Borrie attacks Labour's old left

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Public Policy Editor

Sir Gordon Borrie, the chairman of the Labour Party sponsored Commission on Social Justice, has accused Labour's old left of clinging to the ideas of equality and income redistribution as "some sort of comfort blanket" that they are unwilling to give up.

In a lecture reviewing the reception of the commission's report six months after its ublication, he detects "a wide swathe of support" across the political spectrum for many of its ideas. But it is "noteworthy that some parts of the left are by no means so enthusiastic". They favour social justice, he said, "but rather suggest it is a mealy-mouthed concept when set against equality and income redistribution".

His commission did make proposals to promote equal opportunity and reduce or eliminate "unjustified" inequalities. However, "we deliberately did not advocate equality of outcome", Sir Gordon said. "To my mind, it is not socially just to impose those penal rates of tax on income that Labour governments once exacted."

Giving people a chance in the first place, enabling them to acquire skills and income and wealth, "is a more thoroughgoing attempt at social justice" than a "comfort blanket" attachment to the idea of equality of outcome and egalitarianism, he said.

In the James Seth Memorial Lecture to Edinburgh University, Sir Gordon also welcomes some "clothes-stealing" by the Government in its adoption of back-to-work programmes and those which pay benefits in work. Kenneth Clarke's package, however, "is slow to operate, limited and accompanied by penalties". Such a strategy also requires a minium wage, Sir Gordon argues, though one set carefully to avoid job losses.

Without it "the injustices of out-of-work dependency are replaced by the in-work dependency of inadequate wages having to be topped up by means- tested income support."

But if the Government's actions thus far are welcomed, others - including the new Jobseeker's Allowance, privatisation of mortgage protection, and measures which still effectively require a part-time worker to give up their job if the main breadwinner becomes unemployed - "do not suggest any enthusiasm for social justice", Sir Gordon said.

He does, however, detect wider support for the commission's proposals among the "One Nation" Tories."

The commisson's proposals for a new minimum pension guarantee has also won influential backing, he added. It was not the case yet that "we are all in favour of social justice." But "the numbers do seem to be growing" and "the tide is flowing".

nNew Waverley Papers, Social Policy Series No 8, University of Edinburgh, pounds 3.