it’s a coherent position.

  5. I think that is where the ‘Centre’ bit of my ‘Centre-Right’ leaning comes in – whilst my first instinct is to always be guarded against state attempts to intervene, creating a high baseline of educational opportunity for all is one area I do think it right and proper for the State to flex it’s muscle in striving for.

  6. Guy – I cannot fault your guiding principles, but I have news for you – if that is what you think then you should be joining the LibDems. Yes I know from your tweets that you think us hypocritical and irrelevant but if we are motivated by the same principles you espouse, which we are, then I think maybe its time you thought again.

    Neither of the two main parties believes in truly devolving power to individuals, in fact neither seem terribly interested in changing the system at all, whereas we are just tearing at the leash for a quiet revolution in how our state functions.

    And you are spot on regarding social mobility and social justice. I cannot see the Tories ever being really serious about a meritocracy – their core support is too tied to inherited advantage, always has been. And as you say, although Labour may espouse the ideal, they just have no way to go about it effectively, as the last 12 years have shown ad nauseam.

    So, how about it?

  7. Nigel, for my sins I was briefly a member of the LibDems in my younger student days – around the Time John Smith was moving Labour on. One of the issues I had then, and still have now, is the Libdems being ‘all-things-to-all-men’. On the doorstep then they would exclaim themselves as ‘more left wing than Labour’ when chasing Labour votes and as compassionate conservatives when chasing Tories. They wanted it all ways. I also found most of the members to be lacking any drive or dynamism and, Liberty issues aside, Big Government proponents by instinct. Very happy to tax, tax, tax.

    By contrast having recently joined the Conservatives I have met a wave of people who are as far from the stereotype as I could have dared hope (don’t get me wrong I have met some hardcore ‘Tory Boy’ types too, particularly in London) but the few people I have met who made my toes curl are the ones who are bleating about the direction of the party. That’s a good thing – and for now – I feel at home with the current Conservatives.

  8. Praguetory

    Hi Guy,
    Nice philosophy. This is what motivates our members here in Ladywood where Labour’s approach of throwing money at problems without addressing root causes appears to have entrenched issues.

    It’s great that you believe that things can be better. Unfortunately, it seems that many of us have bought the Labour spin that all politicians are rubbish and we need people like you to raise people’s standards.

    Best
    Dom

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